Part 1: Reagan National Airport is an Art Deco Delight

The original Washington National Airport (DCA) Terminal building is an art deco masterpiece commissioned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in 1938 and completed in 1940.

If you have some time to spare on your next trip out of DCA in Washington, DC you should wander over to see the exhibit hall and the restoration of the historic terminal between Terminal A and Terminal B.

The wonderful art deco features have been lovingly restored by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. DCA is an Art Deco Delight The space now serves as a quiet retreat from the rest of the bustling airport.

There is an public exhibit area above the waiting room with historic photographs and artifacts from the art deco era. You can see glass balustrades and other examples of streamlined Art Deco ornamentation.

The main waiting room is now rented out for private parties.  I had the good fortune of attending the 2000 Preservation Ball sponsored by the Art Deco Society of Washington in celebration of the magnificent restoration.  Ball guests in period costume were treated to a private tour of the restored FDR’s Presidents Suite on the lower level (now near the security office), and enjoyed cocktails in the semi-circular Terrace Dining Room.

Stepping Out at Washington National Airport
Stepping Out at Washington National Airport

The Terrace Dining room is a jewel of 1940’s architecture and interior design, with a curved wrap-around window wall providing spectacular views of the runways, the Potomac River, and the national monuments in the distance.  The space boasts an elaborately inlaid blue terrazzo floor typical of the art deco period.  The entrance to the space features Art Deco designs in molded relief.

You can see more historic pictures (including a picture of the FDR conference room and the exhibit area) and learn about the history of the airport and its restoration here.

The President’s Suite was built to provide FDR with an easily accessible, private waiting room and reception area at the airport. The facility was located on the terminal’s ground floor to provide direct access to an apron-level airfield door.

According to the Art Deco Society of Washington:

Like the rest of Historic Terminal A, the original suite design was an attempt to use then-modern, relatively inexpensive material to create restrained yet elegant surroundings. Much of the rehabilitation program focused on restoring the room’s original features and finishes. The original floor, although largely intact, required a combined approach of small-scale patches and replacement of a few larger damaged floor sections with carefully matched new terrazzo. Damage to the laminate wall panels was repaired and larger holes were filled and then meticulously painted to match the original wood grain. All of the original light fixtures had been discarded long ago, so appropriate new wall sconces and ceiling fixtures had to be located and installed in the original positions. Appropriate new furnishings were selected for this unique space and this new “old” conference room stands as an example of an excellent adaptive use of a historic area.

This moderne gem is not generally open to the public.

If you share my interest in historic preservation and industrial design, please check out this very nice post about the historic terminal with lots of pictures of the art deco details by Cranky Flier.

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