This presentation is part of the Are We There Yet: Preservation of Roadside Architecture and Attractions, April 10-12, 2018, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Photograph of speaker standing at the podium

Frank Matero

Frank Matero: What I am going to talk to you about today is a really remarkable project. It actually is a perfect follow-up from Dylan’s talk, because in my wildest imagination, I had no idea what the follow-up would be in terms of public response to what was a very academic pursuit at the time it started.

I’m going to bring you east. We’re going to talk about the 1964-65 World’s Fair. A site of unbelievable significance to the Baby Boomers. This project began 15 years ago, and I have watched in that time the incredible groundswell of what has happened as a result of this very early work that began in 2005.

Yesterday and this morning, we heard a good deal about the power of narrative as a critical aspect of place-making. I’m not going to talk about that. I’m a materials guy. I talk about materials. But narratives are hard to tell if you don’t have stuff to link them to. Some cultures don’t need it. We need it. We’ve been needing it for probably over 10,000 years.

Place is also about physical stuff, as I said. The stuff we design. The stuff we use, and the stuff we walk away from. The stuff we leave behind. I hope we realize that when we come to the question of what to do with Route 66. It’s just as much about the story of what was left as what can be reused and repurposed and relived.

We call these historical palimpsests “cultural landscapes.” While most of my research and teaching is about how to address the materials and materiality of these places, and the tangible connections they provide to us for these narratives. So I’m going to bring you back east. We’re still going to stay with road culture, but it’s not specifically … it’s not the real thing. It’s a facsimile. It’s a remarkable icon of America’s love affair with the automobile.

Before I get into that, though, let me just say a few things about the type of [inaudible] I’m going to talk about. Since the late 1970s, almost every discussion on preservation of the recent past has raised the question of whether these works require a different set of principles and practices for their preservation. I mean, this has been debated now for over a decade. I don’t even know why I’m mentioning it.

But some of the things that have been cited have been: too close in time to us to be objective, too much information to deny the fact that we can actually honor the original intent … in other words, we have so many documents, it wouldn’t be a stretch to know exactly what was intended by the designer or the user … and then the problem of the use of new materials and new technologies which didn’t work. This was, I think Kaisa alluded to this before, the fact that their ephemerality, whether intentional or not, makes them rather difficult to preserve.

As a category, World Fairs are perfect for these kinds of problems. Fair buildings often pushed the aesthetic and technological fronts in an effort to forecast the future. And the ’64 World’s Fair was no different. Most of [the exhibits] are designed to be temporary, and some remain by design and others by default. The one I’m going to talk about today survived by default, although it was the creator of the fair, Robert Moses, who wanted to see the New York State Pavilion saved.

Image shows the pavilion roof, open sides, and floor.

Interior view of the New York state pavilion, with visitors standing on the terrazzo map, c. 1964

I’m going to talk about the New York State Pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson. It gives us a really great opportunity to explore one of the first, and certainly largest, public pop art monuments, the Great Texaco Road Map. That’s the connection to our road subject today and yesterday and tomorrow, and one of the few remaining works that’s still in situ at the fairgrounds.

It was also one of the earliest monuments to commemorate America’s love affair with the automobile. So I’m going to talk about a project that began, as I said, 15 years ago, in 2005, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA], to take a look at this much-beloved and nearly-forgotten and quite damaged icon of the ’64 World’s Fair.

How many went to the ’64-’65 World’s Fair? I lived down the street. I grew up in Brooklyn, and I was there every weekend. I have to say, this was the first project in my 35 years I’ve ever worked on that I actually experienced it when it was new. That was a very humbling reality. For the first time, I had a memory of a place that was now being celebrated for its preview as a new work.

With money from the NEA, we had a chance to look at this amazing place, and specifically the New York State Pavilion. Not much of the fair survives, in terms of buildings. The ’64-’65 World’s Fair was an event of unprecedented size and expectation. It came to symbolize, as historians in hindsight have realized, the paradoxes of a decade characterized by the culmination of post-war prosperity, and the beginning of America’s cultural and political revolution, if you remember the late ’60s. One historian cited that it was really the last true World’s Fair in the U.S. World’s Fairs largely succumbing to the digital world. We don’t need to go to a place to see the rest of the world.

