The New York State Pavilion has predominantly remained dormant since it closed in the 1970s. During its heyday, however, the futuristic structure once housed state exhibits and performances, serving as the “shining star” of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which welcomed over 51 million people, according to reports.
In the decades since then, the Philip Johnson-designed Pavilion has fallen to a state of deterioration, but recent renovation efforts, led by The National Trust for Historic Preservation in collaboration with The Cities Project by Heineken, are aimed at restoring this iconic New York City landmark to its previous grandeur. Later this spring, we’re also hosting our first tour of the Remnants of the World’s Fairs at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. While we will explore hidden-in-plain-sight remnants of the 1939/40 and 1964/65 expositions, please note we will not be entering the Pavilion.
See more details here. In the meantime, here are 10 fun facts we uncovered about the New York State Pavilion, which consists of the “Tent of Tomorrow,” three concrete Observation Towers and the Theaterama.
1. The New York State Pavilion Stayed Because it Was “Too Expensive to Tear Down”
The 1964-65 World’s Fair was always meant to be a temporary affair. During its installation, all exhibitors were required to sign a lease that said that their pavilions would be demolished within 90 days of the fair’s closure in October 1965.
To construct each pavilion, pile drivers were used to install poles into the park’s foundation for support. The wooden pilings that were used were undoubtably strong enough to last through the fair’s two-year lifespan. The New York State Pavilion, however, stood the test of time as it was “too expensive to tear down,” according to The Landmark Preservation Commission in 1995. This could possibly be attributed to the belief that steel piles, in addition to wooden ones, were utilized during the Pavilion’s construction although the location of these piles has never been documented.
2. The New York State Pavilion Texaco Map Was the Largest Known Representation of any 50,000 Sq. Mile on Earth’s Surface
A remnant of the Texaco terrazzo floor map that once lined the floor of the Tent of Tomorrow
Now buried under sand, tarp and gravel, the Texaco Terrazzo map was installed on the floor of the “Tent of Tomorrow” at the request of architect Philip Johnson. Covering 9,000-square-feet and measuring 130-feet-by-166-feet, the $1 million project was constructed out of 567 terrazzo mosaic panels, which each weighed 400 pounds (for a total weight of 114 tons). On rare visits inside the pavilion, you will may see a few tiles that have been preserved and displayed (photo above).
According to Rand McNally & Company, which supplied the topographic information for the map, the Texaco project was the largest known representation of any 50,000-square-mile area of the earth’s surface, featuring detailed highways, towns, cities and the location of every Texaco gas station in the state. To produce the floor map, grid sections of a Texaco map were magnified 64 times; the scale was so large that local landmarks could have been recognized if they were placed on it.
Had it not succumbed to decades of wear and tear, it would still remain the world’s largest single cartographic image to this day.
3. The New York State Pavilion is Painted in ‘American Cheese Yellow’
In 2015, The New York Structural Steel Painting Contractors’ Association spent 8,000 hours and used more than 1,600 gallons of paint to give the New York State Pavilion a new top coat. The paint job, costing more than $3 million, was part of a larger restoration effort headed by Borough President Melinda Katz, together with the de Blasio administration and the City Council.
Following a power washing session and an application of primer, the “Tent of Tomorrow” was covered with “American Cheese Yellow” paint, which was selected as the best match for the original color.
4. The New York State Pavilion Was Used as a Roller Skating Rink
For a brief period following the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the New York State Pavilion was repurposed as an open-air concert venue: The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Santana and the Grateful Dead all played shows there. (According to a forum, a Led Zeppelin concert “was wild with people climbing ropes to sneak in a $3.50 GA concert.”)
From 1972 to 1974, the Pavilion temporarily housed a popular roller rink called the Roller Round. It was operated by Ohioans and newlyweds Robert Jelen and wife Christine, who had contacted the city with their proposal for what was to become Queens’ only outdoor roller skating rink. Although the idea was not well-received by all, the city needed more recreational facilities at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, in addition to a supplementary source of revenue and someone to maintain the Pavilion. Thus, the plan for the roller rink pushed through, and the Texaco map was covered with a clear plastic coating to protect its surface from damage.
