TWA Hotel Lifts Off at JFK
Airport hotels are a dime a dozen. Most are located off site, are boldly flagged by the signage of our favorite brand, and come with the expectation of “free airport shuttle.”
While many international airports offer a direct interior connection to a world-class hotel (such as London Heathrow and Dallas Fort Worth,) there is only one airport hotel at JFK that requires no shuttle, gets you to all terminals within minutes, and has the unrivaled distinction of occupying a former airline terminal of truly historic proportions. That is – as the world is certainly now aware – TWA Hotel which opened its doors last week.
It’s taken many years for the iconic TWA Flight Center, which debuted to all kinds of fanfare in May of 1962, to be revived after TWA flew its last flight in 2001. From what we saw on opening day, all involved with TWA Hotel did right by the former global airliner in its no-holds barred yet heartfelt celebration of the golden age of aviation.
To create an airport hotel within a former airline terminal is seemingly a no brainer, icing on the cake. We say TWA Hotel is the cake and we treated ourselves to a gigantic slice of air travel nostalgia as a guest fortunate to spend opening night in one of the hotel’s 505 rooms. And we weren’t on an arriving or departing flight. TWA Hotel is its own destination. Here’s our take of the cake.
It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s All That and More.
It all starts here. This winged beauty, designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen was on the drawing boards for TWA back in the late 1950s, and lifted off with a high profile grand opening ceremony in May of 1962. Mr. Saarinen would surely have been pleased with the equally fitting grand opening of TWA Hotel, but mostly we suggest, because his original design was so carefully and thoughtfully restored to its Mid-Century grandeur and glamour.
This was to be one remarkable achievement. Firstly, the former TWA Flight Center is a protected landmark in New York City and is listed in both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. One can imagine the lengthy board meetings of these agencies “negotiating” every detail of such an important architectural and cultural masterpiece. We thank you for your relentless commitment to preserving history and for including the public throughout the process.
A project of this magnitude and significance “takes a village” of industry professionals and that is precisely what MCR Development sought, in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, on whose land the hotel sits.
The design team includes four award-winning, New York City architectural firms: Beyer Blinder Belle, longtime masters of historic preservation; Lubrano Civiarra Architects, who designed the new guest towers and conceived the ideal (darkened reflective glass) backdrop for the standout flight center building; Stonehill Taylor, whose detail savvy and creative use of symbolism is in top form in the design of the guest rooms and select common areas (as well as “Connie”… we’ll get to that); and INC Architecture & Design, whose work includes the convention center (yes, there is a convention center) and other high profile public spaces and amenities.
It’s safe to say that the lobby that is now home to TWA Hotel is nothing short of spectacular. It is a dramatic and grand space featuring sweeping staircases, and symmetrically placed curvilinear walls supporting shallow vaulted ceilings separated by narrow skylights. In our opinion, the abundance of natural daylight rivals present day sustainable design objectives. The hotel is seeking LEED Certification, representing the efforts of the entire project team.
Saarinen’s 1962 lobby for TWA is timeless and serves as the hotel’s most powerful first impression. Former TWA check-in counters naturally serve as hotel check-in and reception to one side of the entrance, with locally sourced “grab and go” food services fitting right in on the other side. The hotel features six dining options, though not all were up and running on opening day.
Two original flight status monitors (one shown below) have been restored. They do not reflect current travel advisories, now best left to digital monitors; however, some may recognize the clearly audible “click click click” of the revolving flaps.
The lobby is large enough that even with opening day festivities that accommodated paying guests, actors and models dressed in a colorful array of historic flight uniforms, and all kinds of press, there was still plenty of room for everyone.
The lobby, as well as pretty much the entire interior of the hotel, serves as a museum of aviation and TWA memorabilia. A well-curated display of flight crew uniforms graces the mezzanine.
Not a Bad Seat in the House
The Sunken Lounge, shown in the photos above and below, is “where it’s at” as they said in the sixties. Everyone wants a seat in this lounge – it is just that cool. The existing views towards Terminal 5 (home to Jet Blue) and the runway beyond were intentionally maintained by separating the guest towers far enough apart to allow this.
