More than 50 years after the World’s Fair, the New York State Pavilion is ready for another premiere.
“Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion,” a documentary about the history of the iconic Flushing Meadows Corona Park structure and the efforts to save the neglected relic, will debut to the public at the Queens Theatre this May.
The films tells the story of the pavilion, designed by architect Philip Johnson, from its glory days at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, to its time as a ‘60s concert venue and ‘70s roller rink, to its abandonment and today’s efforts to save and repurpose the structure.
Written, directed and edited by Matthew Silva, with executive producers Jake Gorst and Tracey Rennie Gorst, the documentary tries to make a case for why the pavilion should be kept around and brings to life the story behind the structure.
“It’s been really great to see how much people care about the building and I’m really eager to share this project with people in May,” Silva said.
“I really hope that people watch this movie and learn about what the building is and recognize the cultural and historic significance, and see what me and a lot of other people see,” he added.
Silva, a video production teacher for Jericho Middle School and High School, had no professional filmmaking experience before he started making the documentary in February 2013. It took him two years and almost $25,000 — raised through GoFundMe and Kickstarter — to complete the project.
When Silva set out to do the film he didn’t feel like many people were talking about the pavilion, but that started to change after he began his production and the structure’s 50th anniversary in the spring of 2014 approached.
In November 2013, the Parks Department released plans to restore the pavilion, with cost estimates starting at $43 million. An option to tear it down would cost about $14 million. Support from the public and Borough President Melinda Katz, however, leaned toward preserving it.
To mark the pavilion’s 50th anniversary in April 2014, the Parks Department opened the pavilion to the public for the first time in decades. It was also named a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the anniversary.
That June, Katz secured $5.8 million in funding to begin the restoration process. Part of that effort has included preliminary test runs of LED display lights for the pavilion’s observation decks on Feb. 27 and one scheduled for Tuesday night.
These increased efforts added to the narrative of the documentary, with Silva choosing to end the film with the opening of the pavilion on the anniversary.
“I could have never imagined that [the opening] could have been a part of the film when I set out to do the film,” he said.
Silva was also inspired to do more to help the pavilion’s preservation efforts while filming and co-founded the advocacy group People for the Pavilion in May 2013.
The efforts of individuals and groups like his own, such as the New York State Pavilion Paint Project, a volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining the structure through painting and other upkeep projects, are highlighted in his documentary.
Silva is hoping to incorporate some of those who contributed to its history and took part in the film at a Q&A with nonprofit documentation and conservation organization Docomomo US/New York Tri-State during the premiere — including Albert Fischer, a VIP guide at the ’64 fair; Charles Aybar, who worked as a pavilion skate guard; and Bill Cotter, an author and World’s Fair photo archivist.
The film will premiere at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 22, at the Queens Theatre, which was once part of the one of three structures, designed by Johnson along with the Tent of Tomorrow and observation towers, to comprise the pavilion. For now, the May screening is the only one scheduled, but Silva said more are in the works.
“I hope [the film] helps perpetuate understanding and get more people interested in the building that can bring more positive growth and renewal to the park and to Queens,” he said.