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Iconic TWA terminal to show off its artistic side

The TWA terminal, designed by architect Eero Saarinen,

The TWA terminal, designed by architect Eero Saarinen, is shown at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Aug. 23, 2008 in Queens. Photo Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

The TWA Flight Center at Kennedy Airport -- a terminal that once embodied the glamour and romance of air travel -- will open to the public Saturday, giving visitors a rare glimpse at one of modern architecture's most enduring beauties.

The iconic building, with its wing-shaped roof and expansive walls of windows showcasing jets departing and arriving, may soon become a hotel.

The Port Authority, which owns the terminal, has solicited bids from developers who have until Tuesday to submit their proposals.

"I am just happy they're opening it and making it available for the public to see it in its current state," said Gregory Wessner, executive director of Open House New York. "If there is a way we can make use of it that gives it life again, and have people actively using it, I think it's wonderful."

To make the terminal more attractive to potential developers, the Port Authority spent $20 million to remove asbestos and restore the interior to its original 1960s grandeur.

"Keep in mind, the interior concourse will remain pretty much as it is in any hotel scenario due to the landmark status," said an agency spokesman, Ron Marsico.

Hotelier André Balazs had plans to redevelop the legendary building, but abandoned the project last year after his company, Standard International, was unable to reach a final agreement with the Port Authority.

For one weekend each year, Open House New York unlocks doors to hundreds of sites throughout New York City and invites the public in.

The TWA Flight Center, designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, was added to the collection in 2011 and every year it drew the largest crowd, Wessner said. Some visitors came dressed in TWA uniforms.

"For me, what was wonderful was that nearly 4,000 people traveled to JFK just to sit in an empty building," Wessner said.

Completed in 1962, the terminal closed in 2001 after TWA went out of business and sold its assets to American Airlines. The building has remained virtually vacant for more than a decade. Parts of the original facility were destroyed in 2005 to make room for JetBlue's new terminal.

TWA Flight Center was named a historic landmark by New York City in 1994 and saved from demolition after it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

In its heyday, travelers arriving at the terminal would first notice the futuristic-looking roof, with its wings spread out like a bird in flight, sitting on top of the main terminal, or head house.

Inside the concourse, tube-shaped corridors lined in red carpet led fliers to and from departure gates. Passengers waited in a sunken lounge that faced a large window with views of departing and arriving planes.

Scenes from the movie "Catch Me If You Can," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, were filmed here.

The TWA Flight Center will open from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


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