Katz recommends preserving Pavilion during tour of World’s Fair site

By Alex Robinson

Borough President Melinda Katz joined an activist-driven push to return the long neglected New York State Pavilion to its former glory Thursday.

“The right direction is to preserve and save this for generations to come, to make it a useful part of the park,” Katz said to a group of elected officials, community leaders and Parks Department employees at Queens Theatre in the Park, before leading them on a walk through the grounds of the site of the 1964 World’s Fair.

The Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park was designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson and is comprised of three observation towers, the largest of which is 226 feet high.

Katz led the group past the towers and into the Tent of Tomorrow, which has 16 100-foot pillars that one-time supported a 50,000-square-foot roof. That area is now closed off to the public.

“Going into it, hearing all the stories and standing inside, there are no words to describe it. You’re looking at history,” said Jean Silva, president of Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, who recalled attending the 1964 World’s Fair when she was 20.

The Pavilion closed down after the World’s Fair and intermittently served as a concert venue, roller skating rink and a movie set. It appeared in “Men in Black” and “The Wiz,” among other films.

It sat rusting for decades until a recent push by a new preservation group called People for the Pavilion made the structure a topic of conversation again.

The group started through a network that co-founder Matthew Silva built while making a documentary that chronicled the history of the structure.

“Not many preservation efforts start with a film. Film as a medium is very powerful,” Silva said. “Between social media and the film effort, it’s helped raise the profile very quickly.”

More than 200 people attended the group’s first meeting Jan. 25, organizers said.

“I kind of can’t believe how quickly things are progressing and it’s great to know the borough president is on the same page as us in terms of certainly wanting to save it,” Silva said.

The city Parks Department held three brainstorming sessions of their own recently, which 75 people attended.

“Overwhelmingly, everyone wanted to see it preserved. They didn’t all necessarily agree on how it should be done, but they all agreed it should be preserved,” said Janice Melnick, the park administrator for Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Parks Department officials recently released estimates of $14 million to demolish the Pavilion and more than $52 million to preserve it.

Katz said $14 million should not be used to tear the Pavilion down and if anything could be used as a base in the preservation initiative.

“I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I or any or the elected officials know exactly what we want to do here. I think the one thing we want this to be is a collaborative effort through all of the community groups,” Katz said. “It’s not going to happen in a day, but if we don’t start the process, it’s never going to happen,”

The borough president said her office will soon start to hold monthly task force meetings for the project.

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

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