Hundreds of people flocked to Queens Tuesday to once again stand under the New York State Pavilion's futuristic towers, aging symbols of the 1964 World's Fair.
John Piro, 65, of Westbury and a dozen other volunteers from Queens and Long Island have repainted the pavilion's rusty steel-and-concrete exterior and hauled away decades' worth of debris.
Yesterday morning, for the first time in 27 years, part of the structure was reopened to the public in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. For several hours, at least.
"It's unbelievable . . . it's amazing," Piro said of the large turnout.
He said he's inspired now to begin the next phase of restoration -- cleaning out the pavilion's exhibition rooms.
"We'll just keep working inside the rooms and work our way from the bottom to the top," he said, staring up at the tallest of the three towers, at 227 feet.
Organizers handed out more than a thousand entry passes, with the waiting line at one point stretching nearly a mile to the Queens Zoo. Visitors, many armed with cameras, waited patiently for their chance to revisit the space-age pavilion.
Some came dressed in '60s attire. Others dusted off World's Fair souvenirs and brought them.
Peg Schroder, 65, of the Bronx, carried the official New York City fair mascot -- a stuffed squirrel.
"Fifty years is a long time for anything, so I figured I'd come out today and relive those good memories," said Schroder, who visited the 1964-65 fair at least 20 times as a teenager.
The pavilion has been placed on the official "treasure" list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but restoration funding remains scarce.
"We will campaign strongly to get supporters to find a use for this historic landmark of modern architecture," said Paul Goldberger, a trust board member and Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic.
"I think the pavilion can be saved. Its underlying structure of concrete and steel is strong," he said. "The roof will have to be replaced and that will take a huge amount of work, but today we can restore these historic treasures. This is the most exciting and most beautiful landmark of modern composition."
Molly Yavetz, 25, of Bayside, Queens, is too young to have witnessed the fair's wonders firsthand.
But she proudly wears a tattoo of the fair's centerpiece -- the gleaming Unisphere -- on the back of her neck.
"This is the only symbol we have of Queens," she said. "I love Queens and Flushing Meadows park."