New Fire Island Pavilion Channels Old Attitude
By Andrew Belonsky
The Fire Island Pavilion that burned down in 2011 was not beloved. People enjoyed that the structure existed, that it provided a stage for fun and flings and drama and dancing, but it was not adored, architecturally speaking. It was a simple, rectangular space created to replace another, smaller but more beloved structure originally built in the 1970s, when it was called The Sandpiper. That building, not much more of a shed with a balcony, became "The Pavilion" in 1985. It's to that first space, rather than the more recent structure that replaced it in 2007, that the creative team behind the new-and-improved Pavilion found inspiration.
"The original space allowed people to move around and experience and socialize from different perspective," said Matthias Hollwich, one-half of HWKN, the design firm behind the new structure being developed by FIP Ventures. "In the new design we intentionally brought back the big balconies and fluid circulation. On top of that, we turned every space into a social engine." Triangular bars and a wall of bleachers, they hope, will put the "opportunity to push 'see and be seen' into a third dimension."
This idea, the idea of harking back to a pre-Pavilion II era, permeates every aspect of the new Pavilion. "We decided to discard almost everything of the most recent iteration of the Pavilion and start from scratch," said Hollwich. "The new Pavilion re-captures the quality of an iconic beach community, with open terraces, and the use of wood as the main design element. The nightclub moved to the second floor to add more usable space to the 1st floor, but also to provide a closer connection to the exterior bar at the high-tea deck." And Matthew Blesso, a managing partner with FIP Ventures, says their new space eschews the superficial hard partying that defined the '90s-era Pavilion. "The Pavilion space itself actually got little use. It was primarily used on Saturday nights so perhaps was occupied 20 days per year," he explained. "The space imbued a culture of hard-core partying only. We feel the new Pavilion is not only a better party space, but also allows for a range of different uses. It will be a wedding space, for instance." And those different uses, they hope, will help give gay culture at large a much needed boost.
"Not much has changed in the Pines in a couple of decades and I think a lot of people feel that gay nightlife and gay culture in general is no longer setting the trends the way it once did," Blesso said. Ryan Dejong, Director of Marketing for FIP Ventures, remarked, "Through the integration of art, performance, and education, we hope to awaken the senses and support the value of self-expression."
This all means that in addition to a new look, the Pavilion will have a whole new sound. Pavilion Entertainment Director Tony Fornabaio says he wants to bring back a "soulful" culture. Visitors can expect few Top 40 hits "and more experimental artistic expression and musicality." "We want to invigorate the spirit of years passed, and infuse parts of the best decades into a contemporary experience," said Fornabaio, who first visited Fire Island with his family when he was 16.
But the team's also insistent their space, whether being used as a bar at night or for a wedding one afternoon, isn't just about gathering the community. It's about spreading the love. "Philanthropy and community outreach are being brought center stage this season," said Dejong. "Plans include hosted fundraising events for Worldwide Orphans Foundation, Trinity Place Shelter, and The Seashore Defense Fund."
And in addition to more work with New York-based groups like GLAAD and the public art non-profit BOFFO, the Pavilion team also recently helped raise money for Equality Illinois. Said DeJong, "Whether supporting the preservation of the Pines beaches, public arts programming, or the fight for equality, we are thrilled to utilize our platform to better the community we serve." And the community's eager to be served.