The jet-age Airlines Terminal on 42nd Street

In the 1930s, the future of passenger air travel looked bright—if still out of reach for the average New Yorker (a NYC to Europe flight cost $375, or more than five grand in today’s cash!)

Airlineterminalbldgpostcard

To make flying more convenient, the city constructed the Airlines Terminal Building, an appropriately futuristic, Art Deco-inspired structure on 42nd Street in Midtown.

Here, passengers didn’t actually catch their flights but could pick up tickets for any airline serving New York.

Airlinesterminalbldg19501The idea was that “you could buy your ticket in town and ride in comfort on a dedicated bus to LaGuardia or Newark airports,” explains citynoise.org.

Of course, LaGuardia Airport wasn’t LaGuardia yet—in 1939, it opened as New York City Municipal Airport, where Pan Am, American, United, Eastern, and an outfit known as Transcontinental & Western Air, aka TWA, flew out of.

Located across the street from Grand Central, it was a wild building, with kind of a space age crown flanked by two eagles on top.

Airlinesterminalbldg1970s

The Airlines Terminal Building outlived its usefulness. It was bulldozed to make room for the headquarters for Phillip Morris, which has occupied the address since the early 1980s.

[Middle photo: MCNY collections; bottom: Citynoise.org]

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14 Responses to “The jet-age Airlines Terminal on 42nd Street”

  1. Pontifikate Says:

    Where on 42nd street was this? Cross street? When was it torn down?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It was across from Grand Central on Park. Not sure when exactly it was torn down, but the Phillip Morris building opened in the early 1980s.

  3. Newport Carl Says:

    Loved this article… Loved the eagles on top of the building

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, nice touch!

  5. penelopebianchi Says:

    I love your website! I love these and all of your pictures!
    Yes; “ephemeral” is the lovely word that describes architecture, decorating, art….all of it. As a decorator; I know how ephemeral what I do is!

    It is a huge gift to see things I love restored and still there! an example…..The Cafe Carlyle!!! the murals were painted by Marcel Vertes; a Hungarian artist who came to New York by way of France during the second world war.

    He did the murals as a way to have “room and board”; as did Ludwig Bemelmans. “(Belemans Bar”) They are both endlessly fascinating to me!

    As well as the little “ante room” that Renzo Mongiardino did from Italy!

    Lordy! I adore the Carlyle……they have maintained and restored those treasures……so many have been destroyed!!

    Penelope

  6. Areta Cartwright Says:

    Penelope, have you read Hotel Bemelmans by Ludwig Bemelmans? It is a delight.

    • penelopebianchi Says:

      No! Thank you for the tip! I have read (one of my favorites “To the one I loved the best”! about Elsie de Wolfe! I will search immediately! Thank you!!! I am a huge fan!!

  7. Frank Says:

    There were two other terminals in midtown, called (appropriately enough) the West Side Airlines Terminal, on 42nd Street and Tenth Avenue, and the East Side Airlines Terminal, on First Avenue and, I believe, 38th Street. One could check in for a flight at the ticket counters, have baggage processed (you wouldn’t see it again until you arrived at the final destination, and lost luggage was almost unheard of) and then take the Carey Bus to either LGA or IDL/JFK; I don’t remember a bus going to EWR. The bus trip from the East Side Terminal was direct, but from the West Side Terminal the bus would make a stop outside Grand Central Terminal (at the Park Avenue Airlines Terminal) and the at the East Side Terminal before heading to the airport. The route was reversed on the trip from the airport. The buses ran every fifteen or twenty minutes and those in the know who had to get across town quickly (and for free) would take the bus from either terminal to Grand Central or the other side of town or begin their trip at GCT.

  8. Frank Says:

    I almost forgot a bit of trivia: in the late 1950’s or early ’60’s Carey sold one of its buses to FDNY and it was refurbished and placed in service as Ambulance 1, quartered in the firehouse (Engine 1/Ladder 24) on 31st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, opposite St. Francis of Assisi. The apparatus was equipped in such a manner that it could be considered a prototype for today’s MERV’s

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Fascinating…and a very civilized way to get to the airport. I guess once the airlines were deregulated and prices went down, more people flew, and that system burst at the seams.

  10. Frank Says:

    No doubt that deregulation played a part in it, but other factors came into play as well. The proliferation of black-car services offering door-to-door service from one’s home to the terminal or vice versa also had a role. Not only were they more convenient, they were also a less expensive alternative to chauffeured limousines but less egalitarian than the radio-dispatched medallion taxis. Neither Carey, the airlines, the City nor the Port Authority ever tried to expand service beyond midtown Manhattan to the Outer Boroughs, Long Island, Westchester or New Jersey. As the populations of those areas increased and were more likely to fly for business or personal travel, they had no reason to travel to Manhattan rather than drive directly to long-term parking lots at the airports. It remains another example of the failure of government and the private sector to endorse and reward mass transit alternatives. And, of course, the Port Authority would rather not lose the gold mine that parking revenue produces.

  11. Richard Says:

    For a little while after this building was demolished, the same operations continued in a smaller space at 125 Park Avenue, between 41st and 42nd where the New York Airport Service now stops. I checked my bags there at the appropriate airline desk and took a shuttle to EWR on several occasions in the late Eighties. I never travelled out of this beautiful building, but at least I had a chance to eat in the Horn and Hardart there once!

  12. RD Wolff Says:

    I remember when the building was demolished, I bought one of the cut limestone letter “R”s, it was about 30″ tall, maybe 90-100#. The eagles with the flagpole wound up being reinstalled on the grounds of a banking company headquarters elsewhere, I think in NJ somewhere.
    The building was right on Park Ave and 42nd, about the time they demolished it Donald Trump was busy destroying the Commodore hotel on the other diagonal corner.

  13. Benjamin Waldman Says:

    The building and site have a very interesting history, which I wrote about here:

    http://untappedcities.com/2012/06/25/from-forge-to-skyscraper-the-story-of-120-park-avenue/

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