Idlewild Airport/John F Kennedy International Airport: from a golf course to a motley crew of classic architecture

PODCAST Come fly with us through a history of New York City’s largest airport, once known as Idlewild (for a former golf course) and called John F. Kennedy International Airport since 1964. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia wanted a new and improved facility to relieve the pressure from that other Queens airport (you know, the one with his name on it), but a greater challenge faced developers of the Jamaica Bay project — the coming of the jet age and the growth of commercial travel.

The solution for Idlewild was truly unique — a series of vastly different and striking-looking terminals assigned to individual airlines. This arrangement certainly had its critics, but it has provided New York with some of the most inventive architecture found within its borders.

From stained glass to zodiac sculptures, from the out-of-this-world dramatics of the Pan Am WorldPort to the strangely lifting concrete masterpiece by Eero Saarinen, we take you on a tour of the original ’60s terminals and the airport’s peculiar history.

With guest appearances by Robert Moses, Martin Scorsese, the Beatles and a pretty awesome dog named Brandy.

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Click on the pictures below to enlarge. And these demand to be enlarged!

The Eastern Airlines building (“Terminal 1”) for the once-powerful airline that brought Robert Moses an early public defeat in the contentious battle for funding Idlewild Airport.

A large sequence of toadstool like concrete awnings adorn the entrance of Terminal 2, which serviced Northwest, Northeast and Braniff airlines.

The spaceage Pan American terminal, later called WorldPort. These postcards are courtesy DavideLevine/Flickr. He’s got a great many more JFK postcards to check out as well.

Overlooking the International Arrivals Building. From this vantage, you can see the ‘Versailles’ like gardens and fountain that briefly ruled the airport grounds until the demand for parking became too great. (avaloncm/Flickr)

Outside the International Arrivals Building, 1960 (rjl6955/Flickr)

Inside and outside the TWA Flight Center, designed by Eero Saarinen. Pictures by Ezra Stoller

The interior of I.M. Pei’s Sundrome for National Airlines, with walls that seem to melt away with the sunlight. Currently unused, the building is slated to be demolished.

American Airlines terminal, distinguished by its extraordinary face of stained glass. (Photo Dmitri Kessel/Google Life)

The simple but sleek United Airlines terminal.

The style of the jet age was partially defined by airline flight attendants. Airlines used sex appeal in their marketing and garbed their female employees in trendy (and often revealing) uniforms. These women were graduates from Overseas National Airways training school in Queens, June 1966. (More information here.)

Idlewild/JFK would see as many movie and music stars than any other location in New York. Here’s Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in 1954…

… and the Beatles arrive at JFK to screaming fanfare, 1964

Children could pretend to be air traffic controllers with this 1968 toy. Many years later, an actual air traffic controller would bring his children in to direct real planes.