Since the mid 1800’s the world at large has had multiple celebrations designed to showcase national achievements. While the US tends to refer to these events as World Fairs, more modernly they are usually known as Expos- Dubai is just wrapping up their Expo 2020 this month.
This World’s Fair was themed “Peace Through Understanding” and was symbolized by a huge stainless steel model of the Earth, known as the Unisphere, which is still in place today. While this Fair had its share of problems- including but not limited to the Bureau of International Expositions declining to officially recognize the fair and the subsequent low visitor turnout, this 1964 New York World’s Fair is remembered with incredible fondness by thousands of New Yorkers. With admission running between $1 and $2.50 ($8.34 – $20.50 today, adjusted for inflation) over two six-month periods, it was a great way to spend a day out of the city and the suburbs.
Heavily inspired by the Space Age and the futurism movement, the event was filled with hopeful impressions of the future. This two year long event is where many people encountered computers for the first time! Jetpacks were also introduced, but one of these inventions clearly became more widespread than the other.
While some nations did attend the fair (introducing American’s to Sangria and Belgium Waffles for the first time), many others were encouraged not to participate by the Bureau of International Expositions so American Businesses built pavilions and rides to demonstrate their wares in their stead. Disney premiered the classic “It’s a Small World” ride here- and he partnered with General Electric to create the Carousel of Progress which is also now homed in Disneyworld.
Though the fair ended in bankruptcy, the event revitalized the park and it’s still a popular local haunt to this day. Although the fair grounds, now known as the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, is located on my way to New York’s main domestic airport and I find myself thinking about it (or at least that one scene in Men In Black) often, I had never had the occasion to visit until recently.
Most of the original park pavilions have been demolished in favor of the far more usable soccer fields and park space, but a few pieces are still around to take a look at. The Unisphere remains a central focus of this park, with most of the avenues and pathways leading straight towards the massive sculpture.
The vast majority of the relics are not marked in any way so it’s easy for the casual viewer to disregard these objects as standard park decorations but for the sheer quantity of them. Much more difficult to miss, however, is the New York State Pavilion. With the pavilion’s observation towers immortalized as alien space ships in Men In Black, this structure is extremely unique to the park and instantly recognizable in its Googie inspired architecture despite it’s fall to disrepair.
The neglect of the Tent of Tomorrow section of the pavilion is such a shame- at it’s inception, it had a brightly colored fiberglass roof and a huge terrazzo mosaic map of New York State as its flooring. While the bones of the structure are pretty enough to look at now, the roof had been removed and a combination of exposure to the elements and a brief second life as a community roller rink has destroyed the original mosaic. Efforts throughout the years have been mustered to preserve and restore the pavilion with a recent repainting bringing life to the Tent of Tomorrow section. Despite these efforts, the third component- the Theaterama- remains the only part of the pavilion available for public access as the home of Queens Theatre.
Perhaps one day a more unified effort can bring the New York Pavilion back to the entirety of it’s former glory, but for now it, amongst other left over relics of a long ago homage to an expanding universe, play background characters to the thriving park of today.