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What Should We Do with New York’s Most Neglected World’s Fair Relic?

The New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park
The New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted)

What will become of the derelict New York State Pavilion, a rusted Space Age relic of the 1964 World’s Fair? Could it be reborn from its derelict state into an observatory, an aviary, or a revamped public forum, a sort of revival of the “Tent of Tomorrow” design by Philip Johnson? The New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and People for the Pavilion has gathered such ideas, and is asking the public to submit more as community involvement is rallied for this long abandoned site.

“Unlike most structures built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the New York State Pavilion was intended to live on as a public space long after the milestone event closed its gates,” Jason Clement, director of community campaigns for the National Trust, told Hyperallergic. The competition is accepting idea submissions through July 1 from anyone over the age of 13, which includes many people who never saw the Pavilion in its original glory. “With this competition, our goal is to tap into that enthusiasm and intrigue to crowdsource ways in which this landmark can again be a vibrant part of the community,” Clement said.

The New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair (via Joe Haupt/Flickr)
The New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair (via Joe Haupt/Flickr)

The competition is joined by a series of public art programs, the next in Corona Plaza on June 25 with the Jackson Heights-based Hibridos Collective. While the Pavilion has long been overlooked in terms of preservation, it’s a very visible monument. The strange circular structure supported by concrete columns is joined by three soaring “astro-view” towers, and it is positioned right alongside the Unisphere and the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Yet over the 50 years since the opening of the World’s Fair, it basically deteriorated in plain view, its colorful translucent panels removed from its roof when they started to fall, weeds left to creep through its Texaco mosaic map on the floor.

Recent enthusiasm for revitalizing the Pavilion was encouraged through events like its first public opening in 27 years in 2014 (see Hyperallergic’s coverage here), a one-day happening which drew hundreds of eager fans. That same year, the National Trust named the structure a National Treasure, and last year Matthew Silva’s documentary Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion had its premiere. These initiatives joined grassroots efforts like the New York State Pavilion Paint Project, which had maintained the red and white stripes on the exterior, in drawing wider attention to this unusual structure by one of the 20th century’s most prominent architects.

Submissions for the New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
Submissions for the New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
The New York State Pavilion during its one-day public reopening in 2014 (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted)
The New York State Pavilion during its one-day public reopening in 2014

Johnson may be best known for his 1949 Glass House in Connecticut, but he was also an influential early collaborator on the Modernist direction of the Museum of Modern Art, and later constructed increasingly bizarre designs like the Fort Worth Water Gardens from the 1970s, which easily doubled as a sci-fi set for the 1976 Logan’s Run. He was also, it must be mentioned, a Nazi sympathizer. Such a visible name behind the Pavilion, however, didn’t secure its future, even with brief stints as a concert venue and roller skating rink.

The New York State Pavilion being repainted in July 2015
The New York State Pavilion being repainted in July 2015

Last year, at a cost of $3 million, the Pavilion got a fresh paint job which restored its “American Cheese Yellow” coloring, an effort that took, according to the New York Daily News, 1,600 gallons of paint. So no matter what reuse is decided for the Pavilion, it will not be cheap or easy. The winners of the Ideas Competition will be exhibited this August at the Queens Museum, with cash prizes awarded to the top three and a “fan favorite” selected by online voting.

You can explore ideas already submitted through the competition site, which include offbeat proposals like a “fibonacci experience,” where you walk through a disorienting spiral, LED messages of tolerance displayed on the towers, a museum of science fiction, a Keith Haring-inspired “street culture and modern art museum,” and the delightfully simple “castle with a couple of trampolines inside” positioned beneath the Pavilion. Others consider covering it with mirrors, covering it with scaffolding, covering it with plants, filling it with penguins, and filling it with wind turbines. Sure, the odds of most of these happening remains low, but dreaming of seemingly impossible futures is what the optimistic World’s Fairs were all about.

The New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park
The New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park

The New York State Pavilion Ideas Competition continues through July 1.

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