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New Life For New York State Pavilion At 50th Anniversary of World’s Fair

A group has been working to restore the New York State Pavilion, which opened as part of the World's Fair in 1964. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

A group has been working to restore the New York State Pavilion, which opened as part of the World’s Fair in 1964. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — In 1964, John Piro was in awe as he worked at a restaurant at the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“It was a place where the future was unbelievable,” he told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “Guys flying over the unisphere with jetpacks.”

Not all the innovations featured at the fair became part of our lives, but so many did — the microwave, the Ford Mustang, personal computers.

There were more than 150 pavilions at the fair. While most of the structures on the site were swiftly demolished, the New York State Pavilion can still be seen today from highways, railways and the sky.

As the 50th anniversary of the historic fair will be marked Tuesday, Piro and others have been working to return the pavilion to its former glory.

Piro remembers being inside the spiky ring of steel in 1964.

“The bands playing, the people eating in here,” he recalled.

“And the towers — I do recall as a child going up in the towers and almost being frightened overlooking the fair from such a height,” added Dorothy Lewandowski, the parks commissioner for Queens.

Piro, Lewandowski and Matthew Silva are among those working to revive the rusted-out ruin.

“There was hardly any color left on the walls,” Piro said.

So he decided to change that.

“With the first stripe, people stopped and said, ‘Wow, what’s this?'” Piro explained.

His group of volunteers has finished the red, white and yellow lower level, just in time to let the public back in for the anniversary.

“A lot of people want to see something positive come out of it,” said Silva, who directed a documentary film about the pavilion. “It was such a positive space during the fair.”

But the buzz over the fair wasn’t all positive.

“People for years after it thought it was kind of a big flop,” said Bill Young, who runs NYW64.com, a website about the fair.

Not only did it lose millions of dollars, but the press called it too commercial.

And New York’s master builder and fair overlord Robert Moses was so irritated that the committee that sanctioned world’s fairs “specifically told their member nations, you are not to exhibit at this world’s fair,” Young said.

But still, it was something to behold for 51 million people.

And then it was gone.

“The city of New York built this huge complex, and after two years, they demolished the whole thing and turned it back to a park,” Young said.

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