Some quick background: As longtime readers may recall, in September of 2008 Kirsten and I became interested a pair of very cool-looking fiberglass shell structures located just north of Shea Stadium, along the Flushing Bay Promenade. Our curiosity about the structures led us down a surprisingly deep rabbit hole — so deep that we ended up producing a small museum show about them. (If you’re curious, or if you need a refresher course, you can click through all of the show’s content by starting here.)
The structures were originally built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, where they served as small exhibit pavilions. Although only two shells remain on the site, there were originally three of them, and the question of what had happened to the third one was the biggest unresolved mystery of our research project. Realistically, we figured it had probably been torn down.
Then, last November, we heard from a family that had stumbled across our web site. They explained that they had acquired the third structure after the Fair’s conclusion and had been using it as a rather unusual summer cabin for the past 40-plus years. This was super-duper-exciting for us, because (a) it solved a big mystery, (b) it meant the third structure was safe and sound, and (c) it was good to hear that the third structure had its original glass and aluminum walls and was still functioning as a building, not just as an open-air canopy like the two remaining shells in Flushing.
There was also the exciting prospect that (d) we might get to see the third structure in person. It took a while to arrange that, but it finally happened this past weekend. We also got a lots of great background info and solved at least one additional mystery regarding Flushing shells.
The family that owns the third structure — they call it the Glass Camp — is concerned about their privacy. We’re concerned about that too, so I’ll be calling them the Smiths, and all I’ll say about the Glass Camp’s location is that it’s in a very beautiful spot in upstate New York, at the end of private gated road. In other words, don’t bother looking for it, because you’re not going to find it.
Now then: These are our new friends, the Smiths. In the center are Katrina and her husband, Andy; on the left is Andy’s mother, Karen, and on the right is Andy’s father, Chuck. Chuck’s father, Carlos (now deceased, unfortunately), was in the equipment manufacturing and fabrication trade, and he routinely received notices regarding auctions of old equipment, old gear, and so on. After the 1964-65 World’s Fair ended, he received a notice announcing that the three fiberglass pavilions were being auctioned off. (Chuck, who was a teen-ager at the time, says he still has the flier somewhere and has promised to find it for us.) Carlos envisioned one of the structures serving as a summer retreat, so he put in a lowball bid for one of them — “a couple thousand dollars,” says Chuck. One of a Carlos’s business acquaintances, who was a building contractor, bid on the other two, although he didn’t actually want the fiberglass shells; he just wanted the glass from the walls for his contracting business.
It appears that they were the only bidders. The contractor got his glass (this answers the lingering question of why the shells in Flushing no longer have their walls) and Carlos got his summer cabin. It’s still unclear how the decision was made to turn the two remaining bare shells into a public display along the Flushing Marina Promenade. Maybe that was a contingency plan all along in case nobody wanted to bid on the pavilions, or maybe that was something that was decided upon later on.
Meanwhile, Carlos had to transport his pavilion upstate. In order to do that, it had to be disassembled. When we went to visit the Glass Camp on Saturday, Chuck’s sister Deb surprised everyone by pulling out a bunch of old snapshots showing the pavilion being taken apart right there in Flushing. Amazing!
After the pavilion was disassembled, its pieces were then trucked upstate to the Smiths’ house, where they sat for a winter. It took another year or two before Carlos was able to secure a spot in the woods, build a road to get to it, pour a foundation, and get the shell erected, and another year after that before he got the glass/aluminum walls installed. Then he had to come up with a floor plan (he made some very clever use of paneling and scooped out a half-basement in one quadrant of the building to allow for two levels of bedrooms), make provisions for plumbing and electricity, and so on. In short: Getting the Glass Camp set up was a lot of hard work.
But man, was it worth it. The building sits in an idyllic lakeside setting, and the Smiths have filled it with some lovely furniture, like a coffee table with a driftwood base and this custom-made curved table. You can see more of my photos here, and Kirsten’s are here.
