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10.07.2009
Editorial> When the Party's Over

After three decades of dereliction, Philip Johnsonns New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park got a recall from limbo on September 15, when state preservation officials unanimously voted to add it to the state and national registers of historic places. The listing will help secure sorely needed funds for rehabilitation, possibly paving the way to reopen the cityys most prominent midcentury ruin. Against the backdrop of the 2016 Olympics frenzy, however, this Worldds Fair relic reminds us that long after the champagne corks and confetti are swept away, whatts left is often a legacy of boosterism and empty rhetoric rather than a viable urban future.

Completed in 1964 as one of the few architectural high points of the Worldds Fair, Johnsonns pavilion was an undeniable hit: More than six million people passed through the ensemble, which centered upon the Tent of Tomorrow,, a colorful plastic canopy pitched atop the worldds largest cable suspension roof. Below was the famous terrazzo map of New York State, based on a Texaco road atlassnow wrapped in chain-link and subject to advancing deteriorationnwhile above soared three observation towers topping out at more than 200 feet and reached by Sky Streakk elevators (now sadly inoperable). Then there was the Theaterama, the only part of the complex to have been reborn following a 1993 renovation and, this year, a $23 million expansion for the Queens Theatre in the Park. Upon the fairrs opening, no less than Ada Louise Huxtable deemed the pavilion a runaway success, day or night,, adding: This is carnivall with class..

To its credit, the Parks Department, which owns the structure, supported the historic register listing to help rescue the pavilion. (The complex is also under review as a potential city landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, though no timeline has been set for a decision.) But three decades of neglect is plainly visible to millions roaring past on the Long Island Expressway. Indeed, state officials took the exceptional step of declaring the pavilion a fragile and short-lived resource,, since it does not meet the standard listing criteria of being at least 50 years old.

Todayys Olympiad hopefuls pepper their bid books with talk of long-range planning and catalytic regeneration, but as the world gears up for another quadrennial extravaganza, consider those skeletal towers in Queens. In New Yorkkwhose own Olympic bid, of course, succumbed to rancorous debate over a white-elephant West Side stadiummwe cannt even bother to fix up a work meant to celebrate, in the words of the fairrs theme, Manns achievement on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe..

By turns pathetic and hopeful, the fate of Johnsonns monument rests now in the hands of citizen-preservationists. On October 24, Columbia Universityys Preservation Alumni are sponsoring a volunteer workday to hack back invasive species that have colonized the pavilion, pitching in to salvage its former glory (call the Parks Department at 718-760-6677 for details). Under the tattered Tent of Tomorrow, you too can help conservators collect fragments of the grand terrazzo road map, bits of which vanish with every passing day.

Jeff Byles