Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Let There Be Light - New York State Pavilion Hopes For A Brighter Future

Lighting tests conducted on the Astro-View Towers of the New York State Pavilion last Tuesday evening illuminated the iconic structures for the first time in nearly 50 Years.  With the concrete sections under the platforms long gone the exposed rusted underbelly is clearly visible at night.  A lighting design firm has been brought in by the Queens Borough President's office to create a temporary lighting plan which will be installed later this year.   Nearly $ 6 million dollars in public funds have been allocated so far for work that will eventually include restoring electrical service and eliminating flooding in the towers,  replacing rotted staircases, roofs and reinforcing concrete on the observation decks. 

(Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

The New York State Pavilion including its iconic Astro-View Towers and the Tent of Tomorrow in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens are one of the New York City’s most public symbols of neglect.

For five decades the tower's iconic flying saucer design - purportedly inspired by the buildings of Krypton in the Superman comics - has inspired the imaginations of countless children and adults alike.

Built for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the Pavilion was a $12 million gift from the taxpayers of New York State to the Borough of Queens and the Parks Department.

For years preservationists and World's Fair advocates have been pressing the city to come up with and financially support a successful redevelopment plan for the beloved structures — a plan that takes into account adaptive re-uses that not only pays respect to the two remaining structures but also, and perhaps most importantly, compliments the mission of the park to serve the community.

The Astro-View Towers lit for the first time in nearly half a century.  The Unisphere can be seen illuminated on the bottom left hand side. The 12-story high globe was built as a symbol of world peace by the US Steel Corporation for 1964-65 World's Fair.  The Unisphere once too had dramatic lighting at night during the Fair which gave the effect of sunrise moving over the surface of the globe. The capitals of nations were also marked by lights. 

Rachel Eichorn of Shimstone Design Studio points a 200 watt  LED light towards the New York State Pavilion's Astro- View Towers.   

Advocates have fought to have the government, at the very least, allocate the funds that are desperately needed to help stabilize the structures from falling further into disrepair.

These dreams are coming a bit closer to reality.

Nearly six million dollars in Mayoral, City Council and Queens Borough President funding have been allocated for an initial redevelopment phase which will concentrate on stabilizing the deteriorating Astro Towers.

Proponents of preserving the buildings hope to literally shed light on the deplorable condition of the structures in an effort to keep pressure on politicians for the need to provide additional funding.

The futuristic looking steel-and-glass enclosed Sky Streak capsule elevators once whisked visitors to its observation deck 226 above the Fair in 20 seconds.   The capsules - key elements of the iconic Flushing Meadows pavilion - have been left at the mercy of decay and vandals since the Fair ended in 1965.  The design has inspired the imaginations of countless people.

Last Tuesday lighting designers tested 150 and 200-watt LED lamps at several locations to the delight of on-lookers.

The work is the first step in a restoration project for the New York State Pavilion and the adjacent Tent of Tomorrow, the most well-known and revered remnants of the 1964-65 World’s Fair that remain unpreserved. The structures, designed by noted architect Philip Johnson, have been allowed to slowly rust away by the city since the Fair's closing in 1965.

The project will include restoring electrical service in the basement of the towers as well as eliminating flooding conditions,  replacing the rotted staircases,  replacing the roofs on all three towers,  repairing concrete platforms,  repairing and painting of steel,  on the observation decks,  as well as monitoring the Tent of Tomorrow.   The total cost for this work was estimated last year at $ 11.8 million dollars of which $5.8 million has been raised so far.

The elevators have been shamefully rotting away on the ground surrounded by a chain-link fence since the Parks Department had them removed from the towers in 1998.

A  $ 650,000 dollar contract has been awarded to Robert Silman and Associates for design work. 

"We have to proceed," said Barry Grodenchik who is overseeing the project in the Queens Borough Presidents office.  

He said he hopes the work goes out to bid "very shortly." 

The three towers measure 60, 150 and 226 feet high and commanded sweeping  360-degree views.  The two shorter towers held cafeterias for the fair and the tallest tower, as the highest point of the fair, held an observation deck. Fifty years ago visitors ascended the towers in the “Sky Streak” capsule elevators in 20 seconds.  Admission to the observation tower was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. 