The fair celebrated commerce and consumption, as indicated by many corporate pavilions. It in fact was the most commercial of World’s Fairs. It had more corporate buildings than it did international buildings, so it really celebrated what America was doing best at the time, and still is. It was the swan song of Robert Moses, who began his career 30 years earlier on this same location, at Flushing Meadows, Queens, with the 1934 World’s Fair. So it was a repeat site, of two World’s Fairs.

The intention, always, was to leave a park of unprecedented size for New York City’s populace, now Queens’ populace, which as you may know, is growing in leaps and bounds. It was also Governor Rockefeller’s party, because being in his state, he of course insisted that the pavilion be the largest, the biggest, the tallest of all the state pavilions at the fair. You see it here with the arrow, if you don’t recognize it in form.

Photo also depicts surrounding roadways, subdivisions, and a large body of water.

Aerial view of the New York State Fair, 1964-1965. Red arrow points to the New York state pavilion

 

The pavilion was composed of three components. The Tent of Tomorrow in the upper-middle, the Theaterama in the lower-left, and the three Astroview Towers, all designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster. Of course, the towers are quite memorable now, because they feature prominently in Men in Black, in fact, as flying saucers.

The Theaterama was designed to display American contemporary art. Something that most of us don’t realize today, Johnson was a great lover of pop art. This is the period when it was just being introduced to the public, and in fact, the Theaterama had Andy Warhol’s famous 13 Most Wanted, which was censored before the fair opened. They took them down. They whitewashed them, actually.

With less-than serious references to a circus tent and flying saucers, Johnson’s pavilion embodied the same pop-culture references found on the associated pop art that was showcased in the pavilion. It was highly popular with critics. Vincent Scully called it “the only work of architecture at the fair.” And the public, by the close of the fair, six million people had passed through its gates, and walked on its famous mat floor. If anything was to survive of the fair, this was a good one, because it really had cache at the time.

Johnson’s engaging design was greatly aided by engineer Lev Zetlin’s elliptical cable suspension roof … again, the largest of its type in the world at the time. The largest slip-cast concrete columns, at the time, to support it. For Rockefeller, it was about being big.

Stretching beneath the multi-colored acrylic panels of the tent roof was the world’s largest two-dimensional map, 23,000 square feet. As you’ll see, it took the form of one of the most well-known popular icons of the automobile age, a roadmap. In this case, the Texaco Roadmap.

Johnson was no stranger to history. He knew the power of making a giant pavement that one could interact with. It had been done centuries earlier. Here, you’re seeing the Madaba Map in Jordan, which displayed … in fragmented form now … the known Christian world from the 6th century. This was something that … humans have loved this way of interacting, geographically, spatially, through representations in floor pavements. So here it is, in all its glory, in ’64 and ’65.

It was, without question, the Texaco Roadmap of the State of New York was the pavilion’s most popular feature, and possibly of the fair itself. I mean, I remember it. I don’t think a weekend went by when I was at the fair that I didn’t find myself on it, standing where my aunts and uncles lived, where my parents lived, the journeys we took by car in-state. All could be re-enacted and lived on the map.

It was fabricated from terrazzo as an exact copy of the Great American Roadmap. The pavement celebrated one of the most iconic of American pop symbols, again while symbolizing the country’s love affair with the automobile, and gasoline, and the highways that transported it.

Rockefeller himself paid for it, and at the time, it was the largest and most expensive terrazzo project ever undertaken, costing a million dollars in ’64.  As I said, the brilliance of the design was the way the public could physically interact with the map. Standing where they were born, where they lived, or recreating a journey.

Like most structures at the fair, the pavilion was not designed to be permanent. Nevertheless, at the closing of the fair, Moses insisted it remain due to its design elegance, and the high cost of demolition. While the Theaterama was subsequently rehabilitated, the Tent of Tomorrow, seen here, was eventually closed in 1976. Although, despite its ruinous condition, it remains a beloved landmark to many New Yorkers today. Johnson himself, near the end of his life, thought that “it would make a fine ruin,” and that’s a quote.

