Originally constructed in 1960 as the Pan Am Worldport and...

Originally constructed in 1960 as the Pan Am Worldport and now known as Terminal 3, the Delta Airlines terminal is an early example of modernist architecture at one of the nation's best-known airports. (Feb. 28, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Delta Air Lines has started demolishing Kennedy Airport's Terminal 3 -- the iconic former Pan Am Worldport known for its 1960s jet-setter style and saucer-shaped roof.

Workers last month started tearing down some of the roof in a redevelopment project that's expected to last until summer 2015.

The site of the former terminal will end up being an aircraft parking location for Delta and other airlines, Delta spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.

Delta and the Port Authority, which operates the metropolitan area's three major airports, have said they will create a tribute to the Worldport that will include photographs and models used by Milton Hebald to create the former terminal's Zodiac sculptures, which were displayed on its exterior.

An online campaign called "Save the Worldport" wants Delta to restore and repurpose the terminal's circular structure.

The tribute project is a "nice gesture," said one of the campaign's organizers, Anthony Stramaglia of Florham Park, N.J., but he wanted the airline and Port Authority to provide more details.

"We don't want the tribute to be a few photographs and models in a glass display case tucked away in the back of Terminal 4," he said. "The Worldport and Pan Am deserve more than that."

The 53-year-old terminal has to come down and needs to be redeveloped because it is "essential to efficient airline operations" and to improving the travel experience for Kennedy passengers, a joint statement said.

Colorado-based aviation industry consultant Michael Boyd called Terminal 3 inefficient, old and an "asbestos palace."

"It should be bulldozed as quickly as possible," said Boyd, the chairman of Boyd Group International.

He said the original terminal design is outdated, having been built for airplanes to pull up to the gate and passengers to exit -- a concept made obsolete by the introduction of jetways.

"It is something that doesn't work for the value for what Kennedy and Delta needs."

But Boyd said he is sorry to see it go, saying he remembers seeing the terminal built decades ago as a child, and thinking, "Is there anything more modern in the world?"

Some former Pan Am employees are sad to see the structure demolished, but say they understand that it no longer meets the needs of today's aviation industry.

When Michael Koyles, 52, of Westhampton, first heard about the demolition, he said, it felt "like someone had died." Koyles and his father, Thomas, worked for the former Pan American World Airways, the airline for which the terminal was built.

"We grew up in that building," Koyles said. When he was a teenager, he often traveled with his father, visiting countries such as Thailand, Japan, England and France, Koyles said.

When he was 26, he started working at Pan Am, where he stayed for five years.

Delta closed Terminal 3 on May 23, the anniversary of Pan Am opening it in 1960. Pan Am went out of business in December 1991.

The day after Terminal 3's closure, Delta started operating its international and transcontinental flights out of Terminal 4, where it spent $1.2 billion to renovate and expand the space. It also has gates in Terminal 2.

The 346,000-square-foot expansion includes nine new and seven renovated gates, a new 24,000-square-foot Delta Sky Club that includes an outdoor terrace, new dining and shops, and a centralized security checkpoint.

Terminal 4 is now one of the largest in North America, measuring 2 million square feet, according to Delta. The airline is in the middle of a $200 million project to add 11 more gates to Terminal 4.

Delta hired Gramercy Group Inc. of Wantagh to do the abatement and demolition of Terminal 3.

Lawmakers and aviation experts have said the entire terminal needs to be torn down.

The Global Gateway Alliance, based in Manhattan, an advocacy group that studies challenges facing the metropolitan region's airports, supports the demolition.

"It needs to be demolished because you have to get those planes off the gate," said alliance executive director Steve Sigmund.

Sigmund said planes need the space where Terminal 3 now stands to park and turn around closer to Terminals 2 and 4, which could reduce passenger delays.

Former Pan Am employee Brian Donnelly, 71, spent 25 years working at Pan Am. His last job was director of material planning and inventory management.

"It is kind of sad, but I'm not going to mourn over it; basically, everything moves on," said Donnelly, a former Long Island resident, who now lives in Hawley, Pa.

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