According to a 1970 article by the Long Island Post, admission was $1 with an extra 35 cents charge for skate rental. During its heyday, the rink welcomed more than 100,000 annual skaters before shuttering in 1974. At the time, a spokesman reported that the Jelens, “had not lived up to the terms of his contract which requires him to keep the building in good repair.”
5. Design Proposals: ‘Street Art Pavilion’ and ‘Tent of the Future’
Hanging Meadows by Aidan Doyle and Sarah Wan
In 2016, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and People for the Pavilion announced an international visioning competition to reimagine the New York State Pavilion. The winning design, entitled “Hanging Meadows” reimagines the space as a “suspended natural environment” that would feature plants from the Northeastern United States. In addition to providing beautiful views of the city, it would serve as a planetarium and garden.
In total, over 250 design proposals were submitted. The most popular entries — although not selected — include the “Tent of the Future,” a multifunctional urban space with solar panels that capture energy, and the “Street Art Pavilion,” a “museum laboratory of urban art,” where artists and locals can meet.
Also check out our coverage of the competition here.
6. Views from the ‘Sky-Streak’ Elevators of the New York State Pavilion
The former elevator bank in the abandoned observation towers. Photo by Robert Fein.
One of the highlights of the New York State Pavilion was its “Sky-Streak” capsule elevators, which zipped up and down the sides of two of the Observation Towers. Each served a specific purpose: the top tower was an observation platform; the middle sold refreshments and the lower tower was a lounge for “visiting dignitaries.”
Measuring 226 feet (or 69 meters) high, the tallest concrete tower (and the highest point of the fair) provided visitors with unobstructed overhead views of not only the fairgrounds, but New Jersey, Connecticut, the Atlantic Ocean and most of Long Island. The Sky-Streak elevators, in addition to other loose fixtures, have since been removed from the Pavilion.
7. The New York State Pavilion Texaco Map Could Have Been Moved to the World Trade Center
In 1970, five years after the World’s Fair, New York City considered removing the Texaco map for its reinstallation at the World Trade Center, which was under construction at the time. The map would have been incorporated into WTC’s grand courtyard, but due to objection from many groups, it remained at the Pavilion.
Six years following the Pavilion’s closure, the roof of the “Tent of Tomorrow” was declared unstable and its acrylic-colored panels were consequently removed due to safety concerns. With the Texaco map exposed to the ravages of weather, it ultimately fell into a state of severe decay before it was ultimately buried in 2009 to prevent further deterioration.
8. Attractions at the New York State Pavilion Cost Around as Much as a Subway Ride
The 1965 Official Guide Book for the New York World’s Fair lists the various prices for admission into the New York State Pavilion: while access to the Tent of Tomorrow was free, adults had to pay 50 cents to visit the Observation Towers (and children, 25 cents).
When adjusted for inflation, a 50-cent admission fee costs about $3.94 today, and 25 cents is about $1.97. As an alternative to the Sky-Streak elevators, visitors could also pay $6.50 to take a helicopter tour that encircled the fairgrounds at 500 feet — that comes out to about $51.27 today (not too shabby for a helicopter ride).
9. The New York State Pavilion Could Have Sunken into the Ground
Years after the World’s Fair, the New York Station Pavilion still commands a formidable presence. Had it not been for restoration efforts, however, the iconic structure could have succumbed to time. Charles Aybar, who worked on restoring the “Tent of Tomorrow” for the lessee of the building between 1964-74, posted the following to the nywf64.com message board:
I remember very clearly the park’s department had sent over engineers to look at the building every year for structural stability. According to their engineers, the building was ‘sinking 6 inches each year since being constructed;’ if this was true the building would be leveled by now! The Tent of Tomorrow was built as a temporary pavilion and was to be demolished thereafter.
10. The Suspended Monorail
Photo from New York City Parks Photo Archive.
The AMF dual rail I-Beam monorail was a suspended mass transit system that transported visitors around the fairgrounds. In the photo above, taken next to New York State Pavilion, you’ll notice “humps swelling up from the ground at the lake area near the highways.” According to Facebook commenter Helmut Eppich, those are apparently the pylon foundations for monorail support — or what’s left of them at least.