Nfld. & Labrador

Gander airport seeking designer to help open historic international lounge to public

Gander's famous international lounge is taking one step closer to being opened to the public.

Airport authority CEO hopes work is done by next summer

The international lounge at Gander Airport in Newfoundland has been the building's premier attraction for decades. (Reddit/J-Darling)

It's the crown jewel of Gander's airport — possibly of any Canadian airport — and it's one step closer to being open for the world to see.

The international lounge at Gander International is a designer's dream, full of furniture and art straight from 1959. It's been dubbed the "single most important modernist room in Canada" by the National Trust for Canada.

It's been mostly sealed off for decades, but the airport authority has a plan to get it open to the public again and is now issuing a request for proposals, seeking a design company to refurbish the room and create a self-guided tour for visitors.

"We can't go back to 1959, obviously, but we can give some of the artifacts, the furniture and some things that are under duress a bit of a lustre," said airport authority CEO Reg Wright.

Reg Wright, president and CEO of the Gander International Airport Authority, hopes the lounge can open next June. (Gander International Airport Authority)

Wright said the airport had about 120 tour buses show up this summer, but the room isn't visitor-ready. People can stand above it and look down through a glass wall at the entire room, but actual access to the lounge is restricted to special occasions.

The boost in visitors is two-pronged, Wright said. The main attraction has been the Broadway musical Come From Away, which has been a smash hit around the world and inspired people to visit Gander.

The other factor has been a revived interest in mid-century modern design, sparked by the TV show Mad Men, starring Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, which was set in the 1960s.

Opened in 1959, the international lounge at Gander airport is an avant-garde room featuring a large wall mural and ​​​​​​sculpture. (Martin Jones/CBC)

Gander's request for proposals comes with an Oct. 31 deadline.

Wright hopes the international departures lounge, which has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Queen Elizabeth II, will be open for new visitors by next summer.

"I would love to say it will be [open] June of next year," Wright said. "Some people who have experience with this say that might be ambitious but we've certainly done a lot of work getting things in the can with hopes we can accelerate it through."

It's all part of a $1.5-million overhaul with funding from the provincial and federal governments, aimed at attracting more visitors to the airport — even if they aren't hopping on a plane.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On the Go

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