Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ode to the Smith Terminal

Walking through the Smith Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport (lots of pics at link), it feels like a bit of a shame that it’s become such the neglected stepchild mess of all airline terminals. It wasn’t always this way. When I was growing up it was sharper, more open, so modern and nicely scaled for the needs of the day. If you look closely you can still see vestiges of when the terminal was a sophisticated gateway to the glamorous world of air travel.

As it did when the terminal opened in 1957, the ceiling still soars overhead and check-in counters for the smaller airlines still ring the main entry area. Modern glassed-in airline offices, reminiscent of management overlooking the factory floor, still sit on the mezzanine level

Terrazzo floors and travertine marble details exist throughout most of the circulation space, but they are about the only high-end design elements that remain. Signs in great cream/white on brown/black (colors acquired as the patina of age) with that slightly funky san serif font are a little beat up but absolutely scream 1970. The glass block walls down the corridor seem surprisingly contemporary. The square analog clocks that dot the ceiling along the corridor have that dated-but-kind-of-now feeling too.

There are only scars remaining from many of the amenities that once seemed like necessities. The post office is permanently gated with only the glue from the signage letters indicating what it once was. Phone booths with their little stainless steel mushroom stools are all capped over (with a few exceptions) or converted to internet terminals. The courtesy phone station is now a laptop recharging station.

The most glaring indication of what an anachronism the Smith Terminal has become is the way that the security checkpoint is still just plunked down in what was once a high-traffic corridor. A Jack Daniels (sorry, Jose Cuervo) Tequilaria and airport newstand have been crammed in right there as well.The original design for the flow of passengers and guests was hijacked on 9/11, and that is what really pushes Smith into obsolescence. Well, that and the abysmal baggage claim situation.

Unlike the TWA terminal at JFK Airport, Smith was once nice but has no compelling architectural merit. It’s just a dated relic of a different time in air travel. But I have lots of fond childhood memories of being hustled through there by my parents, and I’m glad I got to travel through it one last time before it is closed for good next month.

Time to go.


Anonymous said...

Might we mean Jose Cuervo Tequilaria? Last I checked Jack was still a whiskey.

SupergayDetroit said...

Oh my God, you are so right.

I think I was drunk on Jack when I wrote that. Or at least wished I were.

Backintheday said...

Oh brother. Your childhood recollections of Smith Terminal sound like my childhood recollections of Michigan Central Station. I'm going shopping for a walker.

darren said...

i didn't know this was closing... i'm flying into it one last time, as well.

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