Sadly, the once sleek space-aged elevators have been shamefully rotting away on the ground at the base of the towers since the Parks Department took them down in 1998.

Mechanical Room. The first phase of the project will include restoring electrical service in the towers as well as eliminating flooding conditions in the basement. 

A few weeks ago five kids broke into the towers and graffitied.  

Attendees on Tuesday were not the only ones to catch the lighting tests.  Thousands of motorists traveling along the Long Island Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wick Expressway caught a glimpse of what the future could hold.

Shimstone Design Studio has been engaged to come up with an overall lighting design and oversee its future installation. 

Rachel Eichorn working the light. 

"It's an important structure that everyone wants to preserve," said Brian Belluomini a principle in the firm which is donating its services.

“Lighting will help bring attention to the need to preserve it. You want it to stand out. To see such interest in this early stage is wonderful.  I want it to reopen. I would love to go to the top," he said.

Brian Belluomini manuvers a light between the outer wall of the Tent of Tomorrow and a 100-foot column, one of 16,  that once supported the world's biggest suspension roof.          Although not part of the scope of Shimstone Design Studio's work they did a few tests on the Tent. Proponents of preserving and reusing the structure also hope it too will eventually be lit.

Although not part of the scope of their project, Brian and his colleague Rachel Eichorn also conducted a couple of tests on the Tent of Tomorrow, which they also hope will eventually be illuminated.  They shined a portable light along at the top of the rusting frame and also stretched out a long extension cord and moved to the base where they pointed the LED lamp up towards one of the 100-foot concrete columns that once helped support the world's largest suspension roof.

"It's such an iconic landmark it should be protected," said Rachel Eichorn.

Several families from the surrounding community came out on Tuesday including some that had interacted with the buildings for generations.

"I remember roller skating in the pavilion when I was their age and my mother remembers going to the Fair," said a woman who brought her kids to watch the lighting tests.

"It would be great if they opened this all up again so people in the community could use it.  We need positive things to do."

One volunteer group has literally brought the building back to life, helping to ensure its future.  

Since 2009 the New York State Pavilion Paint Project has spruced up the faded Tent of Tomorrow by painstakingly painting over the long-faded red and white striped interior and exterior walls, often working in the stifling summer heat.  Over these years this dedicated group has been the most visible presence responsible for helping keep the dream alive and in making sure the need for preservation is kept in the public eye.

Not Just Red and White stripes.  A New York State Pavilion Paint Project volunteer applies much needed yellow to the building. 

One of the Paint Project’s founders, John Piro, stopped by to see the light tests. 

"Its part of the rebirth of the pavilion" said John.  "It looks like a piece of art from another time."

Like many people he would also like to see the Tent of Tomorrow lit at night, "so people can see that magnificent building too.  It looks like the Coliseum in Rome." 

He remembers vividly the first time he saw the towers lit at night. 

"I still remember that moment from 1964. I was with my friend we were walking and I looked up under the deck and saw those bright lights shinning up on the platform. It stopped me in my tracks. My mouth was wide open. " 

John also has a special connection with the pavilion having played there during the Fair with his band when he was 15-years-old. 

This stunning night view from 1965 shows the New York State Pavilion, including the Tent of Tomorrow and the Astro-View Towers.  The New York State Pavilion complex, designed by noted architect Philip Johnson, featured three observation towers,  the Theaterama, and a colorful Tent of Tomorrow featuring the world's biggest suspension roof.   The Tent was made up of 16 100-foot columns supporting a 50,000 sq. foot roof of multicolored translucent panels as well as three towers, measuring 60, 150 and 226 feet tall.   (Photo: AP Photo)

Of the New York State Pavilion's three original structures -  the Astro-View Towers, the Tent of Tomorrow and Theaterama, only the Theaterama (above) has been re-purposed and is now the Queens Theatre.

Matthew Silva has just finished up his loving tribute to the Pavilion in a documentary entitled “Modern Ruin.” 

