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August 30, 2001


Grass Roots Effort To Convert New York State Pavilion In the Works


The structure is familiar to most. Over 53 million people have walked on its terrazzo map of New York State at one time or another. It has been featured in popular movies such as "Men In Black" and "The Wiz", and is seen with the Unisphere in countless ads, photos and commercials. Every year it serves as a backdrop for the US Tennis Open. Now the deteriorating building may have a new lease on life as an Air and Space Museum thanks to a grass roots effort led by two New York businessmen.

Built for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the New York State Pavilion was a $12 million ($72 million in today's dollars) gift from the taxpayers of New York State to the Borough of Queens and the Parks and Recreation Department. Back then, Governor Nelson Rockefeller authorized architect Philip Johnson to
create the tallest pavilion for the Fair. Robert Moses, Fair Corporation President, decided to keep the pavilion after the Fair closed as an "art museum" to be featured in the newly recreated Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. For a short term from 1967-69 the pavilion did serve as such. In 1970 it was turned into a roller rink for a few years and hasn't been used since.

The pavilion has deteriorated for the last three decades to the point that it is now unsafe and only immediate renovations to stabilize the structure will prevent it from certain catastrophic collapse. Unless a permanent use for it can be found it may have come to the end of its life.

Charles Aybar, Ph.D., an aviation professional, and Frankie Campione, AIA, Principal of CREATE Architecture Planning and Design firm, teamed up to formulate a practical use for the decaying steel and concrete structure. Aybar worked at the pavilion as a teenager when it was rehabilitated as a skating rink. Campione finally decided he had to do something to save the structure after years of driving past the decaying hulk on the Grand Central Parkway and noting the structure's decay.

They both visited the pavilion and gathered thoughts collectively to find the most practical reuse of the pavilion without destroying its architectural beauty and significance. Both have come forward as professionals to offer
their services to the city. Finally, the air museum concept was born as the most innovative and realistic use for the structure.

"The proximity of the pavilion to New York's great airports makes its Flushing Meadows-Corona Park location a natural. The structure sits within sight of LaGuardia Airport and the observation towers of the pavilion work perfectly to enhance an aviation concept," says Aybar. "Could there be a better site within the city for such a museum? Further, could there be a more appropriate structure that is sitting available for an air and space museum concept?"

In their proposed renovation, the "Sky Streak" elevators will once again whisk visitors up the towers, first to an entrance level where a glass sky-bridge will draw visitors into the upper interior of the museum, into the old "Tent of Tomorrow" structure. The concept calls for a spiraling glass ramp leading down to the main floor past suspended space capsules and aircraft. What was once a huge expanse of air, open to the elements, will become usable and dramatic exhibit space in a fully glass-curtain enclosed environment. Above, the famous translucent roof of the pavilion would be completely restored with new blue colored fiberglass panels. The inovative design retains Johnson's original architecture while making the facility fit permanent displays.

The ravages of time and the elements have destroyed the famed NY State terrazzo map. Aybar and Campione propose replacing it with a new 45,000 square foot terrazzo floor featuring the Solar System and Milky Way.

Exhibits at ground and mezzanine levels would feature New York's rich history of aviation. Aybar and Campione point out that New York has served as the home to many of the world's greatest airlines in the golden age of air travel.

The pair hope to work with the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC to secure exhibits on loan. Such exhibits may included the Space Shuttle "Enterprise."

A giant video screen displaying films of aviation pioneers would be prominent. Hands-on displays of aircraft controls and cockpits lining the upper mezzanine for children to learn and play with would be available and a motion simulator that would take visitors through a take-off and landing of a Boeing 777 aircraft might also be included.

The developers have indicated that one of the tallest towers could serve as a control tower mock-up or a viewing platform for watching aircraft take-off and land at nearby LaGuardia. The third tower will serve patrons with a panoramic view and cafeteria style dining.

"The idea of reuse of the pavilion is long overdue" said Campione. "We want a place that will complement the current Hall of Science and be another draw for the park. With over 640 acres of green land, the park is in need of providing more educational and family oriented venues to the public. The people of New York deserve such a project."

In order to proceed with the concept, both Aybar and Campione were allowed access to the pavilion's history and architectural plans through the Parks Department. What they have found proved alarming. Two structural reports were commissioned by the City of New York, one in 1992 by Greiger Associates and the latest in 1996 by John Cairdullo Associates–Underpinning & Foundation Constructors.

The reports warn about the structure's wood pile foundation having rotted from eighteen inches to only six inches in some cases. The reports state "The threat of collapse exits, as does damage to the (nearby) Theaterama (now called "Queens Theater In the Park"), and the public." Further, the report "recommends that in the best interest of the City, and for the safety of the general public, an emergency contract for either stabilization or demolition of the Tent of Tomorrow be issued forthwith." To date, the city has not acted upon those findings.

To provide more information, Campione hired the engineering and geotechnical firm of Meyer Consulting Engineer Corporation of Rockville, Maryland, to study the structure. The firm specializes in treating weakening foundations and has done work on the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.

After their own investigation and study of the previously issued reports, Meyer Consulting confirmed the findings, stating that things have gotten "a whole lot worse since 1996." The consensus is that the pavilion needs to be stabilized as soon as possible to prevent collapse. Both Aybar and Campione feel that the cost for this stabilization must be borne by the City, Borough of Queens or Park's Department since the structure is owned by them. Fund raising for any meaningful reuse of the pavilion cannot proceed until the stabilization issue is resolved. Campione estimates the cost to stabilize the pavilion at seven to ten million dollars.

The pair presented their concept and engineering findings to Flushing Meadows Corona Park Commissioner Estelle Cooper and the Office of Borough President Claire Schulman. Both offices expressed interest in the project.

"The Park's Department was concerned about parking" stated Aybar. "That was a good sign, since we already had advanced the project to the next step in helping the park create a master plan." Borough President Schulman's office has indicated there is no money for renovations currently budgeted but that the pair should present their proposal again at "a more opportune time." She indicated to Park's Commissioner Stern that she feels the stabilization issue must be addressed immediately and would like to discuss the problems with him "at his earliest convenience."

Campione and Aybar now feel the time has come to make their plan public. Both feel there is considerable support in New York in finding a use for the long neglected structure. And with demolition being a very real option for the building, the two feel that time is of the utmost importance.

"After decades of sitting and rotting, a solid concept and plan has been developed, a gift to all New Yorkers to enjoy, for many generations to come," Aybar said. "Further, the park needs more facilities to draw people to it
and our air museum concept is a realistic solution for that as well as a way to save an architecturally and historically important building."

Both Aybar and Campione agree that they are in for "the long haul" on this project and will continue with their quest. If the project is to progress full speed ahead, their efforts, along with those of private industry, the
City, Parks Department and interested citizens and volunteers, will be needed to help fund the project. Meanwhile the pavilion risks danger of failing any day unless the owners act fast to stabilize it.

For that reason, Campione and Aybar are requesting that all concerned citizens who want to see this pavilion saved should contact those in the Queens Borough Government and the City Parks Department who have a hand in its fate.

A website has been developed to further the project's efforts at Contact information, artistic renderings, and other vital information about the project can be found there.