Modern Ruin, premiering at Queens Theatre on Friday, chronicles the rise and fall of the iconic New York State Pavilion. A landmark of the 1964 World’s Fair, it is now, alas, a magnificent ruin at Flushing Meadow Park. Highly visible from the Grand Central Parkway, the Long Island Expressway, and by air for those flying into or out of La Guardia or JFK airports, the Pavilion stands a sentinel to past optimism of the future which is today.
The movie opens with a hardy group of volunteers determined to help save the structure. It starts with small steps. Simple steps, such as painting the perimeter wall of the pavilion. Set against the scale of the structure cutting a modernistic, timeless silhouette against New York’s ever changing skyline, these simple gestures seem so out of scale—almost futile. Instead, it is the start of something larger.
The time of the World’s Fair was a period when technology was viewed as a key ingredient to building a better, brighter future—and the world was on display. New York State was ascendant.
Writer/director Mathew Silva does a very nice job of taking the viewer on a tour of the site: its origins, as a landfill made infamous in the Great Gatsby, the role of this the Pavilion in the 1964 World’s Fair, the conversion of the fairgrounds to today’s Flushing Meadow Park, and its the Pavilion’s various uses since the Fair, including a period as a roller skating rink, and its eventual decline.
This evocative film resonated with me on several levels.I visited the 1964 World’s Fair as a youngster, on my first trip back to New York from Indiana, where I lived at that time.Visiting New York City was already exciting enough—but visiting the World’s Fair is like visiting the “center” of the center of the universe.
I recall with wonder the many pavilions, monorail, sky rides—and even the fun of riding the Flushing Line (Number 7) train to the Fair. It was sensory overload for an impressionable young boy. The 1964 World’s Fair was a crucible where the excitement and energy of the world seemed to converge to produce a miraculous world full of vision of and almost unlimitless possibilities!
Watching this documentary we learn of how the magnificent New York State Pavilion was allowed to fall into disrepair—neglect or the need to apply limited resources to deal with the more pressing, urban problems that characterized New York City in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. We also learn of an exciting adaptive reuse plan to convert the pavilion into an aviation and space museum—only to learn that it never came to fruition. Credit goes to Mr. Silva to not linger too much on nostalgia, or to engage in a blame game for why the structure fell into disrepair. But the savvy viewer can draw his or her own conclusions.
The question going forward is what will become of this structure? An engineering feat in its day, is it destined to become a permanent ruin akin to the Coliseum in Rome or Stonehenge? Or will there be a force for adaptive reuse which will eventually re-purpose the structure for use by future generations?
Which force will prevail?
Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion – WORLD PREMIERE
Friday, May 22, 2015 at 8:00PM
14 United Nations Avenue South
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens
7 train to Mets-Willets Pt.
Tickets can be purchased here.
DocoMomo Tri-State is sponsoring transportation from Manhattan with a party bus.
Movie tickets and bus tickets are sold separately and can be purchased by following the links here.
Kenneth Lin, AICP is a Senior Planning Manager for a transportation consultancy based in New York City. Ken has a lifelong interest in architecture, urban planning and transportation, and has traveled to 128 countries on six continents.