A campaign to save the iconic New York State Pavilion, which hosted the 1964 World's Fair, has picked up momentum ahead of the site’s 50th anniversary.
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In the years since its construction, the pavilion has lain mostly dormant, an imposing ruin at the edge of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Various campaigns to save it from disrepair have stuttered and stalled.
But this time around two online fundraising campaigns, a documentary, resounding public opinion and the hearty backing of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have all conspired to breathe new life into the movement.
“We’re not the first to try and save it, but I don’t think it’s reached this point before, which is exciting,” said Salmaan Khan, co-founder of volunteer preservation group People for the Pavilion. “Nothing’s ever a sure thing, but we’re at the point where it’s hard to turn back.”
People for the Pavilion launched a few months ago when Khan, who works for the similarly restoration-minded High Line, teamed up with Matthew Silva, who in February led a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary. The film aims to tell the story of the pavilion’s descent from glory days to neglect.
“Most New Yorkers recognize it, but most people don’t really know what it is,” Khan said. “We want to bridge that gap.”
Khan and Silva kicked off their campaign at the Queens Theatre in January and said about 200 people showed up — including Borough President Katz.
“Two weeks later we get a call that she’s thrown her weight behind it,” Khan said.
She has indeed, assembling a task force intent on preserving the structure and speaking last week on its grounds to announce a number of events over the next six months aimed at drawing the pavilion out of history and into the present.
“There isn’t anybody I speak to about the World’s Fair who doesn’t have a story about it from 1964 and I think that’s one of the greatest things about this commemoration,” Katz said.
“The New York State Pavilion since then has fallen into disrepair. I am committed, and so is the committee, and so are many new Yorkers in the borough of Queens, and the elected officials who are sitting up here, to save the New York State Pavilion.”
The pavilion will open to the public for the first time in decades for several hours on Tuesday, April 22 and again on May 18. Visitors interested in glimpsing the interior of the long-inaccessible facility will be required to wear hard hats during the tour, led by the Urban Park Rangers.
The opening is being planned and managed by the New York State Pavilion Paint Project, which last year raised just under $4,000 for distinctive red and yellow paint and associated materials to have it looking its best in time for the anniversary celebrations.
The preservationists hope to see the pavilion revitalized as a public space. It could cost between $43 million and $72 million to preserve it and about $14 million to tear down, according to theParks Department.
Janice Melnick, the department's administrator of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, said it was too soon to say what the future might hold for the site in the event that it is saved.
"At this point, stabilizing the structures would be first," she said. "Then we can discuss uses as we proceed."
Still, she said, members of the public were full of ideas at forums hosted by the Parks Department, suggesting that the space be revamped for use as a theater, or for festivals and concerts.
“The overwhelming response from the listening session and the online survey has been that these are treasures that must be preserved," Melnick said.
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