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.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Idlewild/JFK Airport

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.

6 replies on “Idlewild Airport/John F Kennedy International Airport: from a golf course to a motley crew of classic architecture”

I TOTALLY AGREE!!!!!!
WHY CALL IT JFK AIRPORT? HE DIDN’T LIVE IN NEW YORK; HE ONLY SCREWED HERE!
CHEATING ON HIS WIFE, JACKIE.
IF ANYTHING, IT OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN CALLED, “MARILYN MONROE AIRPORT”.
AT LEAST SHE LIVED HERE!!!!!!!!
stuart

Thoroughly enjoyed this history. I grew up in Rosedale/Laurelton, Queens in the 1960s. My dad used to take us to JFK to look at the architecture…like going to a museum. Your description is very accurate to what I recall. It felt to me like visiting the future and made me want to see the world. When my parents bought their house, in 1959 Idlewild was not yet a jet port, eventually when the big jets started flying, our closeness made the noise unbearable…it was before the days of regulation and alternating routes…we could literally see the bottoms of the planes as they flew over our house! Also, I have memories of being stuck in traffic on the way to visit our cousins in Bushwick on the Van Wyck…always a nightmare. Thanks for your show…loving it!

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