A 70-year-old structure from the 1939 World’s Fair is undergoing a $6 million makeover from the city.
The Meadow Lake boathouse, one of only two buildings left from the fair, is getting a public bathroom, winterizing for half the building and a new dock. Borough President Helen Marshall is funding most of the work with $5.6 million in taxpayers’ dollars while Mayor Mike Bloomberg is using some of his discretionary funds to pay the rest.
Also left over from 1939 is the Queens Museum of Art, which served as the New York City Pavilion. Expansion plans there call for the museum to take over space previously occupied by the World’s Fair Ice Skating Rink. A new rink opened earlier this year on the other side of the park.
The official groundbreaking for the boathouse renovation was held Monday morning, a sunny but breezy day that brought out city officials and park advocates. The boathouse is currently a shell of its former self with only the brick framework and roof left. A pile driver nearby is going down 120 feet for the dock’s foundation. The dock will be made of sustainable plastic lumber.
Queens Parks Department Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said the project is expected to take 18 months and that boating groups which store their equipment there have been relocated to temporary structures on the other side of the lake.
The facility is used by TASKA, a sailing group; Row NY, a student program, and the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races. Henry Wan, chairman of the dragon boat tournament, said the 2010 event will be held on Aug. 7 to 8 and he is hoping the dock will be completed by then. If not, Lewandowski said arrangements will be made to accommodate the competition, a popular event entering its 19th year that draws 150 teams from across the United States and Canada and thousands of fans.
The boathouse renovation involves a full exterior and interior restoration, a new roof, windows and facade. It is hoped that winterizing part of the building will enable groups to meet there year-round.
Although there had been talk of adding a refreshment stand in the boathouse, it has now been decided to have a food cart outside the adjacent boat and bike rental concession facility.
The boathouse was refurbished once before for the 1964 World’s Fair, including the addition of a refreshment stand. The eatery closed in 1980 following a fire.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who likened the boathouse’s architecture to that of old Howard Johnson restaurants, called the project an important one because it gives access to the lake. “Meadow Lake is the city’s largest lake,” Benepe noted, one where boaters sail or row.
Marshall described the work as a “much needed makeover” and Flushing Meadows as an oasis in the city. “This park is always filled,” she said.
In addition, Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) allocated $1 million that will be used for landscaping around the boathouse, solving drainage problems and making that part of the park more accessible to the public. An additional $700,000 in state and city funds will complete the work.
Meadow Lake was created for the 1939 fair by diverting the Flushing River. It was first called Fountain Lake and served as the amusement area. It became Liberty Lake for the second year of the event and eventually changed to Meadow Lake.
The lake area also was the amusement section for the 1964-65 fair with a wax museum, a 20-minute lake cruise, and rides on a log flume ride and amphibicars, boats that looked like automobiles. There was also a replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria and a Mississippi River showboat.
Besides the boathouse, the lake area now features the Ederle passive recreation area that replaced the 1939 Aquacade, and two playgrounds, Triassic and Jurassic, featuring Plexiglas dinosaurs.