Friday, October 24, 2008


My latest field trip was right out here in Queens.  First stop was the Jackson Diner, which I'd heard was one of the best Indian restaurants in all of New York City.  It really was pretty phenomenal food and I definitely recommend the trip.  It's only a couple blocks from the subway station, so very easy.  We drove, however, and they were having an Indian street fair along 74th Street which made finding a parking spot extremely difficult.  It was crazy, and we were like the only non-Indian people on the entire block.  Indian rap music.  Need I say more?

What I'm posting about today, though, is Flushing Meadows Park.  I had three chief destinations on my mind: the New York State Pavilion, the Unisphere, and the Hall of Science.

Robert Moses just LOVED this park, for some reason, so it has such an illustrious past.  It was one of the last truly beautiful Sunday afternoons of the summer, too, so there were thousands of people there, playing all kinds of sports and so on.

Speaking of which, it was kind of cool to see the old Shea Stadium by Praeger-Kavanaugh-Waterbury:

--Photo courtesy Virtual Bird's Eye.
And right next to it is the new CITIField, still under construction:

--Photo courtesy The Wayward Oriole.
It's by the absolute leaders in stadium architecture, HOK Sport.  I couldn't really care much less about baseball, and I don't really keep up all that much with stadium architecture, but HOK is awesome, and the new building is quite beautiful:

--Image courtesy Curbed.

We arrived on the Eastern edge of the park, right by the big indoor swimming pool, the very recently completed Aquatic Center by Handel Architects:

As you can see, the free-span roof is suspended by cables from giant soaring masts.  It looks vaguely, appropriately nautical, but more interestingly, it's quite clearly a nod to the New Jersey State Pavilion by Collins, Uhl & Hoisington from the 1964 World's Fair, which had tent-like canopies hung from giant masts.  It's very difficult to find photos of it, but you can see it at bottom left here:
At $66.3-million dollars, it was the most expensive public pool ever built in a city park.  A third of the pool has a moveable floor which can change the depth from a couple inches to over seven feet.  Very high-tech.  

--Photo courtesy NYC Parks & Recreation.
If public pools didn't gross me out so much, I might think a membership sounded like a nice idea.  It's not even so much all the gallons of pee, although that's bad enough, really it's the snot.  Snot has actual texture to it.  Okay, I have to stop talking about that now.

We could see the Unisphere from there, but it was obviously about a mile off.  I didn't mind the walk, but the walk back to the car might have been a trek.  So we got back in the car and drove around to it.  We actually first got to Queens Theater-in-the-Park (quite comically abbreviated "Q-TiP").  The Theaterama was originally by Philip Johnson and is very deliciously 1960s Space Age:

--Photo courtesy disneydreamer12.
The towers were added in 1991 and it got a very cool renovation/ expansion by Caples Jefferson Architects in 2008:

--Photo courtesy e-Oculus.

And of course, right next to it is Johnson's magnificent New York State Pavilion:
Now, I'm not going to go on and on about the NYSP because it already has a lot of status as a cult icon, evidenced by the site where many of these images are found, Tent of Tomorrow.  I do love the fact that its floor was a mosaic of New York State, and I love this campy photo from National Geographic:

--Courtesy bobster1985.
I'm sure it didn't go this way, but I love imagining Robert Moses demanding with maniacal delight it be showcased how he was going to make the entire State of New York into one giant highway.  I also LOVE the Andy Warhol story.  Johnson asked a bunch of artists to create works for the building, Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Kelly.  Warhol contributed a silkscreen of the men on the NYC Police Department's most wanted list.  The state thought it would earn lawsuits, so Warhol offered to replace it with twenty-five photos of Moses with a big evil smile on his face.  Awesome!  They decided to just paint over the most wanted guys with silver paint, unfortunately.