A Long Island middle school teacher born in Flushing Queens, Silva began his documentary in earnest after bringing a group of students on an urban planning field trip to the site in 2012.

The film will have a benefit premiere for the Queens Theatre on May 22 which is located adjacent to the observation towers.  

Of the pavilion's three original structures only one, the Theaterama, has been re-purposed and is now the Queens Theatre.

Silva said last Tuesday night's event was "really exciting.”

“It really does remind me of what the Italians have done to their ruins in Rome.  Seeing it at night lit up will change the public's perception of how beautiful and special it is.” 

Silva’s film even has a little something for Led Zeppelin fans: Hint - the band played twice at the Pavilion in August 1969 - and not at the Singer Bowl as is sometimes mistakenly reported - during their Summer 1969 North American Tour.  Performance photos Silva tracked down are seen in the film.  The venue was apparently switched to the Pavilion from the Singer Bowl after an argument with the band's management. 

A "record crowd" of well over 10,500 attended – at a $3 ticket price -  and attendees sat on top of the famed terrazzo pavement from the Texaco road map.  And thousands listened outside according to a news report.   One attendee's account posted on-line states that the band repeatedly had to stop the show to ask concert goers to come down after climbing up the Pavilion's support cables which were leftover and dangling from the Tent of Tomorrow's massive roof structure. 

Silva credits, like many people do, the dedicated folks of the Paint Project for reviving public interest in the site.

"It got people noticing it again," he said.

"For the last 40 years it has been chained up and inaccessible as parkland. Hopefully it will be restored for some sort community use.”

Another person with a special connection to the Fair is very pleased with the renewed interest.  

"It's nice to see the pavilion getting some long all overdue attention," said Bill Cotter, a Word's Fair aficionado.  

Bill has amassed a collection of more than 24,000 photos from the 1964/65 Fair some of which were used in Matthew's film. Now living on the west coast he is flying in from California for the premiere.  

Like many people he has very fond memories of the original lighting scheme especially the blue globes made of glass that once ringed throughout the Tent of Tomorrow and the towers, an experience he referred to as "majestic."

"It would be nice to see the lighting restored to the pavilion in general not just spotlights shining on the towers. They left a lasting impression. 

Bill was 12-year-old when he and his family first visited the Fair.  He can't recall just how many times he returned, "quite a bit" he says, and when he found the Fair's one dollar admission fee for kids elusive he scoured the neighborhood collecting 2 and 5 cent soda bottles for the refunds, along with old newspapers which were sold by the pound and recycled.   

"If just one child gets inspired by a World's Fair than its worth it." 

Since taking office last year, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has vowed to preserve the Pavilion. She has spearheaded efforts and created a Pavilion task force and helped secure the $5.8 million in city funds to light and begin initial repairs of the space.  The Borough President was present on Tuesday for the lighting tests.

The Power Of The Paint. Before And After. Since 2009 the volunteers from New York State Pavilion Paint Project have literally brought the faded Tent of Tomorrow back-to-life making sure the need to preserve these structures does not fade from the public eye.  

(Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

Read More:
New York Daily News  - March 25, 2015 - By Lisa L. Colangelo   

Queens Chronicle - March 27, 2015

Times Ledger - By Bill Parry

Times Ledger  -  By Bill Parry

1 comment:

  1. Excellent story. As a young boy who lived in Queens, I went to the Fair several times. Those visits are some of my fondest memories. When driving past the fairgrounds on the LIE today, I thrill to see the Unisphere and it breaks my heart that the NYS Pavilion towers have been neglected for a half century. The three NYS towers and the Tent of Tomorrow are among the crown jewels of NYC history. They should be treasured, not left to rust and decay. The talk of tearing them down infuriates me.

    These small attempts being made now are a step in the right direction. In a city that spends over a billion dollars a year on a failing homeless shelter system, another billion on the horribly expensive Access-a-Ride disabled transport system and while we are on the subject of uncontrolled profligate spending, let's not forget our ******* Mayor de Blasio bloating the city payroll with 20% more useless bureaucrats, it could afford to pay the cost of fixing up the NYS Pavilion out of its spare change.