A couple dozen Queens residents gathered at Queens Theatre on Tuesday morning and decided that not only is the New York State Pavilion an icon, it must be restored.
The listening session was sponsored by the Parks Department, one of three meetings held this week to gauge the public’s reaction as to how the city should proceed with the pavilion from the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Park.
The pavilion, which includes three observation towers, the Tent of Tomorrow and the Theaterama, now home to the Queens Theatre, has been deteriorating since the fair ended. For a time it was used as a roller skating rink and a concert venue for Led Zeppelin and other acts.
But in the 1970s, the Plexiglas panels above the tent began falling and Parks said it posed a safety risk, so it removed the remaining panels and closed the site. Weeds have grown in the cracks of the terrazzo floor map of the state and rust and decay can be seen everywhere at the pavilion.
But to those who attended Tuesday’s program, it remains part of their lives. John Kriskiewicz, an architectural historian, described it as “a usable piece of sculpture,” while others reflected on their memories as children seeing the pavilion and wondering what it was for.
Parks officials outlined the cost of demolishing the structures at $25 million, while restoring the towers and tent would cost an estimated $72 million.
Attendees believe the restoration could be done in phases and recommended corporate sponsors be sought to pay for much of the work. There were no grandiose plans offered, rather a reuse similar to its original purpose: concerts, festivals and arts programs at the Tent of Tomorrow and visits to the towers with a coffee or food bar at the top. Willy Mosquera, manager of the Queens Theatre, said he’s been to the top of the towers and “the view is gorgeous.”
Although most of the pavilion has been neglected, the Theaterama area underwent a significant expansion in 2011 and looks far different from its 1964 beginnings.
Adding lighting to the pavilion, illuminating it at night as is done at the Unisphere, was suggested as a way to increase awareness of the icon for motorists on the Long Island Expressway. Steve Melnick of Forest Hills said it would bring attention to the project: “People who don’t know the history of the pavilion would say, ‘What’s that?’”
Another suggestion was to get the state involved — especially for funding — since it was built as the state pavilion.
Liz Mooney of Forest Hills says she and her husband visit the park a lot. “There is no excuse not to fix it,” Mooney said. “It’s the only building at Flushing Meadows that hasn’t been fixed.”
David Omoyele of Jamaica played in the park as a child and especially liked to roller blade. “I am excited about the future of the pavilion,” he said.
Omoyele suggested getting a sponsor like ESPN to bring in money through skate board competitions or other sports events.
Janice Melnick, the Flushing Meadows Park administrator, told the audience that following the listening sessions, her agency will compile the information and put it on the Parks website until March 15 with a questionnaire for those who couldn’t attend.
“Then we will reconvene everyone in March or April,” for another meeting,” said Melnick, who is no relation to Steve Melnick. “This is the right time with the 50th anniversary of the fair this year. There is a strong consensus to see it preserved.”
Meira Berkower, director of planning for Queens Parks, said the city will look at all the ideas, but then it will be necessary to find funds for whatever is decided.
“This park could be a gold mine for the city,” Mosquera said, adding that it’s important the money generated here be used at Flushing Meadows and not elsewhere.
Pointing to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the fair, Kriskiewicz, who is a board member of an area chapter of DOCOMO, a document and conservator group of modern monuments, added: “The pavilion was the architectural star of the fair. The time to restore it is now.”