Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport 1961-1980

The story of ATL’s wonderful old terminal building.

  Officials at the Atlanta Municipal Airport began making plans for a replacement passenger terminal in the mid 1950s when the old facilities (which dated back to 1948) were bursting at the seams with overwhelming traffic.  To handle the 1950s demand the old Quonset Hut Terminal (a war surplus hangar) had sprouted two concourses but was still hopelessly obsolete.

  The Atlanta-based architectural firm of Robert and Company was hired to design a new facility and opted for a Centralized Terminal design similar to the 20th Street Terminal under construction at Miami International Airport.  The estimated price of the new terminal was $21-million. 

  The Blount Brothers Construction Company of Birmingham was the project contractor and began construction in 1958 on a site adjacent to the old Quonset Hut Terminal.

A brand new 1961 Terminal viewed from the Quonset Hut Terminal's center concourse.

  When completed in 1961 Atlanta’s new terminal became the largest passenger facility in the world and its rated capacity was 4.5-million passengers a year.  The complex was comprised of a central Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building, an Administration Building and five concourses.


The 1961 Terminal's beautiful vaulted ceiling and windows.

  The Googie-style Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building was 450’ long and featured an attractive/modern-scalloped roofline.  The Arrival (lower) Level boasted mechanical luggage carousels and housed ground transportation facilities.  The Departure (upper) Level contained two airline ticket counter islands and featured a lovely barrel-vaulted ceiling.  Capital, Delta and Southern occupied the east side of the building while Eastern, Northwest and Trans World Airlines were found in the west.  


The International-style Administration Building and the lovely scalloped roofline of the Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building.

  The twelve-story Administration Building, situated behind the Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building, was designed in the International style and featured a rooftop ATC-Tower.  The steel and glass structure had teal-color exterior paneling and tinted curtain walls.  An illuminated “Atlanta” sign decorated the building’s parapet on the north and south sides.  Terminal shops and restaurants were found within the Mezzanine Level of the office tower.


Airside and aerial views of the 1961 Terminal featuring Concourses B thru F.

  The terminal’s five concourses were equipped with 50 gates capable of handling the Boeing 707 or Douglas DC-8.  Concourses B through D had ramp-level gates while Concourses E and F featured upper level departure lounges equipped with suspended-type jetways.  Enclosed pedestrian bridges connected the central terminal with the five concourses.  Eastern occupied Concourse B and shared Concourse C with Southern Airlines.  Capital, Northwest and Trans World shared Concourse D while Delta Airlines was housed at Concourses E and F.

  On May 3, 1961 the beautiful new terminal was officially opened during a ceremony held within the Departure Level.  Present at the festivities were Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield (who had been very instrumental in the terminal’s creation) and Delta Airlines President C. E. Woolman.


A United Airlines Sud-Aviation Caravelle (Left) and a Vickers Viscount prop-jet (Right).

  United began scheduled service on July 1, 1961 after the merger with Capital Airlines.  As a result of the merger United Airlines got routes from Atlanta to Birmingham, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa, which were operated utilizing Boeing 720 jetliners and Vickers Viscount turbo-prop airliners.  On October 29th, United Airlines introduced the French Sud-Aviation Caravelle jetliner on flights to Cleveland, Jacksonville and Miami.

  After the removal of the old facilities the public parking lot was completed and could accommodate a total of 4,500 automobiles.  Over 15,000 vehicles used the parking facilities on a daily basis. 

  During its first year in operation the terminal handled 2.5-million passengers and about 525 flights a day.  Over 7,000 people passed through the terminal’s concourses every day.


Two bird's-eye views of the 1961 Terminal taken after the completion of Concourse A.

  In 1962 a sixth concourse (Concourse A) was added boosting the number of gates to 60.  This facility was assigned to Eastern Airlines, which equipped its ramp-level gates with ten telescoping-type jetways.

A Piedmont Airlines Martin 404 at Concourse C.  Note the Fairchild Hiller FH-227 in the background.

  Piedmont Airlines commenced scheduled service on July 25, 1962 with direct flights to Washington DC via intermediate stops.  Initially Fairchild Hiller FH-227 turbo-prop and Martin 404 airliners were employed on the ATL service.  Piedmont occupied the west side of the Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building and used the Eastern Airlines gate facilities at Concourse C.

A Pan American Douglas DC-8 taxies away from Concourse E.

  Pan American Douglas DC-8 jetliners began to visit the terminal on May 29, 1964 when the carrier initiated an interchange with Delta Airlines on the New Orleans-Atlanta-Washington DC-Philadelphia-London-Paris route.

A Delta Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-9 parked at Concourse E.

  On December 8, 1965 Delta Airlines operated the world’s first scheduled McDonnell Douglas DC-9 flight on the Atlanta-Memphis-Kansas City route.


A 1967 pilot's view of a busy 1961 Terminal.  Note the construction of the Rotunda Modules at Concourses E & F.

  Air traffic at ATL increased at a staggering rate and as early as 1967 officials began thinking about a larger terminal.  Preliminary designs called for a bold-mega terminal but the airlines withdrew their support in 1969 after they decided they wanted a huge jetport with room for unlimited expansion.


Left: Delta Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-9s at the Concourse E Rotunda.  Right: A late-1960s aerial view of the 1961 Terminal. 

