Thursday, December 12, 2013

New York State Pavilion Documentary & Preservation Cause Underway

Painting of the New York State Pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair by Artist Doug LeBlang of Forest Hills, NY, December 2013:

Remember when New Yorkers rallied with “Save Penn Station” signs, only to witness each strike of the wrecking ball? How about when other monumental buildings such as Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall were on the brink of demolition, until the heroic acts of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Isaac Stern respectively proved otherwise? 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, to determine whether the New York State Pavilion, a symbol of the 1964 – 1965 NY 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 Fair approaches its 50th anniversary in 2014, the NYS Pavilion is largely fenced off from the public and plagued with rust, algae, weeds, and occasional graffiti. Situated at the geographical center of Queens, its potential exceeds a relic earning a glance from the Grand Central Parkway.

Meet 28 year-old Matthew Silva, a technology and video production teacher of East Northport, who founded the nearly 1,700 member Facebook group, “People For The New York State Pavilion.” The group’s mission is “To share thoughts and images of and about the NYS Pavilion, and to establish a community of activism for the effort of making it a usable and thriving space for New York.” 

Documentary Producer & Founder of People For The Pavilion, Matthew Silva (on left), Photo courtesy of Mitch Silverstein 
 The NYS Pavilion, an experimental-spirited Modernist creation of reinforced concrete and steel by the famed 20th century architect Philip Johnson, consists of the Tent of Tomorrow, three Observation Towers, and Theaterama (now the Queens Theatre). “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. 

May the sun shine again at the Tent of Tomorrow, December 2013 Photo by Michael Perlman

Flushing Meadows witnessed over 51.6 million visitors during the 1964 World's Fair & the NYS Pavilion was its symbol. Now the site has a "Do Not Enter" feel due to political inactivity. Let's reverse that! December 2013 Photo by Michael Perlman

The Fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding,” evident in the landmarked Unisphere and pavilions which rejoiced international culture and innovative American products of electronics, livelihood, and transportation. The master builder was Robert Moses, 58 countries were represented, and 51,607,307 visitors were recorded.

Silva would occasionally pass the NYS Pavilion as a child, and wondered about its use. Two years ago, he assigned the 1964 World’s Fair to his 8th grade students. “I gave them the challenge of re-purposing the NYS Pavilion. We studied Penn Station’s demolition and how the High Line was almost demolished, but turned into a brilliant park.” That was also when he created his Facebook group.

To tell his story, he began producing a NYS Pavilion documentary in February 2013. “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 which you pass at night.”  

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 have been cracked and removed. The famed 130 ft x 166 ft terrazzo Texaco road map 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. 

So much for predictions... The Tent of Tomorrow barred from public eye, December 2013, Photo by Michael Perlman
Very appropriately, “Modern Ruin” is the working title of Silva’s 70 to 90 minute documentary, which will feature interviews with Fairgoers, locals, architects, critics, authors, a woman who operated the Tent of Tomorrow as a roller skating rink, and people who attended concerts at the site. He hinted about unreleased archival material, such as photos of the Tent of Tomorrow’s terrazzo Texaco road map being produced in the factory. The documentary’s trailer will be released this week.

Over the course of his outreach, he discovered his ambition to advocate for the site’s preservation and reuse. “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.”


The site was listed on the State & National Register of Historic Places in 2009, which could open the door for restoration-based funding, but since it has not been designated a city landmark, the site is not barred from demolition.

The site’s potential is diverse, and can be a boon to jobs, tourism, education, recreation, and Queens and international history. “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,” said Silva.

As a team player who is turning “People For The Pavilion” into a 501c3, Silva maintains faith in the Pavilion’s future. “It would be a real tragedy if the Pavilion stood for 50 years, only to be demolished. When it’s re-purposed, 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,” he said. First, the group plans on organizing an ideas competition in 2014, and will be extending outreach to universities, architectural firms, and preservation organizations. 

Join and follow @NysPavilionFilm and @msilvafilm on Twitter. Bookmark 

The neglected state of the NYS Pavilion's Tent of Tomorrow, December 2013, Photo by Michael Perlman

The neglected state of the NYS Pavilion's observation towers, December 2013, Photo by Michael Perlman

Decades-worth of our city officials rusty actions results in a rusty NYS Pavilion, December 2013, Photo by Michael Perlman

Nature peeks through the Tent of Tomorrow, symbolizing fruitful opportunities ahead, December 2013, Photo by Michael Perlman

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