Former Pan Am flight attendants, pursers, and an engineer were on hand to greet shoppers and nostalgia buffs at the grand opening of Pan Am & First Flight Out on Sunday, February 17.
This air-travel-inspired 5,800-square-foot retail store is located on the second floor of the CocoWalk shopping center, 3015 Grand Ave. in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. The grand opening became part of the local Presidents’ Day weekend festivities, including the Coconut Grove Arts Festival and St. Stephen’s Art Show within a block of the store.
The merchandise for sale at Pan Am & First Flight Out includes replicas of original Pam Am flight bags, pilot logs, and other travel and lifestyle paraphernalia, as well as an assortment of resort apparel and travel accessories unrelated to the airline.
The store also houses an exhibit of original Pan Am equipment and artifacts, including rare stewardess dolls, playing cards, authentic uniforms, postcards, menus, window panels, complete galleys, cowlings from jet engines, and photos.
In addition, Pan Am & First Flight Out displays model airplanes from The Airplane Shop at Atlantic-Models, a Miami-based custom-order manufacturer of authentic scale-model aircraft.
Atlantic-Models helped to outfit a corner of the store as a life-sized Boeing 747 first-class cabin with six seats. There you can watch the pilot episode of Pan Am, a TV series about four adventurous 1960s stewardesses that aired on the ABC network during the 2011-2012 season.
An appropriate location
Pan Am & First Flight Out is in an appropriate location, because less than a mile away was one of the original Pan American World Airways bases, the Dinner Key terminal (now Miami City Hall). The building, at 3500 Pan American Dr., is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Its walls are decorated with Pan Am photographs. The city commission chamber is in the former ticket sales area, where the original ceiling has been lovingly restored.
Miami’s city hall is among the smallest for a city its size. Most city offices are in other locations, but no one seriously suggests consolidating the city’s operations elsewhere.
A timeline spanning the Pan Am & First Flight Out sales area describes Pan Am’s Miami connection, as well as other historic firsts in its 64-year history from 1927 to 1991.
Juan Trippe founded Pan Am on June 2, 1927, with political and financial help from Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, railroad magnate W. Averell Harriman, William A. Rockefeller, and other giants of industry. They purchased from American International Airways the right to fly seaplanes and provide air-mail service between Key West and Havana.
In 1930, Pam Am flying boats began departing from Dinner Key. From 1930 to 1945, Pan Am’s Flying Clippers linked that terminal with destinations in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Pan Am was:
• The first airline to operate scheduled trans-Pacific passenger and mail service, in 1935.
• The first airline to use high-speed commercial airplanes on a trans-Atlantic route, in 1945.
• The first airline to operate jets within the continental U.S., in 1958.
• The first airline to operate the Boeing 747 in regular scheduled service, in 1970.
Stories to tell
Among the Pan Am retirees in attendance was Harry Frahm, a native of Berlin, Germany, who flew for Pan Am as a purser (on-board supervisor of the stewards and stewardesses) from 1955 to 1988. “I was based in New York for 10 years, then in Miami, and flew all over the world –Bangkok, Karachi, Hong Kong, Beirut, Johannesburg, Frankfurt, and several cities in South America,” he recounts.
Judith Evans Parker, recruited in 1961 upon graduation from Washington University in St. Louis, MO, flew as a stewardess until 1963, then became a flight services supervisor in charge of hiring stewardesses. “I hired the first black stewardesses anywhere in the U.S.,” she reports proudly. After retiring, she went back to college and earned a landscape architecture degree.
Irene Schwarz signed on with Pan Am in Munich, Germany, during the 1972 Olympics and flew for the airline as a flight attendant from 1973 until it shut down in 1991. Then she flew for Delta Airlines until retiring in 2005. She was based in Miami the entire time. “I drew my base out of a hat,” she explains.
Today, Schwarz is a vice president of World Wings International, Inc., a not-for-profit philanthropic organization. “All World Wings International members are former Pan Am flight attendants,” she says. “We support charities all over the world.”
Close to a dozen former Pan Am employees showed up in uniforms they wore more than two decades ago – and could still fit into today. About as many more came in “civilian” clothes.
One former stewardess remarked that a store employee wearing a flight attendant uniform was wearing her hat incorrectly.
While posing for pictures, all of the retirees insisted on putting down their Champagne glasses because they could not be shown holding an alcoholic drink in a photograph. They still remember and follow Pam Am’s strict company rules, but now with a laugh, because no one is in authority to catch them and fire them.
Rosalie E. Leposky, Miami Food and Drink Examiner, contributed to this article.
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