October 12, 2006

Here It Comes Again

I took Friday off to make this officially a three-day work week. With Monday off for Columbus Day, I got to actually enjoy last weekend. Good timing, too, since it was the annual Open House New York event, which has allowed me to explore the city's nether regions over the last few years.

This year we drove all the way down to southeast Brooklyn, spitting distance from the Rockaways, to Floyd Bennett Field - the city's first municipal airport, and the site of many historic flights (including Amelia Earhart). Park rangers who work for the National Park Service give regular tours, but last weekend they took us into all the "Authorized Personnel Only" areas, including a mezzanine and old residential quarters as well as tunnels under the old terminal building that have fallen in disrepair (and whose many stairwells have been filled with concrete or sandbagged shut).

One of the tunnels under the old terminal building, now Ryan Visitor Center

Another little-known fact is that you can just show up to one of the hangars and find volunteer engineers who will take you around and show you all the aircraft. We went to Hangar B, the big yellow one, and climbed up into old paratrooper planes, stuck our heads into cockpits, examined how salt water had eaten away at the aluminum of amphibious planes...Most of them can't fly but they're the real thing - only a couple are actually replicas.

After that I wasn't toured out yet, so I got dropped off in Flushing Meadows at the Queens Art Museum to take a tour of the old site of the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. There are a few permanent structures left over from the demolition that happened after the 1964-5 World's Fair, including the art museum (formerly the New York City Pavilion). Most people recognize the Unisphere, which has become a symbol for Queens (and is often televised with coverage of the US Open). But I think few people know about the old heliport (now a catering hall called Terrace on the Park which looks like a big table), or the old New York State Pavilion ("The Tent of Tomorrow"). The state pavilion is heartbreaking to look at - a series of three observation decks (with an elevator stuck 2/3 of the way up) plus an open round structure with a rotting floor that used to showcase a map of the NY metro area. There are some amazing photos online, and apparently a campaign to turn the site from ruins into a space museum.

The Hall of Science was really cool too, and since it's always open to the public, I need to go back. The building itself is architecturally weird, with its undulating exterior wall made of blue glass embedded in concrete. An aerial view shows you its amoeba-like shape. As part of the special tour we got access to the Great Hall, where you can actually see what the blue glass/concrete wall looks like from the inside, with the sun shining through. The Great Hall is a catering hall too, and probably a pretty impressive for events with its unusual lighting, wavy walls and high ceiling. Getting access to it was definitely a highlight of the tour. I wanted to lie down and sleep in there.

Getting home was a struggle since a building fell on the 7 train, but after wandering around that area and finally hopping on a shuttle bus, I feel like I've conquered another piece of Queens. But when will OHNY do guided tours of Glendale?

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