On Friday, the Parks Department joined Borough President Melinda Katz and community members to break ground on the renovation project, the first major efforts to preserve the structures since they were first built for the 1964 World’s Fair.
With an anticipated completion in spring 2021, the improvements will include structural steel and concrete repairs, waterproofing of the tower bases, electrical upgrades and stair replacement. The towers will also add colored architectural lighting, allowing them to illuminate at night.
“The historic pavilion will be a welcomed improvement to this iconic park,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “I’m confident that upon completion, it will be an asset to the surrounding community.”
The towers, designed nearly six decades ago by Philip Johnson, were erected to “embody the architectural essence of space age futurism” at the 1964 World’s Fair, Silver said.
The two shorter towers, measuring at 60 feet and 150 feet, held cafeterias. The tallest tower, which is at 226 feet, was the highest point of the fair. It was used as an observation deck.
“I came to the World’s Fair at age four,” Silver said, “and it’s a memory I continue to cherish till this very day.”
After the fair, the New York State Pavilion was largely unused, except in occasional television and movie appearances, most notably in the 1997 film “Men In Black.” There were even plans to raze the pavilion.
Borough President Katz, whose office contributed $13.1 million to the preservation effort, said when she was younger, whenever she and her father passed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, he would say to her, “isn’t it a shame?”
That sentiment stuck with Katz when she came into office, and helped guide her decision to help save the structures.
“I am excited by this,” Katz said on Friday. “As the borough president, I knew this could be an unbelievably spectacular tourist attraction for people from throughout the world.”
When the preservation project is complete, the New York State Pavilion will join the Queens Museum and the Unisphere in lighting up at night and being “taken out of the darkness,” she said.
“I look forward to seeing it in the years to come,” Katz said. “I never thought I’d see this.”
Four years ago, the Tent of Tomorrow, one of the centerpieces of the pavilion, was also repainted with its original “American Cheese Yellow” by the New York Structural Steel Painting Contractors Association and the International Union of Painting and Allied Trades Local 806.
The preservation efforts have been important wins for People for the Pavilion, a nonprofit group that formed in 2014 to galvanize the public to be interested in saving the structures.
“It’s been here as this abandoned structure for so long, for our entire lives,” said Salmaan Khan, a co-founder of the group. “For people who grew up in New York and in Queens, just seeing it, wondering what it was and what it could be, it was something really important to us.
“Being able to finally know we’ll be able to go in and use it, and have it be part of a beautiful public space, is just thrilling,” he added. “It’s been a long time coming.”