I was most interested to really see it up close once and for all, though, because I've gotten to know the New York State Theater so very well:

--Photo by Burdettekevin.
State Theater is currently under a major renovation.  Three main things: making it entirely ADA compliant, replacing all the seat cushions--changed to velour in 1982--with plush Mohair like they were when it was first built, and drastically enlarging the orchestra pit.  It's made possible by a huge donation from David Koch ("coke"), who owns Koch Industries, so in another year or two it will actually be renamed the David H. Koch Theater.  State Theater was originally supposed to be built in Flushing Meadows Park, but Lincoln Center was underway, so they built it there instead, and Lincoln Center became the official "Performing Arts Branch" of the fair.  So I needed a better picture in my mind of how it all fit together.

It really is such a shame what's happened to the Pavilion.

--Courtesy ToT.
I did notice there have been plans to turn it into an Air & Space Museum with a design by Frankie Campione of CREATE, which I think is a totally acceptable transformation, quite appropriate in fact:

In the meantime, I'm sure those steel cables that originally held up the fabric roof are nearly rusted away.  The whole thing is probably a deathtrap.  Nevertheless, "eyesore" is entirely unfair.  This really is one of the most beautiful ruins of our recent architectural past.  It would be so wonderful to be able to walk around inside it, and I seriously doubt I'm alone in thinking so.  But it's completely gated off and locked up.  I really do believe without too much trouble they could get a welder or two to go up and make sure none of the cables are realistically due to break anytime soon, just slap on a bolt or whatever to reinforce any that are, and have somebody take a half hour to sweep up any broken glass off the floor.  Athens doesn't care that the Parthenon has no roof, I don't think this is any different.

Next we walked over to the Unisphere designed by Gilmore D. Clarke:
--Photo by Yavoh.
Of course I'd been to the Unisphere before, and the pool may even have been empty at the time.  But I don't think I ever walked right up to it, under and around it and really studied it before.  I never quite registered that the topology is rendered in three dimensions with layers of steel.  I also noticed this time that the rings orbiting around it are held in place by thin steel cables and nothing else.  You can see if you click the image, it's large; there's no solid steel bars holding them on there.  We were trying to figure out if they actually represent something, like perhaps the orbit of the moon, because I was almost certain they must.  We couldn't quite figure it out, not being astronomers.  Evidently they represent the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), the first man to orbit the earth (John Glenn), and the first active satellite (Telstar).

The steel for the Unisphere was donated by U.S. Steel, which for many years was headquartered in the iconically triangular U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh, designed by Harrison & Abramovitz (I mention them for a reason) in 1970:

--Photo by Derek Jensen.
Now known as the USX Tower, it's the tallest building in Pittsburgh, is one of the city's key landmarks, and it used an innovative system of water-filled steel columns as a fire safety measure.  There was a super fancy restaurant called Top of the Triangle on the 62nd floor where I got to put on my nicest outfit and have a very special dinner for my 10th birthday (or however old I was).  I just discovered that it closed down in 2001, which is kind of sad.

As we walked back from the Unisphere, I remarked that I didn't know a park could be so LOUD.  It was radio controlled cars.  This has seriously got to be the coolest nerdy hobby ever.  Like these guys build their own RC cars from scratch, tweak and modify them, and race them.  They literally go about 30mph or even faster.  They have a table set up where they have all these cars, doing tune-ups and whatever.  
--Photo courtesy Hacked Gadgets.
It's really cool, and I almost wish I were more technically/ electronically inclined to take it up...or had the time to waste on something like that.

Beautifully sited off to the west of the Unisphere is the New York City Building by Aymar Embury:

Conceived so it could later be used as a roller skating or ice rink:
And now houses the Queens Museum of Art:

--All three photos courtesy Bridge and Tunnel Club.
I believe it's the only building still standing from the 1939 World's Fair.  That's sort of unfortunate, because it would be extremely difficult to decide which of the two fairs was the most ridiculously fabulous.  The 1939 was essentially Walt Disney's sole inspiration for EPCOT Center, the General Motors Futurama exhibit by Norman Bel Geddes was an absolutely legendary milestone, and it had work by Wallace Harrison, Edward Durrell Stone, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, William Lescaze, Henry van der Velde, and Salvador Dali.  

