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A Brief History of LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal in NYC

Picture of Julia Goicochea
Updated: 29 March 2018
Today, Terminal A at LaGuardia Airport is just another terminal hosting the Queens airport’s regional flyers. However, as the United States’ only first-generation air terminal still operating, the Marine Air Terminal has unquestionably taken off in a special way. Discover the history of the only New York City attraction conveniently based inside one of its major airports.
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LaGuardia Marine Air Terminal, New York, NY, circa 1940 | © Hans Groenhoff / WikiCommons

From the beginning, the Marine Air Terminal (MAT) was an anomaly. While most industries were dying during the Great Depression, accessible air travel was just being born, along with a new airport in Queens, New York. The Works Progress Administration-funded LaGuardia Airport featured a seaplane base boasting Art Deco details and “Flight,” a 12-foot-tall (3.6 meters) 237-foot-long (72.2 meters) aviation-themed mural. Its appearance, coupled with a successful inaugural flight of Pan Am’s celebrated “Yankee Clipper,” established MAT as the country’s premier gateway to Europe.

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LaGuardia Marine Air Terminal | © David Sharpe / WikiCommons

Unfortunately, the MAT wouldn’t remain on top for long. After the end of the seaplane era, the MAT was all but abandoned before eventually being repurposed as a remote terminal for regional shuttle flights. The airport was so eager to cater to modern tastes that in 1952, James Brooks’ iconic “Flight” was painted over. Much like the MAT itself, the mural remained neglected until the late 1970s when one LaGuardia Airport employee raised funds to restore it with help from Brooks himself. The restoration of the MAT’s mural ushered in that of its glory: in 1980, the MAT and Brooks’ “Flight” was designated a New York Interior Landmark.

The MAT’s star has risen higher and higher ever since. In 1982, the building itself was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and 20 years later, the Pan Am Historical Foundation honored the MAT with an exclusive Pan Am exhibit. Today, the MAT is more than a traditional terminal, transporting flyers not just through space but back to a time when transoceanic travel was New York’s most glamorous new frontier.