As for the pavilion itself, it’s held up remarkably well, especially given the harsh upstate winters. Chuck says painting and patching small leaks are constant issues, and he’s put some fishplate patches in a few spots, but for the most part the structure is in surprisingly good shape. I’m sure Peter Schladermundt, who designed it, and the Owens Corning engineers who manufactured and built it back in the early 1960s would all be astonished to learn that it’s survived this long. (Unfortunately, the two shells in Flushing are in much poorer condition, and we’re very worried about their future. Since Chuck probably knows more than anyone alive about how to repair and maintain these structures, I’m hoping to put him in touch with the New York City Parks Dept., which owns the two shells in Flushing.)
None of this would have been possible if not for Katrina Smith, who stumbled across our web site last fall while trying to learn more about her family’s unique summer residence. She could have just clicked through our site, learned what she needed to know, and left it at that, but instead she took the initiative to contact us. She and the rest of the Smiths have been far more gracious and generous-sprited toward us than we had any right to expect (how would you react if a pair of total strangers had a weird obsession with a treasured piece of your family’s property?), and we’re very happy that our research has helped them fill in some of the blanks regarding the Glass Camp’s history, just as they’ve helped us connect some of the dots for our own project.
We plan to stay in touch with the Smiths. For now, though, we’re just grateful for the amazing experience they gave us this past weekend. Thanks again, guys — you’re the best.
And as long as we’re going off-uni…: There’s new material at the Butcher’s Case and Permanent Record. And speaking of the latter, the start of the big Permanent Record series on Slate.com is now less than a week away. It’ll kick off next Monday.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Buncha Amateur Pacifist costumes supposedly being unveiled this morning, 9am. Unless I’m lucky enough to get run over by a truck today, I’ll presumably have something to say about it all tomorrow. … I missed this when it was announced back in June: The Rams will be wearing their throwbacks on Oct. 30 against the Saints (from Jimmy Zepsa). … Looking to execute a corporate world-domination plan that gobbles up everything in its path? Itching for a chance to impose your vision on the time-honored visual identity of a successful league? You’re in luck! Nike has an opening for “NFL Creative Director — Brand Design.” For details, go here, click on “Corporate,” and search on Job No. 055529 (if you get the gig, send a muffin basket to Conlan Hsu). … Oh baby, the Rays are gonna wear letterman-style sweaters for their next road trip. Why can’t more teams have as much fun as Joe Maddon’s squad does? … Not exactly a surprise to hear that Wisconsin is in no hurry to pull a Maryland (from Stuart Ciske). … Who needs paint or tape when you can mark the outlines of a court with LEDs? (From Dane Drutis.) … More controversy regarding the glove-palm salute (from Jeremy Brahm). … Doozy of an NOB for Jonathan Audy-Marchessault who was playing in the recent Traverse City NHL prospect tournament. “At 5’9″, 175, he doesn’t exactly have the largest jersey on to begin with,” notes A.J. Frey. … What to get for the fan who has everything: an NFL helmet sink! (Nice find by Jay Sullivan). … The Stars are adding a memorial decal for Karlis Skrastins (from John Muir). … The Bruins’ Stanley Cup banners have been redesigned with era-appropriate team logos. … the Jags’ mascot found a unique way to wear red/white/blue on Sunday: He donned a 2007 Pro Bowl jersey. Why doesn’t Jack Del Rio love America as much as the mascot? … Speaking of Del Rio, aren’t those coaches’ polos just the worst? The stripes make it look like the coach is hunched forward, or maybe wearing his shirt backwards (from Ben Douthett). … Nice little piece about FSU’s short-lived “Chief” helmets from 1962. … Welcome news from Aaron Stilley, who reports that the historic marker for Municipal Stadium in Kansas City (which Ben Traxel wrote about last year) is back! … Brian Erni notes that Mike Piazza was wearing a Rawlings doubleknit during Sunday night’s ceremony (other members of the 2001 Mets were wearing contemporary Majestic Cool Bases). Rawlings was the Mets’ uni supplier back in 2001 — could that be the same jersey Piazza was wearing 10 years ago? … Vonta Leach of the Ravens has donated a bunch of helmets to his high school, which is in an impoverished neighborhood. … Throwbacks on tap for the L.A. Kings.