I’m not here to talk about the pavilion, although it would make a marvelous topic. I really want to talk about the roadmap, the pavement, because  we’re talking about roadside and road architecture, and the infrastructure that the highway created.

Terrazzo is a very interesting material. It’s a composite material. Ancient. It’s poured in place or pre-cast and used for walls and floors. Traditionally, it was one of the earliest and ultimate recycled materials. Originally composed of chips of marble from the cutting of dimensional stone, and then used in a new way as a composite for floors. It comes from the Roman opisinium and it was revived by the Venetians in the 15th century. Its introduction into the U.S. began late in the 19th century, popularized by Italian immigrants who came over with the craft, and created many of the great floors and pavements of both commercial and government buildings.

It is durable, versatile, economical, and anyone who’s been to an airport lately knows it’s been revived as an artistic medium for the great airport floors. You see here an example from New Orleans, one of my favorites, for an oyster bar, where the oysters have been portrayed in terrazzo, in the floor.

Very briefly, I’ll  go into the composition and construction, because it’s critical when we talk about the production and preservation of the Texaco Road map. For over two years, we’ve studied the materials and fabrication of terrazzo. We surveyed the condition of the roadmap. We developed pilot treatments for the 567 4′ x 4′ tiles.

Just a little bit of background. There are two ways of making terrazzo. One is the bonded method, where it literally is bonded to the underlayment of the floor. The second is the unbonded, where it floats on a sand bed. Fortunately, and because of the quick turnaround in the production of the fair buildings, the Great Roadmap in the New York State Pavilion was made in the unbonded way.

This would be critical for us later, to develop a strategy for how to get out the tiles, and eventually the proposal to have them repaired off-site. This would be critical, because  had been fixed in place, it would probably be very, very difficult [to remove]. Here, you see a replica we made on the left, and on the right, a diagram from a period resource in the 1930s of terrazzo in the floating method.

Believe it or not, this is the only photo, in the lower right, we could find of the production of the floor, as it was being installed as tiles. I interviewed the fellow who’s in that photo. He still works with Mount Morris Floor and Terrazzo Company in the Bronx, New York. He remembered placing the tiles and preparing it. He was an amazing [re]source. He, in fact, made the model I showed you in the previous image.

Here, on the left, some [additional] diagrams of how the New York State Pavilion tiles were made. Complicated, and somewhat specialized production, again, for the quick turnaround time for the floor. I’m not going to go into this too much, because I don’t think this is really the audience.

But what we did discover was that it was truly terrazzo for the modern age. It was probably the first terrazzo to use plastic and glass as the aggregate. Plastic inlays, of course, prior to this I don’t think there were any examples of trying to make a roadmap, so all those great roadmap symbols had to be fabricated in plastic, in red, blue, green. Again, highly faithful to map symbology. These had to be invented.

Here, you see thin sections of the various colors in the map, which show that they had different ratios of aggregate to paste. The colors that we used in the paste for the map colors … that the glass and the marble that you can see was used. The plastic inserts, we studied. These were again, highly specialized. Rigid plastic was used. Polymethyl methacrylate for certain symbols, and cellulose acetate butyrate was used for the flexible parts that had to be bent. All of this was a voyage of discovery for us, because nothing like this had ever been studied.

This was, perhaps, the most evocative aspect of the map, which is, here we have a product that was an absolute symbol of modernity, and yet it had, in a few short decades, had come down to us as an ancient pavement. And how to reconcile what we love to talk about, which is age value, and the necessity and demand of this icon to be and look modern. How do we reconcile that? The question, also, which it begs, is could it be walked on again, if and when the pavilion would be reopened for visitation and reuse?

To add insult to injury, the Great Tent, the acrylic panels had been removed. The floor had been turned into a roller skating rink in the 1970s, which didn’t help things. And quickly, with cracking and deformation, vegetation moved in, and created this quite evocative landscape.

