429 Magazine

Architectural phoenix of Fire Island

Like a concrete rainbow skimming the rooftops of Chelsea runs the High Line park, a mammoth urban renewal project started in 2006 by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The park was phenomenally beautiful success story—a decrepit elevated railway transformed into a chic park. Diller Scofidio + Renfro further established their track record in New York as shifters of its gay landscape when on Tuesday they announced their next target: the Pavilion, a former pinnacle of nightlife in the gay enclave of the Fire Island Pines until it was destroyed in a November 2011 fire.
Sometimes a warehouse is more than just a warehouse. At least that’s what Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the firm HWKN (that’s HollwichKushner) are seeing in the rubbly remains of infamous Pavilion nightclub. Before a fire destroyed the building last November, the boardwalk hotspot in the Fire Island Pines hamlet of Long Island was considered a kind of mecca for the gay community and the biggest business draw in the area. Fittingly, the same architecture firm that just recently designed the High Line is now tackling the wrecked Pavilion as a renewal project—the club’s legacy is practically an extension of the very railway upon which the High Line lies.
Fire Island Pines became a haven for gay men in the 1960s when John B. Whyte, a former male model and thriving entrepreneur purchased 80 percent of the commercial property. He erected gay-friendly bars and the Pavilion, a dance hall that became an instant hit. The Pavilion housed decades of nightlife. Patrons would mix and mingle and bump shoulders with the occasional celebrity in a place where the drinks sounded beautiful and the music tasted delicious—the New York Times recently called the place “a rite-of-passage spot” for generations of gay men. The nostalgia—and notoriety—of the place was that of an old childhood thumb-sucking habit.
The crowds packed in every night, the air conditioning was obsolete, and a remodeling or refurbishing was out of the question because it was the Pavilion, until an accidental fire raged through the age-old timbers of its walls and surrounding boardwalk on a dreary November night. The Fire Island Pines community lost not only one of its largest business magnets for both commercial industry and tourism, but also a shining beacon—a family member.
“It was an amazing social engine,” said Mattias Hollwich of the HWKN firm, “People could go there and put their guard down. It was all about getting together without an agenda.” Hollwich recalled fond memories of the Pavilion and its surrounding area and hopes to revitalize that same energy. “The Pavilion was a place where you could get away from the city. It’s much more human, much more natural. We want that to happen again.”
Hollwich said that they have several different design ideas as to how the Pavilion and its surrounding buildings will look and said that the building can't be overwhelming. “The building empowers the individual,” said Hollwich.

The Pavilion on Fire Island burned down on November 14th, 2011

Comment by Brad Carpenter
over 4 years ago

I think it's wonderful to hear that they're using such a great firm to redesign that building. But the article seems to skip over the fact that the old Pavilion was already torn down 5 years ago by the owners that bought everything from John Whyte's estate. The building they replaced it with lacked any of the charm, and because of the way they chopped up the space to better "monetize" it, the dance floor ended up feeling more like a squash court. The new group of owners that recently took over the properties out there has made some great changes over the past two seasons. When I heard about the fire, my first thought was that now they have a chance to rebuild the Pavilion and make it right again. Maybe even better than the original. Here's hoping they do! Thanks for this article! Best, Brad Carpenter

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9 months ago

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