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The Journey of the TWA Hotel

The history of the TWA Hotel (formerly TWA Terminal) is as interesting as the history of the Trans World Airlines (TWA). TWA Airlines began in 1930, Howard Hughes purchased TWA in 1939, and owned it for 27 years.

Under the ownership and operation of Howard Hughes, TWA contracted with architect Eero Saarinen to build the TWA Flight Center within the JFK Airport (formerly known as Idlewild Airport) in Queens, NY. Saarinen was born in 1910 in Finland and moved to the United States in 1923. He is one of the most recognized architects of the 20th century. His Art-Deco designs are bold and several of his designed buildings are considered landmarks, such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. Saarinen’s TWA Terminal design was inspired by the shape of a bird with its wings spread, featuring large windows so guests could view airplanes coming in and out of the landing port. The structure is modern and chic with the typical 60’s spin on class and vibrancy. Construction began in 1955 and the terminal opened its doors in 1962. Sadly, Saarinen never saw the completion of the TWA Flight Center as he died in 1961.

The TWA Airlines suffered from many years of mismanagement and a lack of upkeep, filing for bankruptcy on multiple occasions. Finally, in 2001, the terminal and TWA Flight Center located at JFK Airport could no longer accommodate larger planes, resulting in the closure of both. In 2003 the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the TWA Flight Center in the list of the 11 Most Endangered Places. In 2005 it was registered in the National Register of Historic Places.

Three years later in 2008, the historic connecting corridors of the TWA Flight Center formed part of the new JFK terminal 5, to be used by JetBlue Airlines. A new terminal was built behind the TWA Flight Center.

In 2014 MCR/Morse Development was awarded the redevelopment funds to convert the TWA Flight Center building into a hotel. The full renovation design of the hotel was done by Lubrano Ciavarra Architects, the interior design by Stonehill Taylor and Beyer Blinder Belle Architects led the project which was completed on May 15, 2019, when the TWA Hotel opened its doors.

Behind the TWA Flight Center on each side, Lubrano Ciavarra Architects designed two low-rise buildings to accommodate the hotel rooms. The TWA Hotel, as it is officially known, is a reminder of the golden age of air travel and luxury. Restored to near perfect, picturesque vintage 1962, stepping into the hotel is like stepping into a living time capsule. The 512 bubbly rooms help tired guests imagine what someone traveling in the 1960s would expect to see in a guest room during their brief stay. Vintage travel posters hang over the beds and down the halls. From Paris to Pompeii and Egypt to Hong Kong, hotel guests can get a picturesque snapshot of their desired destination. Flip table boards with exact flight times, catch the eyes of guests. Payphones with a sign reading, “calls 10 cents” are functional and can be used by guests to call their relatives and loved ones. Every detail is period correct and kept operational to ensure a genuine experience.

At the hotel’s entrance sits a 1962 Continental convertible where guests can snap some pictures and sit in the car. Inside a 1958 BMW 300 Italia, and a mid-60s Chrysler Newport are on permanent display within the hotels’ lobby. An interactive museum educates families on the rise, fall, and rebirth of the Trans World Airline Hotel. The top floors showcase the evolution of formal stewardess dress-wear and the legendary designers behind them, among the names, a recognizable Ralph Lauren uniform from 1978. A room on the main floor of the hotel, is designed with the game, Twister in mind. Guests can play a giant game of Twister with their family. Little shops within the hotel offer everything from clothes and fashion to travel fundamentals.

The Hotel rooms are connected to the remodeled TWA Flight Center through flight tubes. Missing flights is a thing of the past when it comes to this historic hotel. Connective routes via the “AirTrain” and precise flight schedules from the historic hotel to the JFK Airport ensure that passengers do not miss their flights. The TWA Hotel is a must stop for anyone who is a fan of the 60’s and near the John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York.

By Alexander Fernandez

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