In fact, we attempted early digital platforms … some media platforms, when we did this. It was all new for me but very effective.  It had been closed since the ’70s.  We did not realize how devoted the Baby Boomers were to this site. When we opened it up, it was a flood of interest for one day.

We had a show at the Queens Museum, at the time this project was going on. We brought the conservators into the exhibit, and had them be part of a living exhibit, while they conserved several of the panels. This evoked stories from people who came to visit. So it was a win-win on all levels.

But at the same time, an artist in the next gallery took a totally different pass at this, and really looked at the passage of time, and the idea of weathering as value added to the work. This is, of course, a real flirtation with the danger for a conservator, but it was a very, very interesting juxtaposition to have side-by-side in the galleries. I loved it. It was completely unorthodox.

Let’s take a closer look at this. Again, as I said, it looks virtually nothing like it did when it was new, shiny, polished. Think of those airport floors. Vegetation, water, thermal stresses; they all caused serious loss, disaggregation … the tiles deformed. And of course, there was the spolia, what we know from Ancient Rome … probably the Baby Boomers were coming back and stealing little pieces of it for their memory china cabinets. We had a lot of lost Texaco stars, the kind of stuff you’d go after.

Image depicts vegetation growing up between cracks in the terrazzo map

Condition of the Texaco maps 40 years after the fair

Well, the condition looked atrocious when we started, but I’m going to show you, through some really creative ways of measuring loss, we realized that we were being biasedly influenced by an accumulative condition, when in fact, tile-by-tile, it really wasn’t all that bad. So here are just some details of the conditions.

I realize now, in hindsight, I probably should have gotten Google to fund this, because we were really creating these geospatially referenced documentation plans, or maps, that in some way are very much like what we use today when we use Google. But in order to better understand the type, severity, and pattern of condition and decay, we had to record the entire map and plan. We used orthorectified photography to do that. Each of the 567 tiles was photographed and rated on a scale of one-to-ten for condition. Remember, we had to give it to the City of New York, who just wanted this project to go away, but you can’t do that with an NEA grant. So we really had to come up with a shorthand way to give the site manager some idea of what the condition of this thing was and its integrity.

So we had three broad conditions: good, fair, poor. They were worked into a one-to-ten scale, and what we discovered as 59% of the tiles were in good condition, 29% fair, and 12% poor. This was all done in a GIS platform. With that, and with less than 10% tile loss, we felt that conservation was a reasonable option for this, despite the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done. It would also play in later to determining cost and time estimates, and convincing the politicians that it was worth saving this, in terms of time and money.

What we did then was to identify a small section, and you’d appreciate the fact that, how do you get at this? We decided to select Long Island, because it was a part jutting out, as the pilot treatment program. Eventually, about 10 tiles were lifted, brought into the Queens Museum, and therein began the idea for an exhibition.

It began with devegetation. This is what we called it for graduate students, so they didn’t complain that we were having them do slave labor. All the objects and artifacts found, including pieces of the map itself, we used a classic archeological grid, and we left them in place on the grid itself. It was a natural grid and we bagged these later for possible reuse.

Quadripod set over a tile in preparation for taking a photograph.

Quadripod with camera mounted at the top.

We created this quadripod. Basically, we went to Home Depot, bought the supplies, created this rolling scaffold with a camera mounted at a fixed focal length, and it gave us the orthorectified photos we needed. We didn’t have to  rectify. It was perfect. We moved it around, and in very short time, we photographed all 500-plus tiles. We later used this for the world’s oldest mosaic in Turkey. Actually, it’s ironic that it got its birth in the ’64 World’s Fair, and then went to 8th century BC in Turkey, to record the pavement there.

This is what we produced. It was actually the star of the show at Queens Museum. It was enormous. I don’t remember … it would have filled one of the walls here, printed on Mylar. It was the first time one could see the map in all of its deteriorating glory, and in a way you never can see it when it’s on the floor. I mean, you just can’t comprehend it. Of course, the Pavilion was designed for the map to be seen from mezzanines, and again, Johnson’s brilliance in the design accommodated for this.

