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Feature Article

Please Take Action!

This significant structure is in serious jeapordy of being demolished, even while a plan is being proposed to save it! It will collapse or be destroyed very soon (we're talking weeks, not years). Please speak up now and help the developers adapt this building for a new use while saving and maintaining it's historic design concept. The timing is critical!

Dr. Charles Aybar, an aviation executive, and Frankie Campione, Principal of CREATE in Manhattan, offer an exciting plan to save this pavilion and adapt it for modern use as an Air & Space Museum. But even with a viable plan on the table, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern (the building's "landlord") reportedly said he'd like to budget money to tear the "Tent of Tomorrow" down because it serves no useful purpose. This coming AFTER this proposal to save it! See the contact information below, and some photos too! Please take action!

I f you'd like to see this landmark saved, please contact:

Sherida E. Paulsen, Chair
email form: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/mail/html/maillpc.html

Estelle Cooper
Assistant Commissioner (Queens) Parks Administrator
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Olmsted Center
Flushing, NY 11368
email: unispher@parks.nyc.gov
Tel. 718 760-6565

Henry J. Stern
City of New York Parks & Recreation
The Arsenal
New York, NY 10021
email form: http://nyc.gov/html/mail/html/maildpr.html tel. 212 360-1304

Claire Schulman
City of New York Borough of Queens
120-55 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11424
tel. 718 286-3000
email: info@queensbp.org

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
email form: www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/mail/html/mayor.html

You may also contact
Frankie Campione
CREATE Architecture Planning & Design
New York, NY
Email: FCampione@CreateAPD.com

Yesterday, Today, and.... Tomorrow?

Yesterday (Source: FAIR NEWS Official Bulletin of the New York World's Fair 1964/1965 Vol. 1, No. 5 - Oct. 16, 1962)

Yesterday (Source: Official Postcard, Dexter Press, West Nyack, NY)

Yesterday (Source: 1965 World's Fair Publicity Pamphlet, "What's Free at the Fair")

Yesterday (Source: National Geographic Magazine, April 1965, Vol. 127 No. 4)

Yesterday (Source: Official Post Card, Dexter Press, West Nyack, NY)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Today (photo: CREATE)

Tomorrow? (photo: Frankie Campione)

Tomorrow? (photo: CREATE)

Click the image above for info about the proposal to save this fabulous structure!

Author: Bill Young

In 1933, then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses was directed to find a spot where New York could hold a World’s Fair. He didn’t have to look far. He had in mind a location that had intrigued him for many years. The site was the location of the great Corona Dumps, an area of land just to the south and east of Flushing Bay in the Borough of Queens and located at the exact geographic center of the city of New York. It was his dream to create New York’s greatest Park and this would be the place.

Never one to miss an opportunity to develop, Moses soon acquired the land and set about transforming a marshy lowland garbage dump into the glittering Fairgrounds of the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair from which the profits would allow him to realize his grand scheme. Unfortunately, the Fair of ’39 and ’40 turned out to be a financial bust and Moses’ dream went unrealized.

Twenty-five years passed and Mr. Moses was once again called upon to transform this same piece of Queens real estate into the Fairgrounds of yet another World’s Fair. This time it was the Space Age extravaganza of 1964/1965. Although this Fair also turned out to be a financial flop, Moses managed to scrape enough money together to somewhat advance his dream for the great Park. But its glory days were yet to come.

Now, nearly 40 years later, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can rightfully boast that it has become New York’s Great Park. It is Queen's largest park and one of New York's flagship parks. Home to the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art and the Queens Theater in the Park, it is the Park of museums and culture as well as sports and recreation. Here you will find the National Tennis Center’s Arthur Ashe Stadium and work is underway to build a $35 million aquatic center and ice rink in the Park’s northeast corner. The Unisphere, the 12-story high stainless steel globe that was the 1964/1965 Fair’s symbol, has been refurbished and given Landmark status. On the Lake side of the park a children’s story garden area is under construction on the site of the old amphitheater of the 1939 World’s Fair. All this is a part of an on-going renaissance in which even the Park fountains once again splash in pools and basins.

But quite literally beneath the culture and recreation and museums and playing fields lies Flushing Meadow’s darkest secret - one that many know nothing of or fail to realize. Flushing Meadows is built on a garbage dump that covers a swamp. And perched precariously on this weak and shifting ground is a building that has somehow been overlooked in the Park’s renaissance. It is an abandoned and derelict legacy of the 1964/1965 World’s Fair: Philip Johnson’s towering New York State Pavilion.

