Organization kicks off campaign to save New York State Pavilion

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Alex Robinson

As the New York State Pavilion approaches its 50th anniversary, a new organization will be kicking off an effort to preserve the iconic structure at an event Saturday.

People for the Pavilion hopes to bring together interested parties that share the common goal of preserving the historic pavilion, which hosted the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Corona Park and has stood empty for decades, said Matthew Silva, one of the group’s co-founders.

“We want to build something that will be useful for the city for years to come,” he said. “It’s too famous and important to continue to neglect.”

The Pavilion was designed by architect Philip Johnson and opened in 1964 before closing down after the World’s Fair. It is comprised of three observation towers, the largest of which is 226 feet high, and the “Tent of Tomorrow,” which has 16 100-foot pillars that supported a 50,000-square-foot roof.

It served as a concert venue in the 1960s for a number of bands, including Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac. It was later used as a roller skating rink and a movie set, appearing in “Men in Black” and “The Wiz,” among others.

The city Parks Department recently announced it could cost more than $52 million to preserve the Pavilion and $14 million to demolish it. Parks Department officials said they would be holding a number of hearings this year to get feedback from the public about what should be done with the space.

Silva, a Queens middle school and high school teacher, first got interested in the Pavilion when he held a mini ideas competition in his classroom to come up with a plan for the Pavilion.

He realized he did not know much about the structures that lie just east of Grand Central Parkway and started to do some intensive research on the space. He soon decided to make a documentary about the history of the Pavilion.

“I spent about a year and a half trying to convince people to make a story about this building. After I did that for a couple years, I realized this story was going to die if someone didn’t make this film,” he said. “In doing the film, I started to create this network of people interested in seeing something done with it.”

People for the Pavilion emerged from that network.

Silva will also be announcing a Kickstarter campaign at the event Saturday to help fund his documentary, “Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion.”

Saturday’s event will take place at the Queens Theater, at 14 United Nations Ave. S., at 2 p.m.

The organization plans to introduce itself, give a history of the Pavilion and provide details as to what its plans are going forward. Silva said People for the Pavilion hopes to function similarly to Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit that successfully worked with the Parks Department to create a public park on an elevated train line in western Manhattan.

“Ultimately what I want it to be is open to the public. Those towers are amazing and having them open to the public would be terrific,” Silva said.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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