Pavilion rescue wins ally

Photo by Alex Robinson
By Alex Robinson

The fight to save the New York State Pavilion gained an important ally last week.

Borough President Melinda Katz declared the long-neglected site of the 1964 World’s Fair should not be torn down.

“The right direction is to preserve and save this for generations to come, to make it a useful part of the park,” Katz told a group of elected officials, community leaders and city Parks Department employees at Queens Theater in the Park, before leading them on a walk through the grounds last Thursday.

Parks Department officials recently released estimates that it would cost $14 million to demolish the historic structure, $43 million to stabilize it and $53 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.

The Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park was designed by architect Philip Johnson and is comprised of three observation towers, the largest of which is 226 feet, and a structure known as the Tent of Tomorrow, which has 16,100-foot pillars that at one time supported a 50,000-square-foot roof.

Katz led the group past the towers and into the Tent of Tomorrow, which is now closed 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 the 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 its 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.

The borough president said a preservation effort will require funding and cooperation from all levels of government. She also announced her office will soon start to hold monthly task force meetings for the project.

“I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I or any of 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.”

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

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