By Bill Parry

Motorists on the Long Island Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway were treated to a free light show last Friday evening. The observation towers of the New York State Pavilion were illuminated in a variety of colors as borough and city officials ran the first test of what might become a permanent installation.

“It was a very successful test for two hours,” Alex Herrera, the director of Technical Services at the New York Landmarks Conservancy said. “We used LED floodlights on the roof of the Queens Museum with a few more around the Pavilion. It was really interesting.”

It was the first step in a $5.8 million restoration project for the New York State Pavilion and the adjacent Tent of Tomorrow, two of the structures designed by legendary architect Philip Johnson for the 1964 World’s Fair. The 50th anniversary drew 60,000 people to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in May, leading Queens Park Department Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski to say, “We realized just how important the Pavilion is to the public.”

Last month, Borough President Melinda Katz made restoration of the Pavilion a centerpiece of her State of the Borough Address.

“Bringing back these structures is a high priority for her,” Herrera said. “She thinks it’s important for the borough and important for the city. This test went so well she’s even more interested in the project and wants it to go forward.”

Stabilizing the Pavilion as a monument is expected to cost over $43 million, without allowing public access. A complete restoration that would rebuild the stairs and elevators and allow visitors to return to the observation decks would cost $52 million.

“The hope is that lighting the towers will raise awareness and help raise more funding for further restoration,” Herrera said.

Matthew Silva, co-founder of People for the Pavilion, a non-profit advocacy organization, called Friday’s development “exciting” and feels momentum growing for the restoration project. Silva has just completed a documentary film, two years in the making, called “Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion.”

The film explores the vibrant history of the structure through interviews with historians, architects and fairgoers and is expected to make its debut screenings around the borough this spring.

On Saturday, author Christian Kellberg is scheduled to have a lecture and book signing for his photo book about the New York State Pavilion. “The book covers the history from construction to where it is today,” Kellberg said. “Fortunately, it’s still standing after all these decades without maintenance.”

Kellberg grew up in Flushing and spends time volunteering with the Pavilion Paint Crew even though he is currently living in Washington, D.C. His lecture and book signing will take place March 7 at the Queens Historical Society, 143-35 37th Ave. in Flushing, at 2:30 p.m.

“The book has 160 photographs,” Kellberg said. “And a chapter dedicated to all the pop artists who showed their work on the Pavilion’s walls, people like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Ellsworth Kelly. That structure has some history.”

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

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