Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Philip Johnson's New York State Pavilion was designated a "National Treasure" earlier this week.
Just in time for its 50th anniversary, the 1964 World's Fair New York State Pavilion was named a "National Treasure" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The decision was made earlier this week.
Falling into disrepair after years of neglect, the space-age structure, designed by Philip Johnson, is one of the few surviving Fair buildings at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. Built with three components ("Tent of Tomorrow", three observation towers, and a "Theaterama"), the pavilion was a popular attraction in 1964 and 1965. It drew an estimated six million visitors.
Users could access an observation deck in the tallest of the towers via "Sky Streak" capsule elevators. The "Theaterama" exhibited pop art, including works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and screened a film promoting New York State. Inside the "Tent of Tomorrow," a massive map of the state made of 567 terrazzo mosaic panels, sponsored by Texaco, sprawled out across 9,000 square feet.
Theaterama eventually became the Queens Theater, and a cylindrical glass addition was added. But the towers and the "Tent of Tomorrow" have fallen into serious disrepair. Still, the buildings are structurally sound and charming, so no one seems be calling for the wrecking ball.
But few redevelopment plans have surfaced. NYC Parks-commissioned studies estimate demolition would cost around $14 million while a renovation would cost somewhere between $43 and $52 million according to the New York Times.
The future for the pavilion remains uncertain, even after receiving "National Treasure" status, but enthusiasm for it is a high as ever. During Tuesday's ceremony to announce the NTHP designation, 2,500 people showed up, according to the Times, for a rare chance to put on a hard hat and check out the Tent of Tomorrow. The towers remained closed to the public during the event.
Below, a look at Philip Johnson's lasting contribution to the 1964 World's fair, from an optimistic beginning to an uncertain present: