They started with painting one stripe. Since then, the New York State Pavilion has regained some of its original glory at the hands of John Piro, Mitch Silverstein and other volunteers.
Despite the loss of its original multicolored Plexiglas roof and general neglect by the city, the almost 50-year-old pavilion looks about as good as it can for those driving past on the Long Island Expressway or walking through the park.
The pavilion includes the Tent of Tomorrow as well as the three observation towers, which are also in disuse.
Besides the Unisphere, the state pavilion is a major icon left from the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Park. But over the years, the deterioration got to be too much for Piro, a contractor from Westbury, LI. And when people started to put graffiti on the sides of the circular Tent of Tomorrow, he had had enough.
“I’m a doer,” Piro said. “I couldn’t stand the way it looked so run down.”
So, in 2009 he got permission from the park administrator to bring in some paint and brushes and the rest is history.
Silverstein, who knew Piro through a World’s Fair website, joined soon after and the paint crew has grown to around seven regulars since then.
“I was tired of sitting around wondering what would happen to the pavilion,” Silverstein said. “I couldn’t restore it, so we got permission to clean it.”
Last year, the group raised $3,400 for supplies and will continue to paint the exterior red and white stripes as well as the interior mezzanine level yellow as soon as the weather improves.
“We want to get as much done as possible by the anniversary of the fair in April,” Silverstein said.
Volunteers will also continue to clean up the area, removing garbage that has blown in and pieces of the pavilion that have broken off and fallen.
“We painted to raise awareness of the pavilion and bring back its dignity,” Silverstein said.
And Piro thinks that’s happening. “I see people taking pictures of the pavilion now and asking, ‘What is it?’”
Although not from Queens, Silverstein went to the fair as a child and “it had an impact on me.” He now lives in Rockland County and works as a senior director of facilities at a biotech firm.
“We’re passionate about the pavilion and didn’t care if people thought we were crazy,” Silverstein added.
Piro has a special history with the pavilion. As a 15-year-old growing up in Astoria, his uncle got him a summer job working as a busboy at the British Lion Pub in 1964 and a year later his rock ’n’ roll band played at the fair.
“Even then, the pavilion meant something to me,” he said. “I remember passing it at nighttime as a kid and being mesmerized by it and the towers.”
Both men are encouraged that the Parks Department this year is reaching out for ideas on what to do with the pavilion and that three young men have started People for the Pavilion, aimed at preserving the iconic structure.
The city estimates work could range from $25 million to demolish the site to $72 million to restore it.
Piro is a hands-on guy about the structure. “I’m not putting anyone down,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk and no action, but I think something might happen this year.”
Silverstein said he hopes Parks is really listening to ideas. “The city needs to stabilize the pavilion and it may be viable for a sponsor to come in then.
“I hope we can stay involved and remain part of the process,” he added. “It’s too large to be a monument. It needs to be used.”
Silverstein said some of the volunteers have ideas for the pavilion’s future “but personally, I’m open to anything that’s needed for the park.”
Piro would like the elevators running at the three towers with restaurants at the top. For the Tent of Tomorrow he foresees the original terrazzo floor map restored and covered with Plexiglas, and the space used as an entertainment area.
People interested in learning more about the group can go to NYSPproject.com.