Then, it was like a Tetris game. You had to move panels out of the way to get at other panels … if you know the game. So we had to create this special rake to pull them, drag them along the sand bed, and then eventually lift them out.

Before we could get them too far, we had to temporarily stabilize them. We used classic conservation techniques of gauze and a temporary adhesive facing. We used methylcellulose for this and bound the edges as needed. And then you see, in the lower-right, we moved them into the Queens Museum, where we could then work on them. Again, I realized quickly, we were part of the exhibition. We could do that.

Let me just show you some of the processes, then, with the panels that we had to work on. Here is a very badly damaged part of Long Island. Here, it’s flipped over. The backing has been removed to lighten the weight and get at the design layer on the top.

We had to remove the reinforcements, which were causing a lot of cracking. Here, that’s all being done in the museum. You see the backs of the panels. And then we began experimenting with different ways of backing the panel to make it lighter in weight. We ultimately decided on using a plastic honeycomb panel, a polypropylene honeycomb panel, which would reduce the weight significantly.

Again, these things weighed quite a bit, and we wanted to, in the event that they would be moved around for exhibition to fundraise for the map, we knew that we’d have to do it this way. Also, the idea of sending the real places parts of the map would really generate supporters.

Here are some processes, again. Self-leveling cementitious backing materials proved to be really effective, because these things were not easy to manipulate. Just some examples. And there’s the honeycomb, which we eventually went to, which reduced the weight significantly. Here, the conservators are on the museum doing that work.

We did some testing, because we were proposing some somewhat strange methods of backing that was not classic mosaic conservation techniques, and we wanted to make sure they were reversible. Here we ran some flexural tests, and some freeze-thaw tests, to see the durability of these things. Because it was, from day one we said this has to stay in situ. The genus locus of the pavilion requires that it have the map pavement in place. Here’s some of those tests that we ran and then here it is flipped over.

And now the question is, “How old should this look?” All the terrazzo manufacturers we talked to said, “Oh, you’ve got to grind it down again. You have to really make it look new.” I wasn’t convinced about that, because I think, like the Baby Boomers themselves, you know, they’re not the 12 year-olds that they were when they went to see this thing. I think it has tremendous power to look its age as a modern work.

So we had issues regarding the infill, the missing portions. The other thing was … two requirements: look its age, which does not mean destroyed, and also it had to be legible. What is a map if it’s not legible? So here we really trespassed some major tenets in conservation, which is because this thing was actually made by Yale art students projecting a Texaco roadmap and then tracing it . Talk about the pre-digital age. It was literally  a complete translation of the paper map.

Of course, on eBay I bought a ’64 New York state map, and we used that to make the inserts that we took from the CAD drawings, and then hooked it up to a CNC machine and made the missing parts. It was a brilliant way to use modern technology to address the losses in what was a handmade product. These things were all cut out by art students with little jigsaws.

top view of both 4' x 4' panels

Moderately damaged tile before (left) and after (right) repair

Here, you see the panel that’s getting inserts. You can see here, these we’ve made and have placed. Here they’re being placed in the panel and then the fills are being put in. And here’s on the left, before, and on the right, an after. This was all done to convince again, everyone involved in the decision-making that this was a project that could go forward. I don’t remember the numbers now, but it was all quite doable in terms of panel-by-panel.

Again, to this point of authenticity … we could have a whole conference on this. It’s a slippery slope, for sure, but I think it is the thing that all the millennials are desperately seeking. But none of us really know what it means, but we know when it’s not. Right?

Despite all this work, the city didn’t really have the confidence, the money, or  political support, to do anything. So the next best thing was to bury the map. I thought, “Oh, we’re going to bury the map. It’ll be out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”

But the reality was when we announced that the map was going to go hidden, the groundswell was huge. So we opened up the site for one day and thousands of people came to see the map for the last time before it was buried, in classic conservation methods, using reburial, as is done for example, Roman mosaics. Totally reversible, but it would put it out of the hands of thieves and vandals, and it would protect it until time and political will could preserve it.

