Iconic State Pavilion Gets $16 Million FEMA Infusion

Four young women eat Belgian waffles near the State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. // Photo courtesy of QEDC

Four young women eat Belgian waffles near the State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. // Photo courtesy of QEDC

By David Brand

The State Pavilion in Flushing was once one of Queens’ proudest landmarks, a testament to its reputation as the “World’s Borough” and a symbol of unity and progress. But, ever since the World’s Fair in 1964, a combination of neglect, decay and even Hurricane Sandy have left the hulking pavilion in disrepair.

A new $16.4 million infusion from the federal government could help restore the iconic Tent of Tomorrow, Observation Towers and surrounding grounds to their former glory while ensuring the structures’ future relevance. It is the latest project designed to preserve the site, but most of the money will go to electric work throughout Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant, which totals $16,468,030, on Monday — though they refer to the area by its nickname the “World’s Fair Pavilion.” The grant was made possible because of damage to the park and buildings from Hurricane Sandy.

“The World’s Fair Pavilion is one of Flushing’s iconic sites. This funding is an important investment that will help repair the electric components of many of the park’s facilities, including the vaults, concession area, boathouse, main area, and comfort station,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “These fixes are an important step in recovering from the damage that Hurricane Sandy caused and will help revitalize the World’s Fair Pavilion for future generations to enjoy.”

Borough President Melinda Katz has made restoring the State Pavilion a priority. In 2015, Katz helped broker a deal with painters unions to coat the top of the Tent of Tomorrow with a fresh layer of yellow paint.

Thirty bridge painters donated more than 8,000 hours to apply the coat of paint. Such efforts are designed to revive the landmark and repair its image, epitomized by the 2015 documentary “Modern Ruin: A World's Fair Pavilion.”

“With these additional resources for electrical and structural improvements, we are well on our way to restore and illuminate this historic, architectural marvel into a visible icon befitting The World’s Borough,” Katz said in a statement praising the FEMA grant.

Katz isn’t the only person who wants to restore the State Pavilion. In 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation partnered with Heineken to raise nearly $40,000 to fund the preservation effort.

Queens Economic Development Corporation spokesperson Rob MacKay said the site’s significance extends far beyond World’s Fair. It is a landmark for commuters and has featured in several films, including “The Wiz” starring Michael Jackson, and has hosted performances by major musicians, including the Grateful Dead.

MacKay said he envisions a refurbished State Pavilion that taps into decades of nostalgia while introducing the site to future generations.  

“It’s a Queens icon and landmark and the place of a lot of history,” MacKay said. “The pavilion is really close to a lot of people’s hearts, especially people who went to the World Fair.”