Note from Randy: The following is a guest post from photographer, writer and teacher Wendy Erickson on the largely unknown “Building One” at New Jersey’s Newark International Airport. The building is the work of architect John S. Homlish and currently serves as offices for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The lobby area is open to the public, however taking photos is discouraged so I’m glad we have the pictures in this article. To see more of Wendy’s many photographic projects, visit her website, Wazobird Studio.
In 2003, I got to experience the 1930’s and the heyday of Air travel with a visit to Building One at Newark Airport, in Newark, New Jersey. This fully restored Art Deco gem is hidden within the confines of Newark Airport. Originally built 1934-35, it has been listed as a series of historic “firsts” listed by Medhat Okelly and Richard Southwick as:
- •World’s first modern airport terminal
- •Housed the first airport restaurant
- •Housed the first air traffic control tower
- •The first weather bureau
- •The first night flights using steel tracks on the roof which supported guide lights
It served as the prototype example for future airport buildings built in the United States. Amelia Earhart was present at the dedication ceremonies.
In 2000, the two-story building was moved 3700 feet from its original location to its present resting place. The building was “in the way” but its status as a National Historic Landmark gave it protection. According to an article in Passenger Terminal World, December 2002, the building was “the largest and heaviest structure ever moved on rubber tired dollies.”
Today it houses offices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the police administration offices. Only part of the building is open to the public, and those are the areas I refer to.
The current front entrance of the building was originally facing the runway. The original entrance that passengers would have departed from now faces the enclosed courtyard, flanked by new construction. The original building was built in the shape of an airplane, with a straight section in the middle and two “wing like” areas on either side, which go out at approximately a 45-degree angle.
Starting with the new outward facing façade of the building, you will notice smooth reinforced concrete. Called “cast in place” concrete, it was different than most of the buildings built in Newark at the time. You’ll notice horizontal bands, broken up by orange colored spandrels, made of red bricks.
Windows and doors are of steel and glass, creating the look of transparency. The designs above the doors on the front and back of the building are Art Deco patterns in cast aluminum.
The building is clean, well maintained, inviting. It appears massive as it is approached from the front entrance, possibly because of the brilliant white color of the outside and the strong vertical lines.
Enter the new main entrance (originally the ‘landside’ entrance) through a large revolving door with Art Deco embellishments, and you will be notice brilliant polished marble, gleaming and colorful terrazzo floors with 1930’s airplane motifs in the Art Deco style. The ceiling appears low in contrast to the entrance of the building. Light reflects onto the floors from every window. It is a bright space.
Six Tennessee marble columns are spaced evenly on each side of the main floor. Their motifs appear to be stylized feathers. I feel the plastic baseboard covering distracts from the design; however, it is likely a re-creation of the original. Lighting is from the ceiling, from spotlights and round deco ceiling lights. A decorative pattern in ornamental plaster extends from the front door to the back door on the ceiling of the main floor. This main section of the building’s ground floor measures 217 feet in length x 64 feet in width.
The “back door” of the building was originally called the ‘airside’ entrance, which faced the airfield. It is meticulously restored, and is classic deco architecture – simple, clean lines, modern. The use of concrete and glass give it an airy feeling. Strong horizontal lines are emphasized. The words “Administration Building” are lettered in aluminum in a deco typeface. The bird motifs above the door are stunning. From the courtyard you can see the bank of 6 windows in the boardroom on the second floor, and the original aircraft control tower on the top. The concrete steps show signs of rusting from the metal strips on the tops of each step.
Two sets of stairs lead from the main floor to the second floor. The stairs are on either side of the main entrance. They are simple in design, with dark gray cement steps and polished aluminum handrails.
Once on the second floor, you enter from either stairway, an upper “lobby” area, which has grey and tan terrazzo floors, again with an Art Deco motif, this time with a stylized airplane propeller.
This upper lobby is currently used as part of a History display, and contains a replica of one of Arshile Gorsky’s airport murals, painted in 1933 under a WPA grant. The originals are in the Newark Museum. The murals were titled “Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations.” They are brightly colored and use amorphous patterns.
Across from the lobby is a large boardroom. The bowed windows of this room mimic the windows in the original control tower, which is reached by going up the narrow spiral staircase, directly above.
The original control tower has been fully restored, although it does not contain any instruments. Constructed of glass and steel. It measures approximately 8’ x 16.’
The final stop is a restored hotel room. Kept locked by the staff, the door is painted a dull brown color; the room is a pale blue-green color. A simple bed, pillow, coat rack and a lone pair of binoculars adorn the room. The bathroom is pink and black tile, too small a room to photograph. The walls curve at the top, mimicking the columns on the first floor. Hanging on the wall is a calendar from the year 1933, a year before the building was constructed.
As you exit the building on the first floor, there is a large showcase with ephemera and memorabilia from the history of flight. The photographs and objects are wonderful and give a real feeling of what aviation was like during the glory days of flight.
All present day photographs © Wendy Erickson
Summary of Building History
Style: Art Deco
Original Name: Building 51
Current Name: Building 1
Original owner: City of Newark, NJ
Year built: 1934-1935; dedicated May 15, 1935
Architect: Unknown, part of a CWA (Civil Works Administration) Project and the City of Newark
National register of Historic Places: 1979
Year Moved to new site: 2000; Restoration completed 2002
Original cost: $700,000
Restoration cost: $6 million
New Addition: 68,000ft
Restoration Architects: Beyer, Blinder and Belle, NY, NY
Contractor: Prismatic Development Corp, Fairfield, NJ
Current Owner: Port Authority of NY and NJ
CNN.com. “Historic Newark Airport Building makes its move.” October 30, 2000. http:www.cnn.com/2000/travel/news/10/30/airport.building.ap/ . September 26, 2003.
“The History of Building 1, 1935-2001.” Undated publication from Newark Airport, Building 1, received October 2003.
“Historic American Engineering record, Newark International Airport.” HAER No. NJ-133-B
McConnell, Lorraine. Press release, undated, “The Newark Museum Marks state’s contributions to flight history with Exhibition, family programs”.
Okelly, Medhat , Richard Southwick. “Second Site.” Passenger Terminal World. December, 2002.
“Section 106 Review.” http://www.state.nj.us/dep/hpo/2protection/section106.htm. September 26, 2003.
Sfoza, David. “Newark Airport at 75: The Sky’s the limit.” The Record Newspaper, September 28, 2003.