New York’s exhibit for the Fair was conceived as “The County Fair of the Future.” Of course this was to be America’s “Space Age” World’s Fair and everyone seemed to be touting “TOMORROW” in one form or another. Johnson’s structure was no exception with the design being reminiscent of something out of a Jetsons' comic book. The pavilion consists of three principal structures: the circular Theaterama building, the “Tent of Tomorrow” and three observation towers, the highest at 226 feet, providing Fairgoers with a panoramic view of the grounds.

The “Tent of Tomorrow” was the heart of Johnson’s pavilion. An elliptical shaped, 350-foot by 250-foot structure, whose outer support of sixteen 100-foot tall, white concrete columns, made it one of the largest buildings at the Fair. The Tent featured the world's largest suspension roof. And on the floor, the world’s largest road map - the State of New York done in terrazzo. After all, this was Nelson Rockefeller’s New York State Pavilion showcasing his state. Everything was required to be the tallest, the largest and the best.

The pavilion is completely open save for the first two floors topped by a mezzanine walkway. The suspension roof made of translucent fiberglass panels done to resemble stained glass kept out some of the elements. But the building, for all practical purposes, is a 12-story high open-air structure.

Construction for the pavilion began in October, 1962. One of the first steps in the construction process for all pavilions was to call in the pile drivers. To build something of any size on the site required 18-inch wooden piles to be driven into the marshy ground for building support. Picture huge telephone poles lined up in rows at the sites of construction. Some contractors working on site reported that some of their piles simply disappeared as they were driven into the ground, so unstable was the ground these buildings were being built on.

No matter. The Fair was temporary - meant to last only two years. Wooden piles were surely good enough for such a short time frame. Moses was building his Fair with an eye to the future and had already decided that structures built for the Fair that did not have useful post-Fair park purposes would have no place in the post-Fair park. So all exhibitors signed the same lease that said their pavilions were to be demolished within 90 days of the close of the Fair in October, 1965. The New York State World’s Fair Commission no doubt signed that lease as well.

But somewhere in the early construction phase, someone had an inkling that this building might serve a useful park purpose someday. Or maybe someone realized that the taxpayers of New York would be footing a pretty big bill to construct such a structure for the Fair. Perhaps they would not be too happy to see all of those tax dollars reduced to rubble after two short years. The Landmark Preservation Commission in 1995 noted that it stayed because it was too expensive to tear down. Whatever the reason, it is believed that steel piles were driven into the ground to support the New York State Pavilion along with the wooden piles. However, their exact location was never documented.

The two years of the Fair came and went. Johnson’s design was praised for its innovation and simple sophistication; winning an “Honorable Mention” award for Excellence in Design by the New York Chapter of the AIA. Photos of the pavilion during the Fair show a colorful structure that was popular with the crowds and served its exhibit purpose well. Nighttime shots of the pavilion show how spectacular illumination made the pavilion seem almost cathedral-like as lighting suspended from cables above the translucent roof created a dazzling stained glass effect.

In the summer of 1965, a special commission established by New York’s Mayor Robert Wagner submitted a list of pavilions they thought should remain to serve the park. Among them was Johnson’s New York State Pavilion. The Commission felt the towers constituted a natural tourist attraction. The Theaterama building would be a great marrionette theater and the “Tent of Tomorrow” could provide a covered area for athletic events, concerts and dancing. Robert Moses thought it would make a good “art museum.” So it stayed while the rest of the Fair went away.

Money was eventually spent to refurbish parts of the pavilion to display art. And for a brief period following the Fair, there were a few art exhibits shown. The Byrds played a concert there once. So did the Grateful Dead. From 1970 to 1974, a roller rink operator from Ohio operated the pavilion as a popular outdoor roller skating rink called the Roller Round. The million dollar terrazzo map was plastic coated to protect the surface from the skaters. Talk was that the World Trade Center, then under construction, would be interested in having the map as a part of their grand courtyard. But it never happened. The floor stayed. The towers were never opened.

In the early years, Park inspectors paid close attention to the pavilion coming around every so often to inspect the roof and the floor and the building in general. Security patrols regularly followed a beat and the Park stayed a place for recreation and fun. But after 1974, things started to change for the Pavilion, the Park and the City of New York. The Roller Round closed after a dispute over who was responsible for maintenance forced the rink operator to suspend operations and the pavilion sat empty once again. The great financial crisis of the mid-seventies hit the Park with a vengeance. The city was broke. There was no money for many things, but especially not parks.

Gone were the inspections. Gone were the funds for maintenance and improvements and security patrols. And gone were ideas for finding a useful purpose for Johnson’s pavilion. The open-air concept that had been called so innovative for a World’s Fair pavilion was now a drawback for finding an appropriate post-Fair use. The Park soon became home to derelicts and drug pushers. No one else came by anymore. In 1976, the other major structure salvaged from the Fair, the Federal Pavilion, was demolished because vandals had nearly destroyed that structure from the inside out. That pavilion had never found a post-Fair use.

