Sunday, November 2, 2008

Falling In Queens

Last weekend when we took the train upstate to Beacon for our Bannerman Castle tour, I noted the gorgeous Hudson Valley foliage and bemoaned the lack of it in New York City. Edith had assured me that there were, in fact, turning leaves on the trees in Queens, but I didn't quite believe her til I took a trip myself this weekend.

It's a little past peak this time of year, just after Halloween when wearing flip flops is no longer quite possible, but in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the trees intermingle greens and reds and yellows and of course the requisite brown.

I headed to the park this weekend not for a colorful autumnal stroll, but to snoop around some of the buildings from the 1964 World's Fair that I had seen on a walking tour two years ago. Since I first spotted it, I've become a little obsessed with the New York State Pavilion and its three observation towers, whose blinking red lights are clearly visible from the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck, and the LIE, and therefore a regular sight on my way home from the airport. It's a living relic of a time not too long ago, a ruin that was built to be futuristic and now stands useless, decaying.

New York State PavilionTower entrance
With all of the proposals to turn the thing into something fantastic - most recently, a proposed space museum - the towers stand there, waiting, blinking, slowly falling apart, unpreserved, unstabilized. I keep waiting for that red light to go out.

Adjacent to the towers is the "Tent of Tomorrow," which was built basically as a big advertisement for Texaco but also hosted art shows for the likes of Warhol, and even provided the setting for a music video by They Might Be Giants. The red and white paint is peeling and there are huge shifts in the cinder block walls on the outer facade. The interior is overgrown with weeds (pretty much destroying the mosaic tile map that used to form the floor of the place), and looks like it's become a storage facility for the Parks Department. Why are there always barbeque grills sitting in abandoned buildings?



I pressed my face in the gate opening to see inside, to catch a glimpse of the original splendor, despite the rusty, overgrown mess it's become. Curiously, there's still a light on inside the tent, a singular lit bulb, on even during the day.

Some of the structures around the old World's Fair grounds are still standing, and even in use: the restored Unisphere, the Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art (formerly the New York City Pavilion), and Terrace on the Park, a former heliport that looks like a big table looming over the park, currently used as a banquet hall / catering space available for rent. It looks like there's an observation deck on the roof where helicopters used to land, but of course when I was skulking on the grounds, everything was locked up. I really want to call and tell them I'm getting married just so I can get a tour of the place and take some pictures.

Although normally open, the Queens Museum was closed on Saturday too because of an elevator accident the day before. Which is just another reason I have to go back, again.

How many more ruins can I really visit? And how do you choose between Bannerman Castle and High Bridge and the smallpox hospital and the High Line and the typhoid hospital and Ellis Island's hospital and Castle Clinton and all the forts and other historic buildings around New York City - around the country - around the world? Can you preserve them all? I suppose some get stabilized as a historic ruin, like Eastern State Penitentiary, and others get fully restored to a usable attraction if enough money is raised. And I suppose some buildings just fall down before they can earn historic status. I don't think you can save them all.

But in the meantime, I'll try to visit as many as I can.

Further Reading:
NY-Architecture.com: New York State Pavilion
NY Daily News: Are Web pics of damage to restored New York State Pavilion map real?