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Dilapidated elevators removed from World’s Fair towers

What once went up has now come down at one of the relics of the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The city Parks Department last week started removing the Sky Streak elevators to the observation towers at the New York State Pavilion.

A Parks Department spokeswoman said the removals were part of an emergency contract issued to remove loose pieces from the pavilion after a recent storm sent Plexiglas shards from the observation towers through the roof of the Theaterama that now houses the Queens Theatre in the Park.

"It allows for the removal of only loose items, and as far as we're concerned, nothing significant other than the elevators, which would be replaced anyway," said John Krawchuk, director of historic preservation for the Parks Department. He said the elevators will be saved so they can be replicated.

But one preservation activist worries the end may be near for the aging landmark.

Greg Godfrey, president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World's Fair Association, said the elevators' removal might pave the way for a dismantling of the entire pavilion.

"It's extremely distressing, because there was no warning that those elevators were going to be removed," he said, noting the Parks Department was going to undertake a study to determine how to preserve the pavilion. "It seems very strange that suddenly, under the guise of a study, they would remove all the lights among the main rotunda and begin dismantling the elevators."

Krawchuk said there are no plans to take down the pavilion. The removal of the items had nothing to do with the preservation study, he said, which was funded by $200,000 from the private Unisphere Corp. and covers only the Tent of Tomorrow portion of the pavilion.

The 226-foot ride to the top of the tallest observation tower took 20 seconds in one of the Sky Streak elevators, according to Back on the Map, a conservation project dedicated to preserving the terrazzo Texaco road map of New York on the floor of the Tent of Tomorrow.

But after the fair closed in 1965, the observation towers were shut down and the elevators stopped, one held midway up its shaft. Despite an engineering report commissioned by the World's Fair Corporation calling the towers "a natural tourist attraction," the city never reopened them.

Krawchuk said the Parks Department was still looking for an additional $300,000 to conduct preservation studies of the rest of the pavilion.

Godfrey said he intends to write letters to Gov. David Paterson asking the state to take the pavilion from what he called a neglectful municipal government. He also lambasted the city Landmarks Preservation Commission for ignoring the structure.

The LPC did not return phone calls by press time Tuesday.

"What we would like to see is just to make the building safe," he said. "And it really should stand as America's Stonehenge — a glorious ruin. That's what (New York State Pavilion architect) Philip Johnson identified the building as, and we think it really echoes to the original Stonehenge."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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