The work will comprise a complete repaint of the rusty upper portion of the soaring sculpture, and will be done pro bono by the New York Structural Steel Painting Contractor’s Association, Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver said on Wednesday.
The work will be primarily completed by students in the union’s apprenticeship program, wherein new students work on projects under the lead of professional painters. The project is slated to begin in the next couple weeks, and will be completed by the fall, Commissioner Silver said.
“This represents the World’s Fair, which is peace through understanding,” said Borough President Melinda Katz. “There are 130 languages spoken in the New York City public school system, 120 countries represented. We live the World’s Fair every single day in Queens. This is an iconic structure that represents that.”
The structure was built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair by architect Phillip Johnson, and originally featured a 50,000 square foot multi-colored glass roof atop the 100-foot columns. The pavilion hosted two cafeterias for the fair, elevators, and an observation deck for fair-goers.
Bill Goldstein, senior advisor to the Mayor for Recovery, Resiliency and Infrastructure, said he remembered visiting the fair as a child.
“I remember when I came here as a kid being awed by the architecture, the spectacle of all the events,” he said. “I remember this exact building.”
In the years since, the 350 by 250-foot sculpture has lost its glass ceiling and is now rusted. Katz said that within her first week in office, there was talk of razing the sculpture, a $15 million job.
“We had hundreds of people out here and within weeks we weren’t going to knock it down,” she said. “When you land at JFK, or you spend two hours on the Van Wyck Expressway trying to get into Manhattan, you wouldn’t see it anymore.”
Joe Ramaglia, business manager for the International Union of Painting and Allied Trades for District Council #9, said he was excited to finally see work commence.
“Everyone pushed and we’re finally here,” he said. “Four years we’ve been trying to get this under way, and we’re excited. It’s been an eyesore for a long time.”
Kieran Ahern, president of the New York Structural Steel Painting Contractor’s Association, said it was his father, painting contractor Timothy Ahern, who had originally come up with the idea to do the work for free.
“We were trying to come up with something to paint, and the Parks Department seemed like a great idea to start with,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for three years, and everyone’s ecstatic that we’re finally going to get started.”
In addition to the $3 million pro bono work, Katz has secured nearly $6 million from the city in this year’s budget for electrical and structural improvements to the structure.
The Parks Department has estimated a complete renovation would cost upwards of $50 million.
(Photos: Michael O'Kane)