NYS Pavilion open to public for one day only

By Bill Parry

The New York State Pavilion will be open to the public for the first time in a generation to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair April 22 — for one day only.

The iconic venue had been closed off to the public since 1987 but, thanks to the efforts of two self-described history nerds, visitors will once again gain entry between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

In 2009, John Piro and Mitch Silverstein began looking after the long-neglected structure as a labor of love.

“I had fond thoughts of the World’s Fair and hated seeing the Pavilion dilapidated,” Silverstein said. “So we cleaned it up and put a coat of paint on it. We’ve been painting it ever since.”

Their efforts led to the formation of a group of a half dozen volunteers known as The Paint Project Crew that has continued to maintain the Pavilion with the permission of the city Parks Department. Parks gave the group the go-ahead to open the North Gate and allow limited access for a public viewing and photograph session.

Interest in the Pavilion gained traction after a sister group called People for the Pavilion held a “history and context” event at the Queens Theater Jan. 25.

“We’ve been advocating for the site’s restoration for the last few years, but it’s really taken off in the last couple of months,” co-founder Salmaan Khan said.

The cause was helped when Melinda Katz became borough president in January. In February, Katz declared that the site of the ’64 World’s Fair, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, 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 Parks Department employees during a walk through of the grounds.

She has revisited the topic in several public appearances since, and Katz formed a preservation task force that meets regularly at Borough Hall to plan the Pavilion’s future.

The Pavilion was designed by architect Philip Johnson and is comprised of three observation towers, the largest of which is 226 feet tall, 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.

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.

On April 22, the curious will be able to get an up-close look. RSVPs are not required and visitors will have to wear hard hats, which will be provided.

“It’s going to be strange seeing humans back in there,” preservationist Khan said. “Most people have never been inside.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.