In 1962, the architect Eero Saarinen’s Trans World Flight Center at Kennedy International Airport seemed poised to ascend, its 310-foot-wide concrete wings flexed in hopeful upstroke as a memorable symbol of the globe-girdling Trans World Airlines.
There was just one problem.
“It was functionally obsolete the day it opened,” Tyler Morse, the chief executive and managing partner of MCR Development, said. He is also an avid student of the building, an official New York City landmark, inside and out.
Designed by Mr. Saarinen when the propeller-driven, triple-tailed Lockheed Constellation ruled the skies, the flight center opened at the dawn of commercial jet aviation. Its check-in and baggage-handling capacities were quickly taxed by Boeing 707 jetliners, and then simply overwhelmed by jumbo Boeing 747s.
Unsympathetic expansions were made to the terminal building, called the headhouse, between 1967 and 2000. It closed in 2001, after American Airlines acquired the crippled T.W.A., and has stood largely empty ever since.
For one brief shining moment, however, the flight center was an embodiment of the jet age.
That is the moment Mr. Morse seeks to recapture in his plans to revive the building as the public entrance — with reception desk, restaurants, a nightclub, event space and a food court — leading to a new two-building, six-story, 505-room hotel in the crescent-shaped area between the Saarinen landmark and JetBlue’s Terminal 5.
He even plans to call his $265 million project the TWA Hotel. […]