The structure is iconic to our borough, a staple in New York City lore. It was an intricate component to the historic World's Fair in the 1964. Its image is stamped on thousands of postcards each year. On June 6, the World Monuments Fund released its list of The 100 Most Endangered Sites for 2008, putting the 43-year-old relic on a list of structures that are in peril. The fact that it is the youngest one in the United States on the list – which in years past has featured international structures like China's Great Wall, Spain's Aqueduct and the Taj Mahal, to name a few – adds to the feeble shape of the three towers and Tent of Tomorrow that used to facilitate concerts, a roller skating rink and a restaurant, and of course, the World's Fair.
The New York City Parks Department owns the Pavilion, and Liam Kavanagh, the First Deputy Commissioner of Parks, has taken his share of heat over the years. Seeing the Pavilion on the WMF's Top 100 didn't do anything to put out the brush fire. "I can't say we're pleased to be on that list," he said. "It's something we've been working on since the start of the Bloomberg administration to make it usable."
Michelle Berenfeld, who directs the World Monuments Fund Watch program, said that the Pavilion is unique because it is part of a slew of modern architectural structures that may soon be in peril. "What's interesting is that people go by there and wonder that there was a World's Fair there and there's nothing there now," she said. "There was something there. You can't save everything, but it's enough of a testament to a certain time in New York, which makes it interesting to save it."
To get on WMF's Top 100, a site must first be sponsored by an organization or individual. Frankie Campione, the Principal of CREATE Architecture Planning and Design, and former Queens Tribune editor David Oats, have both been long-time advocates for the Pavilion's restoration. They cosponsored the Pavilion this time around to get it on the list.
Campione was part of a plan in 2001 that would turn the Pavilion into an Air and Space Museum. His group proposed a four-phase master plan for "stabilization and adaptive reuse of the Pavilion which we pitched to the Parks Department starting in 2001." He said he brought in a roster of professionals and explained how the rotting wooden underpinning could be saved and stabilized. Parks reviewed their engineers' proposals and agreed the plan would work. The Pavilion's original engineer, Philip Johnson, endorsed Campione's plan before he passed away. Still, those plans eventually fell on deaf ears. "What is most disturbing is that this sits in the backyard of the Parks Department main headquarters," Campione said. "Flushing Meadows Corona Park could and should be as beautiful as Central Park. It's an embarrassment to the community to have [the] park in the condition they do especially when Parks calls [it] their home. It's even more humiliating when the [U.S. Open] rolls in each year." Campione also said that even though there is a hint of embarrassment that comes with being on the list, it should lead to productivity, saying, "There is the idea that this was the New York State Pavilion and is an icon to the Queens' skyline...Parks has let this eyesore fall into ruin."
That the Pavilion is now on a current list with the Blue Mosque in Egypt, Sarajevo City Hall and the entire Peruvian city of Machu Picchu lends credence to the theory of restoration. In a perfect world, Campione said the site could be a place to celebrate Queens, honor the borough's history, and have a place that would be a staple for the future, too. "We have always said to Parks, 'Let's stabilize it first and then argue or work together for its adaptive reuse,'" Campione said. "We never said it must be an air and space museum, but Parks did tell us at the time it was the best proposal they had seen in 40 years. However, it could be used for many things, from an open air amphitheater to the fully enclosed museum we presented."
But is the Pavilion irreparable? Given the structural wear and tear, the Parks Department study could estimate renovation costs too lofty. "It hasn't been taken care of," Berenfeld said. "If you're going to leave something like that up, you should take care of it. It's just been neglected." One high ranking City official estimated the cost of rehabilitation to be $30 million – just slightly more than the cost of demolition.
The Eyes of the World Look at Boro's Aging World's Fair Relic, Queens Tribune, June 15, 2007