In 1977, lack of maintenance and the effect of wind sway caused the panels of the suspended roof to become loose. After several blew off and onto the Grand Central Parkway, the roof was ordered removed from the structure. The cables left as a ghostly spider web.

The terrazzo map was now exposed completely to the elements. Vandals picked away at it removing whole sections of New York City and Long Island. Slowly the blue glass globes lining the outside of the pavilion and towers and rails were broken by stones and rocks. Bird droppings in the open stairwells caused whole sections of stairway to disintegrate and break away so that climbing the stairs to re-lamp the warning light at the top of the tallest tower that warns planes on approach to LaGuardia became a rope climbing exercise.

Year after year after year the building sat and deteriorated. Two major motion pictures, “The Wiz” and “Men in Black,” used the pavilion as a setting. But once the camera crews were gone, the cosmetic repairs to make the rusting old hulk look good in the close-ups, disappeared along with the actors. The Parks Department applied an occasional coat of paint to slow the rust and hide the deepening scars.

Today, to the naked eye, the pavilion is a disaster. The lower level of the mezzanine is beginning to separate from the building. Huge cracks run through the cinder-block walls. The elevator towers are rusted. One “Sky-Streak” elevator sits smashed in the service well at the base of the tall tower while the other has been suspended in mid-air for 30 years. The vandals have even managed to scale the tower far enough to smash in its windows and protective bars.

The steel crown at the top of the structure that supports the suspension cables that support the roof is rusting badly. Soon, the tension cables will begin to snap which could result in the catastrophic failure of the entire crown.

The map is beyond repair. Parks Department personnel have patched the missing terrazzo with concrete patches. The rest of the terrazzo is as crazed as an old piece of porcelain. Weeds and plants grow between the cracks and it seems every Spring an abandoned car is found inside despite the chain-link and padlocks used to keep trespassers out.

The former Theaterama building was renovated several years ago and serves as the Queens Theater in the Park. The New York State Pavilion’s only role now is a storage shed for the Theater. Outside, the curious stand looking up, shaking their heads in disgust.

But the real problem with Philip Johnson’s pavilion cannot be seen. The problem that goes all the way back to 1933 and the creation of what would become Flushing Meadows Park. It is what is going on underground and unseen that is most troublesome. Engineering reports dating back to 1992 indicate that those old wooden piles are deteriorating and deteriorating badly at that. Given that the ground the building stands on is so precarious, those sixteen massive 100-foot tall columns need all the support they can get. Geotechnical firms have recommended, in 1992, 1996 and in 2001, that the structure either be stabilized or demolished. To date, the City of New York and the Parks Department have done nothing.

It has come to that for Philip Johnson’s building. Recent estimates to stabilize the pavilion are in the $7 - $10 million range. The pavilion has reached a crossroads. In order to justify that type of expenditure, a use has to be found for the pavilion now. It would help if an effort could be started to seek Landmark Status for the pavilion. But simple safety concerns for the people who use the Park demand that something more than Landmark Status must protect the pavilion - and the public. Either money has to be found to stabilize it or it must be demolished.

At the eleventh hour, someone has come up with a plan for the pavilion. The proposal is to adapt the original structure for use as the new Air & Space Museum. (For details, please visit: http://www.nywf64.com/savenys03.2.html).

The plan is so obviously "right" that it's surprising it hasn’t been proposed before. The plans have been presented to the Parks Department and the Office of the President of the Borough of Queens and have generated much interest. But along with those presentations have come the warnings of dire consequences if the stabilization problems are not addressed NOW. And the Parks Department, like a sleeping giant, is waking up to the concerns. Will they act to save the structure? Or will they simply be rid of it and all its problems?

The easy way out would be the demolition. But the building IS worth saving. From an architectural standpoint. From a historical standpoint. From a cultural standpoint. This article is meant as a wake-up call to all those who would help to save the pavilion. Contact Queens Borough and Parks Department representatives in New York to budget money for its' stabilization. Putting pressure on the deed-holders to save it is the only alternative to its certain demolition.

The pavilion is now a modern ruin. If action is not taken soon, there won’t even be a modern ruin to enjoy.

For more information, please visit www.nywf64.com

and www.inch.com/~buehler/ruins/fair

Contact Frankie Campione at CREATE Architecture, Planning, Design New York, NY. Email: FCampione@CreateAPD.com

Please support the efforts to save this architectural landmark.

Please sign my guestbook!

Questions? Comments? E-Mail the authors:
Bill Young: webmaster@nywf64.com
Joe Kunkel: dalchicago@aol.com

(c) 2000, 2001 Joe Kunkel and Jetset - Designs for Modern Living (www.jetsetmodern.com)
and Bill Young and Frankie Campione and Dr. Charles Aybar. All Rights Reserved.

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