The New York State Pavilion’s rotunda received an unwelcome addition over the last month: graffiti riddling its crumbling, red-and-white interior walls.
Over a dozen “tags” now line the World’s Fair landmark’s interior ring, with bubble letters in various shades set at 6- to 10-foot intervals. The adjacent towers that supported what is left of the “Tent of Tomorrow” also have sporadic scrawls.
The vandalism — or street art, depending on whom you ask — has frustrated a motley crew of preservationists who have spent years trying restore the pavilion ahead of their big plans for the World’s Fair’s 50th anniversary in 2014.
The exact source of the graffiti is unknown. The Parks Department said in a statement the NYPD is investigating the incidents as part of its citywide vandalism task force.
The agency added it will remove the graffiti by its usual means, power washing, which it does with all landmarks, according to a spokesman.
The agency said the vandals broke in by cutting out a section of the fence surrounding the pavilion. Keeping them out is another matter, according to preservationists.
"That’s the question of the moment,” said John Piro, who has repainted the pavilion’s exterior over the last two years.
Keeping the pavilion closed to the public has become a game of whack-a-mole. First, chain-link fences were pried open. Some gates were ripped clear off their hinges. Those lapses have been addressed with a bit of creativity using plywood, bricks and rebar. But new vulnerabilities have sprung up.
The most recent vandals do occasionally leave clues pointing to a resourceful bunch. The mezzanine level of the pavilion includes strands of knotted wiring as well as a ladder. The chain that keeps the pavilion’s northern gate closed has also been shrinking, presumably because the graffiti artists cut it open and then Parks Department employees keep re-locking it, said Mitch Silverstein, who joined Piro in repainting the pavilion.
The perpetrators even broke into the trio of adjacent towers, posting photos on social media websites of the view from what used to be cafeterias and the VIP section during the World’s Fair.
The entrance door to the shortest, 60-foot tower, had been locked and bolted shut, with a crossbar to boot. The bar now swings loosely beside the door, and the old locks and handle have been mangled open.
Silverstein believes the skatepark next to the rotunda, which opened in 2010, has brought in some of the vandals. Past visits to the rotunda’s interior have revealed makeshift skating ramps.
The preservationists, Piro, Silverstein, Gary Miller and Jim Brown, now face a bevy of headaches. First, they need to paint over the graffiti — essentially repeating the years spent fixing the exterior. They also hope to get the city, Parks, and associated agencies invested in preventing any further damage to the interior.
Ideas within the group abound. Clearly, the pavilion’s neglected state invites vandalism, they said.
The remnant of the 1964-65 World’s Fair was designed by famed architect Philip Johnson. It was probably best known for its terrazzo mosaic tile map of New York State, as well as the “Tent of Tomorrow” overhead. What’s left of the map rests below a layer of gravel at the pavilion’s center and the tent is more like a rusted hulk.
The state’s Board for Historic Preservation gave the pavilion landmark status in September 2009, but has been largely absent in giving the structure any sort of visible help.
Piro and company plan to start painting the interior this spring. They think visible efforts to restore the interior will make some vandals think twice before tagging the walls again.
“There’s always going to be the person or two who are going to do this no matter what, but you’d like to think most of them won’t when they see it’s being taken care of,” Silverstein said.
What they need, though, is manpower and donations in the form of paint. The preservationists hope to entice companies that had pavilions at the 1965 World’s Fair such as Ford and IBM to participate in a 50th anniversary commemoration of the event, with small-scale acts of preservation planned ahead of 2014.
Piro said any potential volunteers or donors can reach him via email at email@example.com.