If you think it’s kind of sad the way the media stanned the arrival of the TWA Hotel at JFK, clap your hands. Hold on, let me fetch those earplugs.
Not that you’ll need them at the hotel itself. The renovation of Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center, his futuristic airport set piece, is impressive, even if it didn’t really require all that much effort: the building’s bones are as solid as they were when it opened in 1962, a supposedly glorious time in American history when sexism was cool, the civil rights movement was merely incipient and the Beatles had yet to become interesting. Because in case you didn’t know, the hotel part of the TWA Hotel is a completely separate structure from the old Saarinen terminal. And it’s architecturally dull as dishwater.
So that’s the first thing that’s sad about the TWA Hotel at JFK. Now for the second.
It’s not that they lay the 1962 thing on a little too thick. They lay it on a lot too thick. As indicated above, 1962 was not that cool. Several sources report that 1958 was actually much cooler! But there you are, the place is perma-stuck in 1962, so much so that on two separate visits I actually saw people (staffers? idiots?) strutting around in early 1960s-style attire. There’s a display of flight attendants’ and pilots’ uniforms on the upper level—but we’ve seen this stuff before, and over and over. Was it really so fabulous the first time around? There’s a mock-up of a 1960s-style living room in one corner, but it’s unclear if you’re allowed to sit down on the sofa or not. And if you’re not, it’s kind of a waste of space.
Third sad thing, the music. Everywhere you turn in the vast lobby, from the high-ceilinged central portion down to every little food service nook and gift shop cranny, you are going to hear the kind of music that your parents used to listen to and that made you squirm in the backseat of the car as they schlepped you to school and refused to play anything from Abbey Road or after.
I mean we get it, the whole early 1960s thing, but after nearly 60 years Hit the Road Jack! and yet another Sinatra tune are about as cool as a brontosaurus’s earwax. It’s not that the music itself is bad, it’s just that playing only that era’s music and nothing else feels lazy and comes off as a cop-out and rather desperately scripted. Also, if the overpriced and underwhelming Intelligentsia coffee bar can be so future-forward and hip that it bans cash (how Swedish of them!), they could mix up the soundtrack a bit, no? And it’s played almost obnoxiously loud.
There’s something else about the place that’s kind of creepy, but it’s by omission. TWA was a legendary airline to be sure, but it was also no stranger to catastrophe, its eventual bankruptcy in 2001 being the least of its problems in human terms.
In 1974 a TWA plane en route from Tel Aviv to New York blew up over the Mediterranean. In 1996, a 747 flown by TWA exploded over the Atlantic near Long Island, killing all 230 people on board—including a group of young students on their way to Paris for the first time. Flight 800 was probably downed by an errant missile fired in error by the U.S. Navy—plenty of credible French new sources stand by the claim—but as if a government cover-up isn’t bad enough, the absence of any kind of memorial to the victims is just plain inexcusable. Americans do a terrible job of remembering the past, but that’s no excuse. The willful erasure of memory here is beyond sad—it’s tragic.
Fifth thing: $16 for a cocktail in a narrow restored Lockheed Constellation jet? Sad. And a rooftop infinity pool? That’s the sixth sad thing: this is New York, crappy weather capital of the U.S.A., so how often are you really gonna be able to use that pool—and why would you want to, anyway? Don’t you have a plane to catch, people?