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50 Years Later, New Yorkers Remember the 1964 World's Fair

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Photo by Max Touhey.

Eveline Marcello was just 18 when she sang at the New York State Pavilion right before the World's Fair closed in 1965. The second day she performed turned out to be very rainy and her 20-minute set turned into two hours as she filled in for performer after performer who didn't show up. But the Queens native had a blast, and 50 years later she came back to the pavilion—commemorative plaque and original program in hand—to relive those memories. "It's wonderful to share my experience…and to let the world know it was a wonderful, wonderful fair."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation was banking on that kind of enthusiasm when it announced yesterday that it added the New York State Pavilion, with its iconic space-age towers, to its register of national treasures. It becomes the 44th such building to join the ranks of places like President Lincoln's cottage in Washington D.C. and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan.

[Photo by Max Touhey]

The pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson, is one of the few remaining structures from the World's Fair (the gleaming Unisphere being another one). According to trust board member and Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, it's also a very important structure in its own right. Goldberger said that the 1960s gets a bad rap for its architecture, but the "decade did produce a few things that were exuberant and exhilarating and fun, and this building was really one of the best of them."

Tom Yarnal would agree. He was 11 years old when he and a few friends won a competition to come to the World's Fair from his hometown in Pennsylvania. He remembered it as "the most exciting experience of my life." "Everything was so new and there was so much potential." The pavilion especially stood out with its huge New York State map tiled into the ground, and the observation tower, which was "so cool" and allowed him to "see forever."

[Photo by Max Touhey]

The National Trust is not only interested in preserving the past; it wants to ensure that the pavilion will be a part of Queens' future. Preserving and restoring the pavilion will cost at least $43 million, according to some estimates, while tearing it down is estimated to be $14 million dollars—still a huge sum. Letting it rust down to the ground, however, is neither a safe nor attractive option to residents like David Pecoraro. "This is a symbol of the county of Queens where I've lived for about half a century, and I'll be darned if I see happen here what happened to the Astro Tower," referring to the now-gone Coney Island amusement ride.

There currently are not any sponsors to foot the bill to renovate the site, although Goldberger did acknowledge American Express's significant contributions to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and saving endangered buildings in the past. As for what a spruced up New York State Pavilion would be used for, he said, "I think it would be a wonderful place for concerts, for events, exhibits. I can imagine almost any kind of public thing going on in here."

[Eveline Marcello (right) and her spouse, Margie Luciano. Marcello is holding her commemorative plaque and original program from the fair. Photo by Kizzy Cox.]

This would suit Marcello just fine since she is eager to perform again. "To be able to perform again for the public would be wonderful in the same spot I did 50 years ago." That dream might become possible sooner than she thinks. Flushing Meadows Corona Park will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the World's Fair on Sunday, May 18 and Marcello, along with anyone who missed today's festivities, can attend. The New York State Pavilion will once again be open to the public and visitors will be treated to vendors, games and fireworks at sunset.
—Kizzy Cox

· New York State Pavilion preservation [official]
· New York State Pavilion [Saving Places]
· 50 Photos to Celebrate the Start of the 1964 World's Fair [Curbed]
· All World's Fair coverage [Curbed]
· New York State Pavilion coverage [Curbed]