Possibly my favorite from the first one, though, is the National Cash Register Building by Ely Jacques Kahn, which would tally the number of visitors to the fair:

--This is actually the one built for the San Francisco exposition that same year.  It may or may not be by Kahn, but it's almost exactly the same structure.  There was another practically identical one built for the Texas Centennial Exposition.  Photo courtesy CSU Fresno.

Evidently, the Queens Museum is getting a big renovation, as well, by Grimshaw Architects:

We then got back into the car.  I knew vaguely where Harrison & Abramovitz' Hall of Science was, because I'd seen the top of it poking up out of some trees.  As OBSESSED as Robert Moses was with the automobile, I will have to say this park is one of the most difficult places to navigate by vehicle that I have ever seen.  The main problem is that the Long Island Expressway chops the park in two, separating the Hall of Science from everything else.  But more than that, the arrangement of the roadways defies any and all common sense or logic.  To eventually get in one direction, you invariably have to turn at an intersection in the complete opposite direction.  Then the roadway will oddly bring you around to where you wanted to be.  But by turning in the direction you want to go, you end up someplace else altogether.  Confused yet?  So were we.  On top of that, we ended up on roadways with no signs or roadblocks to tell us otherwise that ultimately looked very, very much like there was not supposed to be cars on them, and made a lot of U-turns.

Finally we got frustrated and gave up and left the park, coming around at it from the western end.  This is, in fact, where the Hall of Science is.
--Photo courtesy DK Images.
I think it's gorgeous, like a giant piece of paper rolled up, unfurled, and stood on its side.  The walls are lined with chips of blue glass.

--Photo courtesy ArchNewsNow.

This one got a renovation by Polshek Partnership Architects in 2004, and I think they did quite a nice job with it:
--Photo by yl.
It was also intended to stay standing after the fair was over.  It's still running as a science museum.  It's mostly for kids, I'm sure, but I definitely want to go back and see it on the inside.  It was about 5PM when we got there, and the doors were already locked.  It's kind of a shame a similar fate wasn't in store for the IBM Pavilion designed by Eero Saarinen and Charles & Ray Eames (they were all friends):

--Photos courtesy Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo, who were, of course, Saarinen's successors.

Right next to the Hall of Science is this very interesting sculpture called "Forms in Transit" by Theodore Roszak:

--Photo courtesy BaTC.
What's really interesting about it, and I think it may be lost on most people, is that it appears to be corroded.  That is, if you just glance at it quickly, it looks like it's so rusted that it's about to fall apart.  But if you really look at it closely, it becomes obvious first of all that the "corrosion" is of a severity it would take 3000 years to form, never 50.  Secondly, the pattern and location of the texture makes it very unlikely to have been the result of the elements.  In other words, if caused by rain, you expect to see streaks from flowing water in very specific places.  This is different.  The texture of it looks almost like the surface of the moon or some foreign heavenly body.  It was obviously intended to allude to space travel.  It's a very cool piece.

The last thing we saw, which I had seen many times before, but had forgotten about it until I was out there, is the Port Authority Building by A. Gordon Lorimer:

--Photo by Bill Cotter.
It had a heliport on the roof for the wealthy people to arrive at the fair by helicopter and had a sort of restaurant/ cafeteria type of thing below.  It still says "Terrace on the Park" on it.  I have no idea if it's still operating as a catering hall; it appears it is, but it looks a wreck.  The windows are all cracked and broken and boarded up and look like nobody's washed them for about two decades.
--Photo courtesy BaTC.
Also a shame because it's a rather cool, futuristic building.  Either way, the interiors are super tacky:

That is SO Queens.  

1960s hypermodern meets...Newport, Rhode Island on crack?  Whaaaa?  I...don'

All in all I will say it's a very nice park.  It really provides all the kinds of spaces for play and promenade that a park thrives on to be vibrant and active.  Then there are destinations and activities to find, and all these sort of derelict follies to discover like hidden treasures.  I wouldn't mind wandering around there some more.

©2008, Ryan Witte

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