The Paris Café, located on the Mezzanine, returns to this historic venue under the watchful eye of long time Michelin Star chef Jean-Georges Vongericten. The seating shown below is featured across the dining lounges and is a design by Eero Saarinen for furniture maker Knoll. The “tulip chair” dates to 1995-56 and is still popular today. The carpet detail recreates TWA’s recognizable twin globe logo.
The photo above reveals one very special amenity at TWA Hotel that quite simply would not fit – well, not easily – within the historic building’s enormous volume of space. Meet Connie, short for Lockheed’s Constellation, a four-engine propeller-driven airliner, which was produced for TWA at the “request” of major stockholder Howard Hughes.
Connie has a new permanent home in the courtyard between the historic terminal building and the guest wings. She did not fly there, rather she was painstakingly dismantled and transported to the TWA Hotel via truck. That road trip included, of course, a very public “show and tell” at Times Square in Manhattan.
Connie is now a hip and happening cocktail lounge. Dress the part.
Spending the Night. Or the Day.
Arriving and departing guests will be able to reserve rooms as either overnight or daytime stays. After visiting this hotel, you may wish for lengthy flight delays and longer connecting layovers.
It is worthy of mention that the experience of spending the night at the TWA Hotel starts in the lobby, where the journey to your room begins. The photos below show the entrances to two original tunnels or “tubes” that provide direct access to Terminal 5, as they similarly did when serving TWA. About half way through either the “Saarinen Wing” or the “Hughes Wing,” take a subtle detour on one side of each tube that connects to your elevator. If you miss that turn, you’ll end up at Jet Blue. To their joy, we imagine.
The hotel guest corridors have a glamorous atmosphere, accentuated by the “red carpet” look of the floor design, along with period appropriate lighting and a little anonymity that comes with a slightly curved building footprint.
Hotel guests have a choice of views – facing the runway, or up close and personal with Saarinen’s abstract of flight. Tough choice! The room photos shown below are those oriented toward active airport runways. In either scenario, upon entering your room, you’re there. Minus the noise. These rooms are exceptionally quiet.
The rooms are chock full of Mid-Century design eye candy. If you are a fan of “Mad Men” (who isn’t?) or simply appreciate the classic warmth, straight lined simplicity, and occasional excess of the period, you’re in luck.
The guest rooms kick off with a well stocked bar set in a mirrored cubby with glassware worthy of your favorite mixed cocktail. Beds on the runway side guest rooms face the runway, as does the continuous desk behind the headboard. All eyes on the tarmac.
Guest rooms feature vertical grooved wood paneling reminiscent of the period, along with lighting fixtures some of us grew up with, and a timeless, circa 1948 design by Saarinen in his “womb” lounge chair.
The bathrooms are crisp, clean and glamorous in black and white. Large stall showers are the new normal. The clever under counter lighting works great as a night light, and the Hollywood dressing room style globe lighting is actually just right for applying makeup.
We took notice – who couldn’t – of the retro candy dish in the guest room that included a mini Etch–a –Sketch and the obligatory paper airplane. No batteries required.
Brand awareness holds nothing back throughout the hotel and this most definitely extends to the guest rooms. There are branded bathroom toiletries, glassware, (pre-sharpened) pencils and note pads, and even nostalgic Connie inspired coasters. We have to say the bathrobe looks really impressive with the TWA embroidered logo. If you still want more, check out the TWA Shop in the lobby.
Meetings at Airports? You Bet.
It was always in the planning of the TWA Hotel to accommodate a substantial, state-of-the-art meeting and conference center “on campus.” This amenity occupies about 50,000 square feet of space beneath and interconnecting the hotel guest towers, and can facilitate up to 1,600 guests or attendees.
The conference center, designed by INC Architecture & Design, keeps the Mid-Century vibe alive from the ballroom with its sixties style “flying saucer” lighting to the pre-function space dominated by the classic open riser, wood and terrazzo, monumental stairway and bolted, brushed metal finish on the full height ballroom doors.
One of the most interesting pre-function spaces you will come across is in this hotel, shown in the photos below – a series of intimate seating alcoves dressed up with all kinds of air travel memorabilia.
It must have been fun shopping for this hotel…
(Photos not individually credited are by Analee Cole, who was a paying guest at TWA Hotel)