For the thousands of people who came from all over to take a tour this week of the once-majestic New York State pavilion – a place that, on April 22, 1964, opened to throngs of people waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the World’s Fair – the reasons they stood in line for hours to see a glimpse of a now-decaying structure were incredibly varied.
There were the specific memories that drew them back – the desire to connect to another time and place, when they were younger, when their parents were still alive, when something called a “picturephone” was a hint of a far-away future that wouldn’t arrive for decades to come. They vividly remembered the details – eating Belgian waffles for the first time, listening to Walt Disney’s “It’s a Small World” on loop, meeting people from around the globe as they walked around the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park – the site of both the 1964 and the 1939 World’s Fairs.
Some said they were ardent fans of “urban photography,” while others who hadn’t yet been born at the time of the fair said they wanted to see the inside of the iconic, space-like structure that juts into the horizon for everyone passing by it on the Grand Central.
Whatever the reason, whatever the stories of their past, there was something everyone seemed to have in common: They said they wanted the pavilion to be preserved before it, like so much else of the World’s Fair, disappears, relegated to exist only in photographs and memories.
If there was ever a time to actually get this done – to secure the approximately $50 million needed to not only restore the building but make it accessible for the general public to use – it is now, when the city, and the country, is once again focused on Queens during the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair.
This is more than a chance to save a piece of history – though it certainly is that – but it is also an opportunity to take a massive structure and allow the millions of visitors streaming into Flushing Meadows Corona Park to make use of it. It is a chance to remind ourselves that the history, present and future rely on one another – and we should be proud of the history of this borough, as well as its future.
City officials have estimated it would cost about $14 million to tear down the Pavilion – which would be an incredible waste of money. The Parks Department has completed several engineering studies of the Pavilion, and the most recent one, completed in 2012, found that it would cost about $40 million to preserve the pavilion as architectural elements and a little more than $50 million to both preserve the facility and restore public access.
Whatever your thoughts are on the fate of the pavilion, everyone should at least come out to Flushing Meadows Corona Park on May 18, when the city will kick off its summer of World’s Fair anniversary activities. There will be music and fireworks – and a sense that, 50 years later, the world still revolves around much of the same: a sense of togetherness and belonging.
The Pavilion belongs in Queens. Let’s make sure it stays here.