Even the architect who designed it called it “a wonderful ruin.” And that it is.
Last month, several friends and I were among the more than 2,500 people who went to the site of the 1964-65 World’s Fair to gawk at the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The rusted, vandalized structure was celebrated as the city marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.
The abandoned pavilion, with its three round towers designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, will be open again this weekend as New York celebrates the anniversary of an event that evokes strong feelings of nostalgia for Baby Boomers but holds little relevance for those who weren’t born at the time.
More than 50 million visitors came for a glimpse of the future at the fair, which featured heavy corporate sponsorship that is commonplace today. You can hear people talk about DuPont’s Wonderful World of Chemistry, General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, and life-size dinosaurs sponsored by Sinclair Oil Corp.
“It was a real period of optimism, that life was good in the ’60s, but it was going to be great going forward,” Bill Cotter, a world’s fair historian in Los Angeles, told Reuters in a story published this week. “Unfortunately, life has not turned out to be quite as utopian as the fair.”
In many respects, the New York State Pavilion mirrors the decline of the World’s Fair. Closed for decades, it has narrowly escaped being torn down while Queens leaders try to decide what to do with the iconic structure. The April 22 ceremony was designed to draw attention to the pavilion, which was designated a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Hopes are that the designation and attention surrounding the World’s Fair anniversary will result in the restoration of the pavilion, which includes the “Tent of Tomorrow.” The massive 350-foot by 250-foot “Tent,” which is surrounded by 16 100-foot columns and adjoining towers that stand 60 feet, 150 feet, and 226 feet, definitely has seen better days.
In late 2013, the New York Parks and Recreation Department released a study showing the cost to stabilize the site would be about $43 million. Turning it into a multi-use facility would cost $72 million.
The walk to the pavilion provided an opportunity to visit and photograph some of the other sites at the park, which was the site of both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. Among them was the 140-foot-tall, 700,000-pound, stainless steel globe that you can still see from as far away as Laguardia Airport.
Already in New York, I made plans to go to the pavilion with my photo buddy, Bernadette Jusinski, and Ginno Murphy, Ben’s former guardian/our ”other son.” A friend, Joel Newsome, accompanied us on the journey, and we saw another friend, Michael Zorek, who came with his family.
We didn’t know what to expect when we left on the subway from Manhattan. Would anyone be there? Crowds were expected to be in the hundreds. When we arrived, the line snaked throughout the park.
Despite waiting for more than two hours, we never made it into the pavilion, where you could gaze at the rust and pieces of the terrazzo floor, which once featured a huge map of New York state but has since been damaged by vandals and exposure to the elements.
By mid-afternoon, we had to leave. Work schedules and a train ride back to Virginia dictated an end to the day, and the dedication ceremony ran late. Still, it was worth it to see the love people still feel for a more innocent time.
And it was a reminder that nostalgia is always in style.
For more photos, check out my Facebook album here.