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Abandoned New York State Pavilion

Petar Djajkovski

The New York State Pavilion is a grand historic structure, or to be more precise three separate buildings, The Tent of Tomorrow, The Observation Towers and The Theaterama. It was built for the purposes of the 1964 world’s fair. A world’s fair is a large international exhibition designed to showcase achievements of all creeds and nations.

They are events that vary in character and are held in different places of the world, thus enhancing diversity. This fair was held in New York to mark the 300th anniversary of the naming of New York, when in 1664 King Charles II sent an English fleet to take it from the Dutch. The Duke of York named it after himself, getting rid of its previous name of New Amsterdam.

The first “World Expo” was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851 under the title “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. Since then the fair is often referred to as “The Great Exhibition”.

View of the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere located at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York City, USA – JonathanRe – CC BY-SA 3.0

View of the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere located at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York City, USA – JonathanRe – CC BY-SA 3.0

New York had the privilege to host the world’s fair for the third time in 1964, after the two previous exhibitions held there in 1853 and 1939. New York World’s Fair diverged from the usual focus of the previous world’s fair expositions such as technological innovations. And from then on, world’s fairs were to be a beacon of society and its future, adopting specific cultural themes, thus encouraging intercultural communication for exchange of ideas in innovation. The theme of the 1939 fair was “Building the World of Tomorrow”, and at the 1964 New York World’s Fair the theme was “Peace Through Understanding”.

Shadow of a commercial jetliner crosses the pavilion in 1981 – Author: George Garrigues – CC BY-SA 3.0

Shadow of a commercial jetliner crosses the pavilion in 1981 – Author: George Garrigues – CC BY-SA 3.0

For this particular fair The New York State Pavilion was designed and constructed. It consisted of three separate installations mentioned in the introduction. The Tent of Tomorrow’s total cost was 6 million dollars, and at the time it was built it was the construction with the largest cable suspension roof in the world. The tent was designed by famed modernist architects Philip Johnson and Lev Zetlin.

Aerial view of some remaining structures in Flushing Meadows in 2004, including the ruins of the New York State Pavilion in the foreground – Author: Sfoskett / MegA – CC BY-SA 3.0

Aerial view of some remaining structures in Flushing Meadows in 2004, including the ruins of the New York State Pavilion in the foreground – Author: Sfoskett / MegA – CC BY-SA 3.0

Its dimensions are 350 feet by 250 feet, supported by 100 feet high concrete columns from which 50,000 square feet of polychrome tiles were suspended. Construction took place between 1962 and 1964. It is an elliptical structure and throughout the main floor of the Tent a large scale of a Texaco highway map of New York was presented, made out of terrazzo. An idea to use the map for the floor of the World Trade Center floated but it wasn’t done so.

Queens Theatre (ex Theaterama) in the Park and the World’s Fair Pavilion – Author: Leo Chiou – CC BY-SA 4.0

Queens Theatre (ex Theaterama) in the Park and the World’s Fair Pavilion – Author: Leo Chiou – CC BY-SA 4.0

Complementing the pavilion and rising high in the air are the fair’s three high-spot observation towers. All of them round with full circle observation decks, and two of them had cafeterias incorporated inside. The tallest of The Observation Towers stands 226 feet high. Platforms could be reached by two elevators called “Sky Streak Capsules”, they are now removed. The southern tower platform is 85 feet and the northern one is at 160 feet high.

Ruins of the observatory towers in 2006 – Author: GK tramrunner – CC BY-SA 3.0

Ruins of the observatory towers in 2006 – Author: GK tramrunner – CC BY-SA 3.0

The last part of the New York Fair Pavilion’s buildings, the Theaterama, is still in use today as home to the Queens Theatre, a performing arts center that produces and presents theater and dance. Originally it was imagined and constructed as a single drum-shaped volume of reinforced concrete. However, additions to the original structures were made in 1992 and 2008.

Transportation and Travel Pavilion at 1964 New York World’s Fair – Author: Doug Coldwell – CC BY-SA 3.0

Transportation and Travel Pavilion at 1964 New York World’s Fair – Author: Doug Coldwell – CC BY-SA 3.0

New York State Pavilion is the subject of a documentary film titled “Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion” directed and produced by Matthew Silva in 2015. This film tells the whole story of Philip Johnson’s and Lev Zetlin’s New York State Pavilion during its glory days of the fair, and the chronicles of its demise over the past fifty years.

Aerial views of the fair grounds during the 1964 World’s Fair.

Aerial views of the fair grounds during the 1964 World’s Fair.

The film details its post fair use as a 1960’s concert venue and 1970’s roller rink, including the years of total neglect and recent growing efforts for restoration. The documentary film premiered on May 22, 2015, in the Queens Theatre which was formerly the Theaterama.

Aerial views of the fair grounds during the 1964 World’s Fair.

Aerial views of the fair grounds during the 1964 World’s Fair.

Last year in March, People For the Pavilion and the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched an international ideas competition, calling the whole world to try and reimagine possibilities for what the pavilion could become in the future.