The first airport terminal at Sea-Tac, 1947. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
On September 1, 1947 a few dozen passengers huddled around a pot-bellied stove awaiting their flights in Sea-Tac Airport’s first terminal, “The Pantry,” a Quonset hut. That makeshift home was short-lived.
Sea-Tac Administration building dedication, July 9, 1949.top of pageCourtesy Museum of History and Industry.
Just two years later, the airport unveiled its $4-million administration building and added the word “international” to its name. Some 30,000 spectators flocked to the new terminal, which was complete with a dining room overlooking the airfield, a coffee shop, a cocktail lounge, barber shop, gift shop, candy shop, and a service station.
Sea-Tac Administration building dedication, July 9, 1949.top of page
At the dedication, Governor Arthur Langlie warned the birds to make room, for “We, too, have won our place in the firmament of heaven.”
The region’s leap into commercial air travel and its state-of-the-art terminal didn’t go unnoticed on the national front. In 1952, an NBC newscaster called the administration building the most functional airport building in the country.
By the late 50s, Sea-Tac was bursting at the seams. Air travel was booming and planes and passengers were pushing the administration building to its crowded limits. The first concourse opened in July 1959. The two-story North Concourse (later dubbed Concourse D) added four new gate positions and a new wing 600-feet long and 30-feet wide.
The North Concourse was no sooner finished than it was time to push the terminal out to the south. The one-story South Concourse (aka Concourse A) opened in 1961 adding another 688 feet to the length of the airport.
South Concourse. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Filling in the Alphabet – It’s Time for Concourse Btop of page
With expansion becoming the norm, the 800-foot-long Concourse B opened in December 1964, the third concourse to be added in just five years. It added eight gate positions, bringing the total to 19. A 12,000 square-foot area housed international arrivals and the offices of U.S. Customs, Immigration, Public Health and the Department of Agriculture.
The last of the airport’s “arms” was added to the Main Terminal when Concourse C opened in July 1966. Just four years later, it was extended to include another 10 gates, bringing Sea-Tac’s total to 35.
By the late 60s, the old terminal was really feeling its age and size constraints. Adding concourses was not enough — the Main Terminal itself needed to be expanded and upgraded. A $28-million new terminal literally swallowed up the old 1949 structure; it was built over and around it. Opened in the 1973, the new terminal quadrupled the area for public use.
In the mid-1980s, the Main Terminal got another makeover and another 150 feet added to the north end. And, Concourse D grew a bit too with a new rotunda that added four new gates. Growth continued in the 1990s with new gates added and then the new millennium brought the most ambitious expansion to date.
With the start of the new millennium, the Main Terminal became a maze of detours through temporary construction walls as Sea-Tac reconstructed the airport’s Central Terminal, rebuilding its oldest concourse and renovating more than 60 restrooms.
Airport Director Gina Marie Lindsey likened the challenge of operating a busy airport while much of it was basically a construction zone to, “remodeling your kitchen during Thanksgiving dinner.”
On June 15, 2004, the 2,102-foot renovated Concourse A was unveiled with 14 new airline gates, a dozen new restaurants, new artwork and the airport’s first moving sidewalk. An adjacent Arrivals Hall (later renamed the Gina Marie Lindsey International Arrivals Hall) became the elegant place to meet and greet travelers with its soaring exposed structural steel ceiling, 300-foot-long curved wall of glass, and a unique rock and water feature.
Central Terminal, 2005. Port of Seattle photo by Don Wilson.
The romance of aviation returned to Sea-Tac with the 2005 opening of Central Terminal and its 60-foot-high, 350-foot-long window wall recreating the kind of wide-angle view of the airfield that was part of the original 1949 terminal building.
It opened with a little 1940s flair. For one day only, non-passengers were allowed to visit and celebrate this new “heart of the airport.” 100,000 visitors attended and enjoyed the state-of-the art–facility and its 20 tempting eateries and shops with a little back-to-the-future entertainment including the Savoy Swing Club performance dance group.
Most visitors to Sea-Tac are scurrying to flights or picking up friends and family, so there is much of the behind-the-scenes Main Terminal that they never see. Offices for Port Aviation Division employees and some airlines, concessions and even FAA staff are located here. A 24/7 USO provides the comforts of home to in-transit military and their families.
Port of Seattle Police Department
Sea-Tac Main Terminal also is the headquarters for the Port of Seattle Police Department, Washington’s only airport and seaport police department.
The origins of the department go back to the airport security police force which patrolled Sea-Tac until 1972 when both the boom in air travel and the need for greater security (thanks in large part to hijacking that plagued airlines at the time) spelled the need for a professional police department. Governor Daniel Evans signed the legislation giving the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport municipal police powers.
Three years later, the department’s jurisdiction was broadened to include the Port’s seaport properties. Over the years the sophistication and breadth of this department has continued to grow. Today’s Port of Seattle Police Department includes highly trained teams including a K-9 Team, a Bomb Disposal Unit, a Crisis Negotiations Unit, and a Dive Team.
Read more about the Port of Seattle Police Department.