I just took these off the website the other day. Some of you may have seen the film that has been produced. It’s quite remarkable on the ’64 World’s Fair, but particularly the pavilion. The map features in it. And in the lower-left, they are now, you can see in the lower-right, the gravel that is covering the map. You see … unbeknownst to me, they put our pilot treatments back on the site. They were formerly in the Queens Museum storage. And on the lower-left, they have these days, several times a year, and people come. They touch the map. It’s really like going to the Vatican and rubbing St. Peter’s toe. I mean, the Baby Boomers have made this their site. So we should make sure it’s on your website.

The pavilion’s was painted and the engineers are studying what to do with it. And it all started with a seemingly insignificant component of a much bigger project. But it was the one that had the human element. The map had the human element. To talk about the world’s largest compression bicycle-wheel roof … I mean, you have to be an engineer to care, right? … Any engineers in the audience? But this had visceral, human place making abilities. I have to say, since this project, I have not done a project that doesn’t have social media, that doesn’t consider all of the possibilities of getting the public involved in what you’re doing.

Thank you very much.

Speaker 1: We have time for questions.

Speaker 2: I attended what I think was the first day that it reopened. It was like hours long … I mean, it was an unbelievable number of people. I don’t know if you know what the final numbers of visitation on that day was

Frank Matero: I don’t. It’s on the website.

Speaker 3: Tens of thousands at the … It was crazy. Where is the whole pavilion and the map now? What’s the next set of stuff?

Speaker 3: As I said, this was … little did we realize that this would be a catalyst for, I think in some ways, forcing the borough’s hands in terms of engaging the public and other professionals with what to do with the pavilion. Really, in 2005, they just wanted it to go away. But they realize, I think, now that it’s a great asset. And of course, in 15 years … When we started the project, it was the 40th anniversary. It was the 50th anniversary recently, so things have picked up.

The National Trust ran a campaign … a charrette, of sorts, or a design competition. I taught a design studio with two Italians who thought this was the greatest thing they’d ever tackled, and … you know, one lives in Venice, one lives in Rome. You would think they had some other things to work on. But the student projects were brilliant, creative … a discotheque, a planetarium. I mean, they had pretty great stuff. But the requirement was the floor had to stay in place.

There was a proposal to move it to the World Trade Towers. Thank goodness that didn’t happen early on. But I think the groundswell has created now a good, solid support group, and I think it’s just a matter of time. It’s a very expensive proposition. What I had proposed is to take the pavement out. It could be done locally. You could have a whole inner city youth program. This is not too hard to do, and it could be done with guest conservators and kids as a way of remembering and honoring the ’64 World’s Fair.

Speaker 3: Was there any communication or interaction with Texaco itself?

Frank Matero: Yes, we tried. They were not interested.

Speaker 3: Okay.

Frank Matero:  I now know more about the birth of the American roadmap. It’s actually a quite interesting story and it intersected really well with GIS and Google Earth. In hindsight, I realize I should have gone to Google Earth. No, Texaco had no real interest in it.

Speaker 3: From the sample projects, what was the timeline for this, between the documentation, the lifting, preservation-

Frank Matero: It was a three-year project.

Speaker 3:  Okay.

Frank Matero: It had got extended to three years because of the exhibition. It was not initially conceived, but when we saw the response, we knew we had a natural venue right there at the Queens Museum, within a stone’s throw from the pavilion. That was a very good idea. And then we had a website. In fact … well, it’s on my screen. There’s the website for Back on the Map, and all the information that we do. We always post all the projects on the ACL website. Any other questions?

 

Frank G. Matero is Professor of Architecture and Chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. He is Director and founder of the Architectural Conservation Laboratory (1991) and a member of the Graduate Group in the Department of Art History and Research Associate of the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He is founder and editor-in-chief of Change Over Time, the international journal on conservation and the built environment published by Penn Press.  His teaching and research are focused on historic building technology and the conservation of building materials, with an emphasis on masonry and earthen construction, the conservation of archaeological sites, and issues related to preservation and appropriate technology for traditional societies and places.

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