Pavilion designated National Treasure

By Bill Parry

On the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair opening day, one of its last remaining structures was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Officials announced Tuesday that the New York State Pavilion received the designation on the same day the historic structure opened to the public for the first time in decades, an event that drew thousands to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“For a long time the future of this building was a question mark, but in time it will not be a question mark at all. I think it will be a different piece of punctuation. It will be a great exclamation point in the middle of a resurgent Queens,” said Paul Goldenberger, a board member of the National Trust, while announcing the Pavilion’s designation as a National Treasure.

The Pavilion is now one of 44 sites in the country to bear this designation.

With the speeches over, the gates swung open to allow members of the public inside for the first time since 1987.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a co-chairwoman of the Anniversary Committee, marveled at the crowd.

“This is great. We’ve been working for months on this and it’s satisfying to see, plus it’s good to showcase the borough and bring all these people to Queens. Hopefully, they’ll all come back for all our events throughout the summer,” she said.

The city Parks Department estimated 2,500 people lined up and waited to tour the Pavilion, and they based that number on the free tickets handed out.

Rob MacKay, of the Queens Economic Development Corp., believed the number was at least double that.

“I know 5,000 registered and that line stretched nearly a mile through the park all the way back to the Queens Zoo,” he said.

Tom Robinson, of Lindenhurst, was the first in line at 6 a.m.

“The wait is worth it. I’ve had a love affair with this place since I was 10,” he said.

Queens Museum President and Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl said, “I’m a bit shocked at the amount of people, but I’m delighted. It’s like Woodstock!”

Brooklyn resident Michael Zorek dug up photos of the World’s Fair when he was cleaning out his mother’s apartment, so he brought his sons Tuesday to the Pavilion to share his experience with them.

“I wasn’t expecting this type of turn out. It’s very impressive. I’m surprised so many people knew about it,” he said.

Australian author Ella Morton, who now lives in Brooklyn, came wearing vintage clothing and said, “I’m writing a book about strange and wonderful places in the world, so I just had to see this place.”

Rosedale resident David Pecoraro waited with his wife and two sons and said, “This is an iconic piece of Queens now that Shea Stadium is gone. It’s a link to our past.”

State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), a co-chairwoman of the Celebration Committee, knew why so many were interested in the anniversary.

“The World’s Fair changed Queens forever because so many people from around the world decided to stay and it changed people’s lives,” she said.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) was even more specific, saying, “When China was isolated from the world in the early ’60s, the World’s Fair put Flushing on the map. That’s how so many Asians learned about Flushing and moved here. We should celebrate the World’s Fair every day.”

John Piro, founder of the volunteer group Pavilion Paint Project, said, “This day marks an event of the rebirth of the New York State Pavilion. We are determined to bring back the excitement and energy that the 1964 New York World’s Fair brought to Queens and the City of New York.”

And it’s just the beginning of a spring and summer chock full of events, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair as well as the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair.

“It all starts on May 18 with a kickoff party and runs throughout the summer. Stay updated on our website itsinqueens.org,” Katz said.

Meanwhile, next door at the Queens Museum, Finkelpearl touted the opening of an Andy Warhol exhibition, remembering a minor-scandal at the ’64 World’s Fair.

The young artist had been commissioned to do a piece for the Pavilion’s exterior. When Nelson Rockefeller and Robert Moses saw that Warhol had enlarged mugshots from an NYPD booklet, they ordered it painted over before the opening.

This is Finkelpearl’s final week at the Queens Museum before taking over as the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs.

“This has been quite the send-off,” he said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.