Saying Goodbye To The Old Terminal 1

This Saturday, immediately after the last Southwest Airlines 737 pushes back from the gate, a crew will begin dismantling the security checkpoint in Terminal 1, signaling the end of an era for Raleigh-Durham International Airport. 

The original waiting room of the 1955 terminal is the space that contains the security checkpoint in early 2014.

The waiting room of the 1955 terminal  contains the security checkpoint in early 2014.

For those of us who work at RDU, it’s an exciting time. We are looking forward to opening a new Terminal 1 and bringing our customers the same world-class travel experience that they’ve come to know at Terminal 2. But, a part of us will miss the character, history and (let’s be honest) quirks of a building that has been serving the region since 1955.

Over the past few months, as we’ve been preparing for the opening of the new Terminal 1, I’ve had the opportunity to delve into the photo archives and see what the building looked like in 1955. Scanning through the decades of images, you can see a visual commentary on society, fashion, air travel and our region.

The early photos show a solitary, yet well-appointed, waiting room, with a door to the airfield. No security checkpoint. No jet bridges.

The then-named Terminal B ticketing lobby in the 1980s.

The then-Terminal B ticketing lobby in the 1980s.

It doesn’t take long for the pictures to show expansion of the terminal and increasingly larger aircraft. Then, the photos transition to the old “blue box,” which is where I took my first flight in the early 1990s.

I remember coming to the airport with friends in high school and passing through security to eat at one of the terminal restaurants, simply because you could. In college, I spent the summer of 2001 as an intern here working on many projects in Terminal 1, including photographing the old playport kids indoor playground.

Members of the public awaiting the homecoming of Duke University's Coach K after the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Members of the public awaiting the homecoming of Duke University’s Coach K after the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

After returning to work for the Airport Authority in 2008, I helped organize a last minute press conference with Duke officials for Coach K’s return home following a gold medal win in Beijing. I’ll never forget the sight of wall-to-wall people bringing in lawn chairs to Bag Claim 4 and 5 for a glimpse of the coach amidst the checkered floors and brick walls.

Just like my memories, if you ask anyone here about what they remember about the terminal, you’re likely to get a story. And, I’m sure if you ask someone who’s lived in the region a while, they’ll have a story as well.

The old Terminal 1 or Terminal A or Terminal B or simply the terminal (its had many names throughout the years) was never designed to wow with impressive architecture or fancy features. It was built to serve. And, for nearly 60 years, it’s been a workhorse for our region. With the opening of the new Terminal 1 this weekend an era of new memories will begin, but the legacy of the old Terminal 1 won’t fade anytime soon.

About Andrew Sawyer

Andrew Sawyer is the External Communication Specialist for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority and is the main writer for RDU’s website, electronic communication and airport publications. He’s also the primary face behind RDU’s social media channels. Andrew also assists with many other things, from media relations to event planning. In fact, he has an advanced degree in "other duties as assigned."
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2 Responses to Saying Goodbye To The Old Terminal 1

  1. As a child whose parents lived in different states, I have very fond memories of the old RDU terminal in the 70′s and 80′s. I was always excited to be there (whether coming or going) and very proud of myself for being an independent traveler.

  2. John Paul says:

    It would be great if the old, original RDU Terminal could be restored to it’s 1950s-1960s state and use as a regional air transportation museum. The control tower is classic, and the floor mosaic underneath the carpet is wonderful. Preserve a bit of the past! Don’t tear it down!

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