The Pan American Seaplane Terminal at Dinner Key
by Beth Dunlop
Oct. 31, 1982
When it opened in 1933, Pan American World Airway's Clipper Terminal on Dinner Key was hailed as the world's most progressive marine air terminal. As the Clipper planes set forth for Cuba and Caracas and points throughout the Caribbean and South America, Miami began to earn the appellation, Gateway of the Americas.
Pan Am's first terminal at Dinner Key was a houseboat, and the seaplanes were stored in a hangar, erected in 1931. Two years later, the airline erected its modern marine terminal, a two-story art deco structure flanked by one-story wings. The design provoked national interest, and there were articles in both architectural and aviation journals singing its praises.
Inside, there was a two-story waiting room, with a 10-foot globe in the center. The beamed ceiling was decorated with signs of the zodiac, and the walls with murals of the history of aviation. Above the curved ticket counter hung a monumental winged clock.
Upstairs, there was a dining room for 100 with an open deck that allowed for an additional 50 diners. There were two observation decks, as well as all the requisite mail and baggage, customs and public health facilities.
The Clipper Terminal was designed by the prominent New York firm of Delano & Aldrich, architects of such important revival- styled buildings as the Colony Club (Georgian), the Knickerbocker Club (also Georgian), the Willard-Straight House (Federal, now the International Center of Photography) and the Union Club (mansard-roofed, 18th-Century English).
In the early 20th Century, Delano & Aldrich had assumed the society-club architect mantle of McKim, Mead & White, and the Beaux-Arts-trained architects flourished in that role. But in the '30s, they began to design more streamlined buildings, including the Pan Am Clipper Terminal and LaGuardia Airport's first passenger and marine terminals, built in 1939 in conjunction with the New York World's Fair. In 1952, William Adams Delano won the American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal, its most prestigious honor.
In its heyday, the Clipper terminal served 50,000 passengers annually, but more importantly, it drew an average of 30,000 visitors a month, and in the tourist season, that number rose to 100,000 a month. During World War II, Dinner Key became a Navy base, and in 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt boarded a clipper ship headed for Casablanca there -- the first time a president traveled in an airplane.
After the war, the city of Miami bought Dinner Key for use as a park, and in 1950, converted the Clipper Terminal into a restaurant and marina office. Four years later, it was converted once again --into Miami's City Hall.
|Miami Daily News, April 18, 1934|
|Miami Daily News, Feb. 24, 1934|
|Miami Daily News, May 27, 1934|
Click image to enlarge
|Click photographs to enlarge.|
|Miami Daily News, March 27, 1935|
|Miami Daily News, April 14, 1935|
|Miami Daily News, April 18, 1935|
|Miami Daily News, Oct. 28, 1935|
|Miami Daily News, Nov. 18, 1935|
|Palm Beach Post, Jan. 20, 1946|
|Miami Daily News, Oct. 4, 1950|
National Park Service: The Pan American Seaplane Base and Terminal Building