  Twelve new gates increased capacity at Concourses E and F in 1968 when two Rotunda-Gate Modules became operational.  Each Rotunda could accommodate six McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jetliners and was designed to handle the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.  The lovely Rotundas where architecturally coordinated with the Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building.

A fabulous 1969 late-afternoon shot of the beautiful Googie-style terminal.

  Two additional trunk carriers were awarded routes to Atlanta in 1969.  Braniff International initiated scheduled service on August 14th with direct Boeing 707 flights to Honolulu via Dallas Love Field and National Airlines began scheduled service on October 1st with nonstop Douglas DC-8 flights to San Francisco.

  Wide-body operations started on October 25, 1970 when Delta Airlines introduced the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet on the Atlanta-Dallas-Los Angeles route.  Smaller wide-body airliners followed in 1972 when Delta began operating the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Eastern Airlines the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.

Eastern Airlines Boeing 727s parked at Concourse B.  Note the Piedmont Airlines Boeing 737 at Concourse C.

  In 1971 Atlanta became an international gateway when Eastern Airlines was awarded a route connecting Atlanta to Mexico City.

An evocative 1971 evening view of the 1961 Terminal.

  Later that year Atlanta Municipal Airport was renamed Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.  By this time the terminal was handling close to 15-million passengers a year and to accommodate further growth airport officials launched an ambitious expansion program.


Two mid-1970s views depicting the expansion of the Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building.

  The Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building was expanded providing additional ticket counter space and more luggage carousels.  Walking distances from the Delta and Eastern Airlines ticket counters to Concourses A, B, E and F were shortened as a result of the expansion.

A 1977 bird's-eye view of the 1961 Terminal.  Note the expanded Concourse A and the mobile lounge docking ports.

  In 1972 Eastern Airlines added three upper-level departure lounges (designed to handle the Lockheed L-1011) to Concourse A.  Two docking ports designed to accommodate Dulles Int’l Airport-type mobile lounges were incorporated into the renovation.  By this time the terminal had become extremely busy and Eastern Airlines was double-parking airliners and using remote stands.

  The two Northwest Airlines gates at Concourse D were rebuilt and boasted second-level departure lounges equipped with telescoping-type jetways.  These came in handy when Northwest Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10s stopped at ATL while operating between Chicago and Miami.

  The Delta Airlines departure lounges at Concourses E and F were expanded to handle wide-body airliners and the Rotunda at Concourse E was modified to handle arriving international flights.

  In 1978 several regional carriers were awarded routes to Atlanta as a result of the Airline Deregulation Act.  Frontier Airlines began scheduled service in August with Boeing 737 flights on the Atlanta-Wichita-Denver-Salt Lake City route.  North Central Airlines commenced scheduled service on September 5th with McDonnell Douglas DC-9 service to Detroit.  Ozark Airlines initiated scheduled service in December with McDonnell Douglas DC-9 flights to Des Moines, Peoria and Moline.  United Airlines pulled out of Atlanta when it decided to expand operations at Memphis and move its regional headquarters to Tampa International Airport.

A wonderful 1978 view of a busy 1961 Terminal.

  Also beginning in 1978, Delta Airlines and several foreign flag carriers were awarded routes to various cities in Europe.  Delta Airlines began Lockheed L-1011 scheduled service to London Gatwick on April 30, 1978.  Sabena Belgian World Airlines commenced scheduled service in June with Boeing 707 flights to Brussels.  Lufthansa Airlines initiated scheduled service in May 1980 with McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flights on the Dallas-Atlanta-Frankfurt route.  British Caledonian Airways started scheduled service in June with McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flights to London Gatwick.

  During its final year in operation the jam-packed old facilities handled an amazing 42-million passengers a figure never imagined by its designers in the late 1950s.  Due to a shortage of gates, airlines would often double park airliners and flights would operate around the clock.


Early 1980s postcards of the Midfield Terminal complex.

  On September 21, 1980 the Midfield Terminal complex was opened to scheduled airline service and the old terminal building was finally closed.  The new terminal building (then the world’s largest) was loosely based on the Landside/Airside concept pioneered at Tampa International Airport in 1971.  The complex was comprised of a Landside Terminal and four Airside concourses with 125 gates (a fifth concourse could be added when required).  Linking all the terminals was an underground Westinghouse People Mover System and moving walkways.

A pilot's view of the Midfield Terminal complex.  Note the redeveloped 1961 Terminal site (on the far right) above the parallel runways. 

  For the next few years the Administration Building would continue to be occupied by the aviation authority but the rest of the terminal would be remain vacant.  In 1982 Concourses C and D were demolished to make way for a fourth (north) parallel runway.  Two years later Concourses B, E and F were razed and the Administration Building was imploded.  In 1986 the Ticketing/Baggage Claim Building was removed.  The last section of the old terminal to be destroyed was Concourse A, which met its demise in 1990.  This facility had been converted (in the early 1980s) into office space for upstart carrier Air Atlanta.  Today all that remains of the old terminal is the former 4,500-space public parking lot.  A hotel occupies the site of the former Administration Building.

Julian Harris' Phoenix spins and jangles above the terminal's central corridor. 


Left: A 1963 view of the 1961 Terminal.  Right: A Delta Airlines Convair 880 parked at Concourse E.

Concourse B viewed  from an Eastern Lockheed L-188 Electra.

A Piedmont Airlines Boeing 727 with Concourse B in the background.

The 1961 Terminal's beautiful Googie architecture.