For a team of archeologists and conservators, restoring the historic floor at the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Park is a bit like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
Designed at a cost of $1 million for the 1964 World’s Fair, the 9,000-square-foot design is a replica of a Texaco New York State map, including every Texaco gas station from Buffalo to Montauk. Each of the 567 terrazzo panels weighs 400 pounds. It was located in the pavilion’s Tent of Tomorrow, which featured a “roof” of colored Plexiglas panels.
After the fair closed, the space was used for public concerts featuring performers such as The Grateful Dead, and later as a roller skating rink from 1972-74. The tent’s panels started to fall and posed a safety risk, so all were removed in the mid-1970s.
Although the pavilion has been closed to the public since 1976, weather has taken its toll on the floor. The New York City portion of the map, for example, is totally obliterated. Other sections are crumbling and pieces of the flooring are everywhere. Grasses and moss sprout up through cracks in many areas.
But a pilot project is beginning the delicate process of restoring and preserving the floor. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded a grant to the Parks Department and the University of Pennsylvania’s Architectural Conservation Laboratory to begin the work on 13 panels, which are all considered restorable.
“The professor who is heading the project works on ancient mosaics in Jordan and he is using those (restoration) techniques here,” said John Krawchuk, director of historic preservation capital projects for the Parks Department.
A copy of the 1964 road map, distributed by Texaco stations around the state, has been obtained and is being used as the “Rosetta Stone” of the project. Although 13 panels are being removed, the grant will allow restoration of only five of them. The others will be kept in storage until additional money becomes available. Krawchuk added that the remaining flooring will be covered for protection.
Eventually, it is hoped the rest of the floor can be restored. Areas where that is not possible will be replicated. The company that made the original squares is still in existence and has been contacted.
Sybil Young, the preservation project manager, said that the work would be conducted in a building at Flushing Meadows and in the fall, the Queens Museum of Art will sponsor a special exhibit on the project. It will include a temporary public lab, where visitors can watch conservators at work.
“We want the public to see it,” Krawchuk said. He is hoping the city’s new budget will include funds for a feasibility study on the pavilion’s condition. The last one was done in 1992. “It’s an important structure, but money is the biggest challenge in restoring it and the floor,” he said.
The pavilion — which also included a theaterama (now the Queens Theatre in the Park) and three towers, is visible from the Grand Central Parkway, Van Wyck Expressway and the Long Island Expressway. The Parks Department says it remains an important historical landmark of the park.
In the past, possible uses for the pavilion — including an air and space museum — were considered unrealistic and too costly by the city.