[FoRK] Classic article on airport architecture/"airspaces": YQX

Gordon Mohr gojomofork at xavvy.com
Mon Mar 28 09:00:40 PST 2005

Article URL (but from NYTimes Travel Magazine -- likely to decay)

Rohit Khare wrote:
>> Airport Code  YQX
>> Airport name Gander Airport
>> Runway Length 10500 ft.
>> Runway Elevation 496 ft.
> March 20, 2005
> Gander Airport: When the Going Was Good
> Visitors to the island of Newfoundland, the easternmost part of Canada, 
> are traditionally welcomed with a Screech In. This ancient ceremony, by 
> which one attains honorary citizenship, involves kissing a cod on the 
> lips -- or, absent that, a puffin's posterior -- and downing a shot of 
> Screech Rum, Atlantic Canada's ''golden elixir.'' Foreign dignitaries 
> and heads of state are not excluded. His Royal Highness Prince Philip 
> was treated to a variation of the ritual when he was the guest of honor 
> alongside the queen at the inauguration of a new terminal at Gander 
> International Airport in 1959.
>  At that time, Gander was the most important airport in the world. On 
> the route between New York and London, trans-Atlantic flights had to 
> land there to refuel, so everyone flying between North America and 
> Europe stopped off at the Crossroads of the World, as it became known. 
> Opened in 1938, it had the biggest landing field ever constructed. 
> Business boomed following the onset of mass commercial flight after 
> World War II, and major renovations were undertaken in the late 50's to 
> accommodate the stream of passengers. Seeking to project a modern, 
> stylish image of Canada, the government commissioned a futuristic 
> terminal filled with avant-garde art and furniture. The Beacon, a 
> newspaper in Gander, declared that the refurbished airport was ''bound 
> to convince every first time arrival from overseas that this, then, is 
> paradise.''
>  But paradise soon became frozen in time. With the advent of jet fuel, 
> stopovers became unnecessary; in the 1960's, traffic slowed to a 
> trickle. (These days, traveling to Gander, population 9,650, is itself 
> like going back in time; Air Canada only flies there on tiny 
> twin-turboprop planes.) Perfectly preserved, the terminal is a time 
> capsule from the heady days when travel was exotic and airports were 
> beacons of the future. ''It's still one of the most beautiful, most 
> important Modernist rooms in the country, if not the most important,'' 
> says Alan C. Elder, the curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
> A 72-foot mural by Kenneth Lochhead, its paint tempered with more than 
> 500 dozen eggs, looms over it. The terrazzo floor is a Mondrianesque 
> caprice that children once used for hopscotch. ''There's a playfulness 
> to the room,'' says Elder, ''but it's also so sophisticated.'' The 
> midcentury furniture, mainly Canadian originals, is impeccably arranged 
> on the geometric flooring: the Prismasteel seating was designed by Robin 
> Bush for Herman Miller; the sleek black leather chairs and couches on 
> the mezzanine look like they were designed for space travel. Not 
> everything has survived, however. Charles and Ray Eames's Aluminum Group 
> chairs, covered with an Alexander Girard fabric, are gone, but their 
> fiberglass chairs can still be found, notably opposite a long mirror in 
> the pink, maroon and gray powder room.
> ''A lot of very important people have sat in those chairs,'' muses Gary 
> R. Vey, the airport's president and chief executive. Vey's office is 
> filled with the orange leather Jacques Guillon seats that once occupied 
> the Distinguished Visitors Suite. Ron Jones, the former head of 
> catering, remembers those chairs well: ''I was getting everyone wets'' - 
> drinks - ''and the empress of Iran stopped in with the embassy 
> entourage. When she went to sit down, the straps on the bottom of the 
> chair gave way, and her tail feathers hit the deck. Boom!'' The V.I.P. 
> room guest list reads like a who's who of 20th-century arts, ideas and 
> politics. The Beatles first set foot on North American soil at Gander. 
> Frank Sinatra tried to butt in line at the bar and was asked to wait his 
> turn. Jackie O., Churchill, Khrushchev, Marlene Dietrich, the king of 
> Sweden, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, 
> Ingrid Bergman - the list of signatories fills encyclopedia-size 
> ledgers. Gander resembled a real-life version of those Edward Hopper 
> ''Nighthawks'' knockoffs with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando 
> and Elvis Presley all at one desolate - but spectacularly lighted - 
> terminal.
> The anecdotes are like a mainline into the Twilight Zone. ''My memory is 
> very vivid of the night I chatted with Albert Einstein,'' Mary Smeaton 
> MacDonald, a former gift-shop employee, says in a pamphlet for Gander's 
> 1997 Airlines Reunion. What did they talk about? ''Oh, the theory of 
> relativity.'' Marilyn Stuckless, who was the airport's commercial 
> developer, says: ''When I was a teeny-bopper, we were out tobogganing 
> when Castro and his bodyguards came to join us. It was the first time 
> they'd seen snow, and they were playing like children.'' On Sundays, the 
> entire town congregated at the terminal to eat Brookfield ice cream and 
> watch the jet set swoop into town. Because security was a nonissue, the 
> locals were able to mingle with travelers in the terminal. ''It was like 
> a big club,'' Stuckless says. ''You'd go up to someone and start 
> speaking to them. I sat down next to Muhammad Ali when he was here, 
> because that's what Newfoundlanders do. This is a little island in the 
> Atlantic, and it's very relaxed compared to what most people are 
> accustomed to. You could almost call us a bunch of innocents.'' Indeed, 
> that laid-back, charming demeanor is what put the Rock (as Newfoundland 
> is known) on the map again. On 9/11, dozens of planes had to land at 
> Gander, and locals took thousands of stranded travelers into their 
> homes. This hospitality was reciprocated with an outpouring of gratitude 
> culminating last December with President Bush's first and only official 
> trip to Canada, where he offered thanks to the maritime provinces.
> Today, the gigantic runway handles predominantly cargo and military 
> planes. It also serves as an alternate landing base for space shuttles 
> and an emergency drop-off point for air-rage passengers. It's not 
> unusual to see soldiers in fatigues, returning from Iraq, reclining on 
> the modular furniture. Private jets stop regularly to refuel: John 
> Travolta, Mariah Carey and Bill and Hillary Clinton are among recent 
> visitors to the V.I.P. suite. (Gander's main source of income was once 
> Soviet-bloc aircraft, but mass defections, wherein passengers would flee 
> into the surrounding woods, led to a crackdown by immigration 
> authorities.) Gander still exerts a magnetic attraction. A glass 
> corridor has been built to accommodate those who come to view the 
> international terminal. Though surrounded by turnip farms, moose and the 
> occasional polar bear, this small town was, for a brief spell, the most 
> cosmopolitan destination in the world. But one that embraced newcomers, 
> at a time when the idea of the world's getting smaller filled us with 
> hope, not fear.
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