The Magnet 73: Travel Back to the Swinging 1960s at the TWA Hotel
JFK's only hotel is worth the trip even if you aren't flying anywhere
There’s no direct flight from Portugal to Los Angeles, so when Carla and I flew home earlier this month, we had to make a stopover at JFK Airport. Unfortunately, our flight from Madeira landed in New York at 7 PM, and there were no flights to LAX that evening. So before we left, I booked an overnight stay at JFK’s only on-site hotel, the TWA Hotel.
Upon arriving at the hotel, we were immediately struck by the stunning Eero Saarinen-designed building. We were so excited by the architecture that we forgot about our jet lag and spent a couple of hours exploring the interior.
Before it was a hotel, the building was the TWA Flight Center terminal, operating from 1962 to 2001. It’s an exemplar of thin-shell construction. Saarinen, who started designing it in 1956, said he wanted it to "express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel" and look like a "Leonardo da Vinci flying machine.” Saarinen and the builders spent 5,500 human-hours making the drawings for the building (which is symmetrical, so they only had to design one side, then make a mirror image of the plans), which were accurate to 1/8-inch. The construction cost was $12 million ($90 million in 2021 money), which seems cheap if you ask me.
In the 1990s, the building fell into disrepair, and the Port Authority considered demolishing it. However, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it a landmark, saving it from demolition. It was used as a filming location for the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and also hosted an art exhibit in 2004. After being vandalized, the building stood empty for years, until JetBlue and a hotel developer announced in 2015 that they would convert the building into a hotel. The TWA Hotel officially opened on May 15, 2019.
When we arrived on a Friday night, the hotel’s restaurant and bar (inside a 1958 Lockheed Constellation aircraft parked outside) were bustling with guests. Here are some photos to give you an idea of what the hotel is like.