Discover / The New York State Pavilion
Save a National Treasure
REGION: Northeast
LOCATION:
Queens, New York City, NY
TYPE: Monument
Philip Johnson designed the Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. | Photo: Duncan Kendall
Philip Johnson designed the Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. | Photo: Duncan Kendall
Opportunity
Save and reuse a Modernist icon that has intrigued and inspired millions for over 50 years.

Overview

Architect Philip Johnson designed the New York State Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which drew an estimated 51 million visitors to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for a celebration of culture, technology, and “man's achievement on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe.” A skyline-defining feature of the borough of Queens, the Pavilion is a monumental concrete and steel structure combining a theater, three observation towers, and a 100-foot high, open-air elliptical ring.

Dubbed the “Tent of Tomorrow,” the Pavilion’s main exhibition space dazzled and delighted fairgoers with the world’s largest suspension roof and a 567-panel terrazzo road map of the Empire State. While a vast majority of the structures constructed for the World’s Fair were either demolished or relocated, the Pavilion remained in active use for years as a community roller rink and concert venue. However, by 1976, the tent’s iconic roof was declared unstable and removed, leaving the ornate map exposed to the elements and the Pavilion’s future in question.

Even in its current deteriorated state, the Pavilion remains a focal point of a beautiful, 1,255-acre urban landscape that is Queens' largest green space and one of New York City's flagship parks. Owned by the city and administered by the Parks Department, the Pavilion is structurally stable, but needs critical repairs and restoration after years of disuse. Recent studies have shown that it would cost approximately $14 million to demolish the Pavilion, $40 million to fully repair and preserve it, and up to $72 million to reopen it to accommodate a program of full reuse.

National Significance

Held at a time of great cultural and technological transformation, the 1964-65 World’s Fair – the largest ever hosted in the United States – embodied the Space Age optimism of mid-century America. That sentiment pervaded the architecture and design of the fair, which featured flying saucer shapes, vast cantilevers, and towering concrete forms.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the New York State Pavilion is a remarkable relic not only of World’s Fair architecture, but also of this fascinating era in American history. Commissioned by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Philip Johnson was instructed to make the state’s representative building the largest and tallest at the fair. Once it opened, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called it a "runaway success...a sophisticated frivolity...seriously and beautifully constructed. This is carnival with class."

The work of a master architect and a symbol of a captivating cultural moment, the New York State Pavilion is the only element remaining from the 1964-65 World’s Fair that has not yet been restored or adapted.

Campaign Goals

  • Raise local and national awareness of the significance of the Pavilion.
  • Advocate for the restoration and reuse of the Pavilion as an asset to the local community and visitors to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
  • Bring preservation expertise and resources to the reuse efforts.

Ways To Help

Contact Mayor de Blasio and thank him for making the New York State Pavilion a continued priority.

Donate to our campaign to save the New York State Pavilion.

Posted on July 15, 2014

Written by Grant Stevens, Team Member

It’s an exciting time for the New York State Pavilion! Just last week, it was announced that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and the New York City Council have allocated $5.8 million towards the New York State Pavilion to begin restoration. Though the exact use of this money has not yet been determined, it will most likely involve electrical and structural improvements to the iconic towers. You can catch the full story in these New York Times and New York Daily News articles.

This is a significant first step towards saving the Pavilion and we encourage you to thank Mayor de Blasio for his support and ask that he continue to make the rehabilitation of the Pavilion a priority of his administration. We are very excited about this development, but is it crucial to remember that while $5.8 million is a strong start, the National Trust is advocating that this landmark be fully restored and reused, a solution that will cost roughly $72 million in total.

We also want to offer a note of congratulation to our local partner, People for the Pavilion, who received an honorary Social Media in Travel and Tourism (SMITTY) Award from Travel + Leisure Magazine. They also have a major event coming up on August 1, 2014: Pavilion Day with the Mets.

Check back in again soon for more Pavilion updates!

Posted on June 02, 2014

Excerpt from The Guardian

"Fifty years on...  there are calls to breathe new life into the collapsing corpse of the New York State Pavilion, with Kellberg's book and a documentary film by Matthew Silva on the way. "There is growing support to see the structure revived," says Salmaan Khan of People for the Pavilion, set up to campaign for its revival. Melinda Katz, Queens' borough president, has formed a taskforce dedicated to preserving the pavilion, although funds are the big question. It will cost around $40m (£24m) just to stabilise the structure. Still, there is no danger of it being torn down: it is on the National Register for Historic Places, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently declared it a national treasure."

Read the full story >>

Posted on May 22, 2014

Written by Roberta Lane, Project Manager

What a difference a month makes!

In the short time the New York State Pavilion has been a National Treasure, over 6,000 people have signed our petition urging New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to make saving Philip Johnson's masterpiece a priority of his administration. 

