Can an online campaign save this iconic piece of aviation architecture from demolition?

The original architects of the Pan Am Worldport might have hoped that the building would fit in perfectly with the landscape of the new millennium.

The terminal at New York’s JFK Airport was built in 1960 by Ives, Turano & Gardner Associated Architects in the shape of a futuristic flying saucer. It made its mark on American cultural history by sending off the Beatles after their first U.S. tour and appearing in at least one vintage James Bond adventure. Pan Am shuttered its ticket windows in 1991, but the Worldport still serves as a reminder that air travel was once seen as an exotic luxury, rather than a nuisance-riddled necessity.

Although the Worldport is iconic, its current tenant, Delta Airlines, is planning to dismantle the structure, now known as Terminal 3, in 2015 to make way for a $1.2 billion expansion of neighboring Terminal 4. The original Worldport space will eventually be used as a parking lot for aircraft.

Recently, an online campaign to preserve the terminal has been gaining traction, spearheaded by aviation enthusiast Kalev Savi and partner Anthony Stramaglia. Save The Pan Am Worldport aims to keep this iconic piece of aviation architecture from being demolished, and to see it refurbished and repurposed for new generations of jet-setters.

"You just don’t see buildings like that anymore constructed at airports," says Stramaglia. "Now a terminal is more like a warehouse than a showpiece. This building is more of an art form."

Delta Air Lines is the current tenant of the Worldport at JFK, now known as Terminal 3. Credit: Anthony Stramaglia
Delta Air Lines is the current tenant of the Worldport at JFK, now known as Terminal 3.

Savi and Stramaglia started an online petition a little over a year ago that has garnered 1,818 signatures so far. Their current project is to get the Worldport approved for New York Landmark Status, with the eventual hope that it will be recognized with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Other terminals and structures at JFK have been recognized for their historic significance over the years, including the TWA Flight Center, a swooping dome that was completed in 1962 and designed by renowned Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. (It was also added to the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2003.)

"In some people’s mind, that was the building worth saving," Savi says. "This criticism that there’s no famous architect associated with [the Worldport] I find to be a moot point."

The New York Port Authority and Delta Airlines have said that the Worldport is beyond repair, and upkeep and maintenance have become impractical and costly. "It’s not an asset you can recover at this point," Delta CEO Richard Anderson was quoted as saying in The Architect’s Newspaper in 2010.

The underside of the Worldport. Credit: trevor.patt, flickr
The underside of the Worldport in 2011.

Other complaints about the space include its small, cramped feel with the addition of baggage screening and TSA security checkpoints, which the architects didn’t have to consider in their original plans. It underwent a renovation in 1971 to accommodate the Boeing 747, but the interior space is still lagging behind modern airport standards. So far, the New York Port Authority and Delta haven’t responded to the campaign.

Savi and Stramaglia think that the structure could be preserved with some outside-the-box thinking, and they argue that, in an age of generic cookie-cutter airports, Delta could make a branding statement by repurposing the building, or even housing an aviation history museum inside the terminal. They also posit that tearing the terminal down and paving it over is twice as expensive as the cost of repair and refurbishment.

Save The Pan Am Worldport shows no signs of slowing down, and Savi and Stramaglia are hoping that they’ll be able to win some immunity from demolition for the flying saucer portion of the terminal before 2015. "It should be something that the public can enjoy, that can help them remember significant events from the past," Savi says. "It should be something that people want to go to."

This post originally appeared on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Nation blog, an Atlantic partner site.

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