LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal – An Art Deco Treasure

Posted on September 26, 2017

LaGuardia Airport Marine Air Terminal

We stumbled into a time warp on our recent trip to New York. We arrived at LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal. The Pan Am Clipper flying boats of the 1940s took off from the nearby East River. The building itself is an Art Deco shrine. It’s been modified somewhat to accommodate modern planes, but the core has been successfully preserved.

Delta Airlines is using the old terminal for its shuttle service to Chicago and a few other cities while they build a brand new terminal elsewhere on the airport.

Bust of NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia

Not only is the building itself cool, but the fact that they used the river to launch planes is amazing. The Clippers were made by Boeing and were half boat, half airplane. They didn’t need runways. They could take off and land on any fairly calm body of water.

They held up to 77 first class passengers who paid a lot of money for the experience of long distance travel. It flew at 188mph with a range of just over 2000 miles. Most of the Clippers hop scotched across the Pacific from San Francisco.


The “Dixie Clipper” carried Pres. Roosevelt to the Casablanca Conference.

The Clippers came on line right at the start of World War II and Atlantic crossings were mostly military personnel.  President Franklin D Roosevelt traveled on the “Dixie Clipper” on his trip to the Casablanca Conference in 1943.

The ticketing counter in the terminal

Only the most experienced pilots got to fly the planes. In an era before GPS, they employed various means of finding their way across vast oceans, including celestial navigation and even dead reckoning. 400 years earlier, Spanish explorers used those same methods to sail to the Americas.

The flying boats were perfect for an era before the construction of runways at airports. By the end of the war, so many runways had been built for military operations that the Clippers became obsolete.

Detail of mural surrounding ticketing area

For Art Deco lovers, New York is a gold mine of hidden treasures. The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center & the Chrysler Building are three of the more famous examples.  But the Marine Terminal can hold its own with any of them. Next time you are at LaGuardia, even if it’s at a different terminal, try to sneak over for a look. Kudos to the NYC civic leaders who preserved this wonderful piece of history.

Pan American Airways Boeing Model B-314 ‘Yankee Clipper’  at anchor at the LaGuardia Marine Air Terminal, New York, 1940.

Poster promoting travel to Hawaii

Clipper in US Army Air Force colors

Crowds gather at the Marine Air Terminal for the first Clipper flight to Europe March 31, 1940

Current use as terminal for Delta Air Lines shuttle service