By Bill Parry
The borough president needed to see it for herself. Melinda Katz went to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to watch the second lighting test run for the New York State Pavilion, part of her overall effort to restore the “iconic architectural marvel” that had fallen into disrepair for decades since the 1964 World’s Fair.
“Growing up in Queens, folks were always arguing about the future of this place,” Katz said. “Generations of borough presidents have debated what to do. When I was elected, I was told it would cost $11 million to tear it down and I just thought that was ridiculous.”
So Katz made the structures restoration a priority early in her administration, securing $5.8 million of city funds to begin the process of stabilizing the Pavilion, without allowing public access. A complete restoration that would allow visitors to return to the observation decks would cost upwards of $52 million. “Illuminating the exterior will generate interest and raise awareness,” Katz said. “And that should help the fund-raising for the restoration.”
Brian Belluomini, the designer of the LED lighting system, was focusing the lights on the observation towers because their height made them the most visible parts of the Pavilion in other parts of the city. Such attention could also bring unwanted visitors.
“On March 15, while on routine patrol in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Parks Enforcement Patrol officers witnessed two people climbing up the stairs to the tower,” a Parks spokeswoman said. “The officers followed the youths and apprehended them for trespassing and graffiti. Both youths were taken to a local police precinct.”
The teenagers were taken to Corona’s 110th Precinct where officers “prepared juvenile reports for the kids and they were released to their guardians,” a police source said.
That incident aside, the borough president believes that illumination of the Pavilion and the restoration of the structure will not encourage such dangerous trespassing in the future.
“I think it will have the opposite effect actually,” Katz said. “We’ll have more foot traffic here with people coming and going to various activities. We’ll be bringing people into the park, bringing this place back to life. That will keep the loiterers away.”
Joining Katz and the lighting test run were Park Administrator Janice Melnick, the managing director of the Queens Theatre Taryn Sacramone and People for the Pavilion co-founder Matthew Silva.
Silva is awaiting the premiere of his documentary, “Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion,” at the Queens Theatre May 22. Silva began working on the film in 2013, traveling the country to interview dozens of the characters who were on hand 50 years ago for the World Fair.
He believes his film project helped feed the restoration groundswell.
“A few month later I met Christian Doran and the People for the Pavilion was born,” Silva said.
What began as a way to contact witnesses to the World’s Fair through social media grew into the non-profit advocacy group whose mission is to build awareness of the structure. Now Silva hopes his film takes it to another level.
“I hope people will learn about the building’s cultural and historic significance, and see what me and a lot of other people see,” Silva said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr