Relics of the 1964 World's Fair

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Relics of the 1964 World's Fair
A city of the future offers a dazzling finale to the chairborne ride featured at the General Motors Pavilion at the New York World's Fair, June 15, 1965. (AP Photo/Ruben Goldberg)
Night view of some lighted pavilion of the World's Fair. New York, 1964 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Closing day at New York World's Fair 1964-1965. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Fountains surrounding Unisphere at New York World's Fair closing day. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Standing on revolving floor, visitors to RCA Pavilion at World's Fair see themselves on television. The camera is behind TV set. Everybody can be an instant TV star. The people see themselves on television and reactions are varied, some smirk, leer, laugh, grin, and make funny faces and cast sly looks at their images on the TV screen. (Photo By: David McLane/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Standing on revolving floor, visitors to RCA Pavilion at World's Fair see themselves on television. The camera is behind TV set. Everybody can be an instant TV star. The people see themselves on television and reactions are varied, some smirk, leer, laugh, grin, and make funny faces and cast sly looks at their images on the TV screen. (Photo By: David McLane/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 18: Debra Longberg, 4, at the wheel of the 'Bounty' at the World's Fair Marina. (Photo by Ed Clarity/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 14: Spaceman Robert Courter circumnavigates the Unisphere at the World's Fair. (Photo by Hal Mathewson/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Mother and son at World's Fair. (Photo by Ted Russell//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
A space-age tower, left, and a restored giant metal globe called the Unisphere, remain as original structures from the 1964 World's Fair, Tuesday April 1, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York. A group of preservationists is fighting to save the towers and a pavilion of pillars once called the “Tent of Tomorrow,” but others see them as annoying eyesores that should be torn down. Neither option would come cheap: an estimated $14 million for demolition and up to $72 million for renovation. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Some Epoca reporters, among them Livio Pesce the first on the left, visit a building relating to the US during New York World's Fair. New York, 1964. (Photo by Angelo Cozzi Mario De Biasi Walter Mori/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
The Unisphere, a globe made of steel which is the emblem of the event, in the centre of the Fountain of the Continents. New York, 1964. (Photo by Angelo Cozzi Mario De Biasi Walter Mori/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
An architectural model of the General Motors Pavilion, designed for the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York City. Inside, the Futurama ride will take visitors on a tour of 'the near-future'. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Construction of IBM Corp. pavillion at the New York World's Fair. (Photo by Truman Moore//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Pavilion of the World's Fair. New York, 1964 (Photo by Angelo Cozzi;Mario De Biasi;Walter Mori/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park is shown Thursday, May 26, 2011 in the Queens borough of New York. The Unisphere was built for the 1964-1965 World's Fair by the US Steel Corporation as a symbol of world peace. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
The New York State Pavilion, a rusting remnant of the 1964 World's Fair near LaGuardia Airport in Queens , is seen in New York, Wednesday, June 6, 2007. The pavilion was named on the World Monuments Fund's 2007 list of the 100 most endangered sites. This year's list is the first to add global warming to a roster of forces the organization says are threatening humanity's architectural and cultural heritage. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
FILE - This 1965 file photo shows the observation towers New York State Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in New York. They were designed as sleek, space-age visions of the future: three towers topped by flying-saucer-like platforms, and a pavilion of pillars with a suspended, shimmering roof that the 1964 World’s Fair billed as the “Tent of Tomorrow.” That imagined tomorrow has come and gone. Now the structures are abandoned relics, with rusted beams, faded paint and cracked concrete. And as the fair’s 50th anniversary approaches, the remains of the New York State Pavilion are getting renewed attention, from preservationists who believe they should be restored, and from critics who see them as hulking eyesores that should be torn down. (AP Photo/File)
One of the Brass Rail lunch bars at the World’s Fair gives the appearance of a mass of balloons tied together on August 11, 1964. The towers at right are observation platforms, part of the New York State pavilion. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
FILE - This 1964 file photo shows the New York State Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in New York. As the fair’s 50th anniversary approaches, the remains of the New York State Pavilion are getting renewed attention, from preservationists who believe they should be restored, and from critics who see them as hulking eyesores that should be torn down. Neither option would come cheap: an estimated $14 million for demolition and $32 million to $72 million for renovation. (AP Photo/File)
Visitors attend the New York World's Fair on the first Sunday the fair is open to the public in Flushing, Queens on April 26, 1964. The fair's symbol, the Unisphere, is at left. (AP Photo)
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NEW YORK (AP) - They were designed for the 1964 World's Fair as sleek, space-age visions of the future: three towers topped by flying-saucer-like platforms, and a pavilion of pillars with a suspended, shimmering roof that was billed as the "Tent of Tomorrow."

That imagined tomorrow has come and gone. Now the structures are abandoned relics, with rusted beams, faded paint and cracked concrete.

As the fair's 50th anniversary approaches, the remains of the New York State Pavilion are getting renewed attention, from preservationists who believe they should be restored, and from critics who see them as hulking eyesores that should be torn down. Neither option would come cheap: an estimated $14 million for demolition and $32 million to $72 million for renovation.

"It is the Eiffel Tower of Queens," says Matthew Silva, who's making a documentary about the pavilion in Queens' Flushing Meadows Corona Park, comparing it to a remnant of the 1889 Paris Exposition that was also threatened with demolition before it was saved.

Designed by famed architect Philip Johnson, the New York structures debuted with the rest of the World's Fair on April 22, 1964, and quickly became among its most popular attractions.

Visitors rode glass "Sky Streak" elevators to the observation deck of a 226-foot tower - the highest point in the fair. The two shorter towers, at 150 and 60 feet, held a cafeteria and a VIP lounge.

The pavilion's 16, 100-foot-tall concrete columns supported what was then the largest suspended roof in the world, a 50,000 square-foot expanse of translucent, multicolored tiles. On the floor below was a $1 million, 9,000-square-foot terrazzo tile map of the state, with details of cities, towns and highways.

In the years after the fair, the pavilion was used as a music venue for such acts as Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac. In the '70s, it became a roller skating rink until the collapse of the ceiling tiles, leaving only bare cables behind.

The towers, while still structurally sound, were abandoned as observation decks long ago for safety reasons. Their retro-futuristic look has been most widely known from its use in such movies as "Men in Black" and "Iron Man 2."

Although occasionally opened for tours, the towers and pavilion - the last major structures still standing from the World's Fair that have not been preserved - have largely served as a stoic landmark for travelers on the Van Wyck Expressway. Two pad-locked gates - one chain-link, one metal - keep the Tent of Tomorrow shuttered.

"It should be called the 'Tent of Yesterday,'" says Ben Haber, who lives near the park. "This is not the Parthenon, it's not the Sphinx, it's not the pyramids. ... So what's so special that we should keep it?"

At the heart of the debate is the cost. While the city's Parks Department commissioned studies on the cost of scrapping or renovating the complex, it is still unclear where that money would come from and, if restored, how the structures would be used. If the money comes through, work on the city-owned pavilion could begin as early as next year once officials make a decision.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has formed a task force dedicated to preserving the pavilion, noting that other structures from the World's Fair have been saved, most notably the 12-story-tall metal globe called the Unisphere, the Hall of Science and the Queens Museum.

Among the ideas are to convert the towers once again into observation decks or an elevated garden or even a platform for bungee jumping, with the open-air pavilion turned into a performance space with a removable stage and bleachers.

While that debate plays out, a small group of World's Fair buffs has formed to repaint the pavilion so it can be open to the public briefly for an April 22 anniversary event. The towers will still be off limits.

"I just loved this pavilion," says 63-year-old volunteer painter John Piro. "And as the years went on I saw it decay and it just like tore my heart."

Haber, the Queens resident, argues that nostalgia is fine, but the cost of saving the complex is just too much.

"Urban parks are the backyards for people who don't have them - so they can sit on the grass, look at trees, flowers, water," Haber says. "They do not want to look at glass, steel and cement structures."
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