By Chris Fuchs
The Parks Department received $13.3 million to begin work on the project – $5.5 million from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the rest from Queens Borough President Claire Shulman.
The restoration entails replacing the current asphalt pavement of the 11.2-acre swath with green space as well as building a 36-by-59-foot restroom, a new deck on the edge of the lake and a concession pavilion. The space will also be planted with a cope of trees and shrubs, a lawn and wetland plantings near the lake. In addition, a story-telling area will be set up with duckling and swan sculptures.
Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said the amphitheater, named in honor of Gertrude B. Ederle, a Flushing resident who swam across the English Channel in 1926, was completely razed in 1996. A pool, which was part of the complex, was closed in 1985, he said.
Shulman said the complex was torn down because “there were a lot of folks sleeping in it and it was overwhelmingly full of asbestos.” She said that she tried to entice athletic teams to use the structure, which had seating for as many as 8,500 people, with the condition that it be renovated, but to no avail.
Stern said Shulman had encountered opposition from conservationists when she first proposed that the amphitheater be torn down. But Stern said Shulman refused to cave in to pressure and gave the go-ahead to demolish it.
“The borough president had the wisdom and the foresight to say they were crazy,” Stern told about 50 people, including Estelle Cooper, assistant commissioner of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and elected officials, who had gathered for the groundbreaking. “You're the one who had to stand up to the nuts and we're proud you did.”
“The park, when it is finished, is going to be magnificent,” Shulman said later on in the news conference. “And it will be a credit to the people of the city of New York who live here and work here.”
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a 1,255-acre greenspace regarded as the crown jewel of Queens parks, was built under the stewardship of then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, for the 1939 World's Fair. Two sports arenas – the Mets' Shea Stadium and the United States Tennis Association's National Tennis Center – are located within the park. Between 1946 and 1950, the park also served as home of the United Nations.