Bettmann Archive

When it opened, it boasted an observation deck for visitors, a major art mural, and more.

Melanie Lieberman

Believe it or not, New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA)—an international hub with a reputation for being the single worst airport in the United States—was once a bustling, modern entryway to New York. “It was a jewel when it was built [in 1939],” New York’s Global Gateway Alliance executive director, Stephen Sigmund, told the LA Times.

Bettmann Archive

Within a year of opening, LaGuardia was the busiest airport in the world, with eye-catching features like the Skywalk observation deck (now closed) that let visitors enjoy panoramic views of the airport ramp. The Art Deco Pan American Airways terminal came adorned with a mural by James Brook and, in the 1960s, a new Central Terminal arrived with a rooftop observation deck running the entirety of the 1,300-foot-long building.

This was the heyday of LaGuardia; today, the 77-year-old airport has been deemed a “third world country” by Vice President Joe Biden. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deemed it “un-New York,” saying “it’s slow, it’s dated,” and “it’s a lost opportunity.”

The LIFE Picture Collection

In July, Biden and Cuomo came together to announce a redesign that would almost entirely replace the existing airport by 2021. Last month, the price tag estimate leapt from $4 billion to $5.3 billion.

While we anxiously wait in cramped terminals for work to begin later this year, we’re dreaming of the promised LIRR and subway link (which may or may not be more convenient than what already exists), and a single, mile-long terminal building with first-class restaurants, storefronts—maybe even a boutique hotel.

Getty Images

Will it be enough to restore LaGuardia to its revered status during the Golden Age of travel? After five years of construction and billions of dollars, we can only hope that it is. All we ask is that they don’t tear down the historic Marine Air Terminal, now a national monument, with its paintings of luxurious, two-deck “flying boats.” Because even if LaGuardia does arrive in the contemporary world, air travel may never again be as glamorous as it once was. 

You May Like