It is difficult to grasp how sites, once applauded for their architectural and cultural distinction, are all too often neglected, abandoned, and demolished.
Now a debate is unfolding over whether the New York State Pavilion, a symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, should be restored for a new use at $72 million, be stabilized as a ruin for $43 million, or undergo demolition for $14 million.
As the 50th anniversary of the fair approaches, the NYS Pavilion is largely fenced off from the public and covered in rust, algae, weeds, and occasional graffiti. Situated at the geographical center of Queens, its potential exceeds a relic earning a passing glance from the Grand Central Parkway.
Meet 28 year-old Matthew Silva, a technology and video production teacher from East Northport, who founded the nearly 1,700-member Facebook group “People For The New York State Pavilion.”
“It is the Eiffel Tower of Queens, and it wouldn’t feel like Queens if you drove on the Grand Central Parkway and didn’t see those towers in Flushing Meadows Park,” said Silva.
The NYS Pavilion, an experimentally spirited Modernist creation by famed 20th century architect Philip Johnson, consists of the Tent of Tomorrow, three Observation Towers, and Theaterama (now the Queens Theatre).
“Philip Johnson was such an advocate for the arts and architecture, so as New Yorkers, we need to reciprocate that affection and advocate for his work,” Silva said.
Silva would occasionally pass the NYS Pavilion as a child, and wondered about its history. Two years ago, he assigned the topic of the 1964 World’s Fair to his 8th grade students.
“I gave them the challenge of repurposing the NYS Pavilion,” he said. “We studied Penn Station’s demolition and how The High Line was almost demolished, but turned into a brilliant park.”
Silva began producing a documentary about the pavilion in February 2013. Very appropriately, “Modern Ruin” is the working title of Silva’s documentary, the trailer for which was released this week.
It features interviews with people who attended the fair, architects, critics; even a woman who operated the Tent of Tomorrow as a roller skating rink. He hinted about unreleased archival material, such as photos of the Tent of Tomorrow’s terrazzo road map being produced in the factory.
“When I saw the NYS Pavilion in the sunset en route to a show in Manhattan, I said this has an opportunity to be a destination, rather than a shadow in the sky you pass at night,” he said. “Let’s try to imagine a time when the NYS Pavilion will be lit up and host events. People can see a show, attend a wedding, meet friends, and see views of all boroughs from the Towers.”
Today, the Towers’ futuristic elevators have been stripped. In addition, the colorful fiberglass panels on the Tent of Tomorrow’s largest suspension roof in the world were cracked and removed.
The terrazzo road map on the floor has extensively corroded, and in 2008, the University of Pennsylvania School of Design Graduate Program in Historic Preservation began removing 13 surviving terrazzo panels out of 567 for restoration.
The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, which could open the door for restoration funding, but since it has not been designated a city landmark, the site is not barred from demolition.
Silva is working on creating a nonprofit group to advocate for the pavilion, and plans on organizing an ideas competition in 2014, reaching out to universities, architectural firms, and preservation organizations.
“It would be a real tragedy if the Pavilion stood for 50 years, only to be demolished,” he said. “When it’s repurposed, people may wonder how they ever lived without it, just how they feel about The High Line. The story will be about a small group of people who rallied to turn it into one of the greatest thriving icons of Queens.”