Results like that really life our spirits, almost as much as this amazing aerial footage recently taken of the Pavilion. Check out this clip courtesy of the creative folks at Adorama, and if you haven't already, please add your name to the growing list of supporters who want to see this World's Fair icon brought back to vibrant use. 

Please check back often for additional updates on the New York State Pavilion. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on April 23, 2014

Written by Roberta Lane, Project Manager

What a day, what a day!

Yesterday, on the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the National Trust and its partners were on the ground in Queens to officially launch the New York State Pavilion as our newest National Treasure. The event, which drew an estimated 5,000 to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, allowed local preservationists access to the Pavilion’s iconic “Tent of Tomorrow” for the first time in three decades. It was, in a word, magical.

We spent the day pumping up visitors as they waited in a mile-long line for their chance to enter the Pavilion. Vanity Fair architecture critic and National Trust Board Member Paul Goldberger appeared with local and state elected officials – including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey – to announce our National Treasure designation and to ceremonially unlock the gates to the Pavilion's iconic “Tent of Tomorrow.” The audience erupted in applause when Paul closed his remarks with the following sentiment: “For a long time the future of this building has been a big question mark—but in time I think it will be a different mark of punctuation. It will be more like a great exclamation point in the middle of a resurgent Queens.”

The event and our National Treasure designation was covered extensively throughout the New York metro area, including the New York Times, New York Daily News, and Vanity Fair. We'll have much more to share in the coming days, but please enjoy these photos below (courtesy of Daniel Avila/NYC Parks), as well as Paul's outstanding remarks about the Pavilion. And of course, if you have not already, please support our campaign by petitioning New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to make rehabilitating this National Treasure a priority of his administration. 

New York State Pavilion Remarks by Paul Goldberger, April 22, 2014

Good morning. As one of those people who actually remembers the 1964 World’s Fair, I have to say how great it is to be back at this building after 50 years. It was thrilling to be in this place then, as a little boy. It is even more thrilling, in a way, to be here now, because now we are celebrating something that, in its way, is even more of a triumph than getting this pavilion built, which is the steps that are being taken toward preserving it. 

That’s why it is a special pleasure to be able to say that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named The New York State Pavilion a National Treasure, which is the special designation the Trust gives to structures that are critical to our architectural, social, political and cultural history – the kind of buildings we could not imagine being without. The designation as a National Treasure hopefully will raise national awareness of the Pavilion, and make it easier to raise the funds that are needed for restoration, as well as to devise a viable plan for this building’s re-use. The New York State Pavilion is an unusual kind of National Treasure, not only because it was created as part of the temporary event of the World’s Fair, but also because it is modern.

But modern buildings are now historic buildings, as the passage of half a century since this one opened proves, and the National Trust has made a special effort to educate people about the importance of saving the best of the recent past along with the best of the long ago past. That’s often a harder case to make, because the 1960’s were not always the best years for architecture, and a lot of what we produced in that decade was hard to like and harder still to convince people it was worth preserving. Everybody likes Victorian houses, but office buildings from the era of Mad Men are more of an acquired taste.

But this building makes the case, more easily, certainly more exuberantly, than almost any other. This is a remarkable piece of civic architecture, and it shows us the best that we were capable of half a century ago. That in itself is meaningful. But this building is another thing entirely from most architecture of the 60’s: it is spirited, exciting, and elegant at the same time. No wonder the critic Ada Louise Huxtable referred to the New York State Pavilion as “carnival with class.”

It is a carnival, a great tent, celebratory to its very core. It reminds us that everything in the sixties was not glass boxes or concrete monoliths. But Philip Johnson, the architect, was as interested in celebrating technology as in raising our spirits; the building had the world’s largest suspended roof, made of 50,000 plastic panels, supported around the perimeter by concrete columns a hundred feet high. It was a beautiful composition of rounded, curving forms: the main tent, elliptical in shape; a circular theater, and the three towers, 60 feet, 150 feet and 226 feet high, all of these circles playing off against each other in a kind of harmonic balance.

Philip Johnson was closely connected to the art world in New York, and he invited ten of the most advanced artists in New York to produce murals for the outside of the theater: among them Ellsworth Kelly, James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol – an amazing group to have put together in 1964, when most of them were fairly early in their careers.

The New York State Pavilion was the finest architectural achievement of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, but preserving it is much more than just saving a memory from half a century ago. It’s also an exhilarating public building that stands as a reminder that not all of the civic architecture we made in the 1960’s was harsh and cold. And now the “Tent of Tomorrow” has the potential to be a new civic symbol for this exciting borough as well as a vital public building within one of New York City’s greatest parks. For a long time the future of this building has been a big question mark – but in time I think it will be a different mark of punctuation. It will be more like a great exclamation point in the middle of a resurgent Queens.

Please check back often for additional updates on the New York State Pavilion. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

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Contact Mayor de Blasio and thank him for making the New York State Pavilion a continued priority.

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