It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all
—from Disney’s “It’s A Small World” by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman
If visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair remembered nothing else, this song, in the form of a round, did just that: it went round and round in their heads!
What with the Golden Anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World’s Fair having past on the 22nd of April, I rode the #7 subway train to where the Fair took place, the 1,255-acre Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The site, for 30 years the Corona Ash Dumps, had been cleared by New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses for the 1939 World’s Fair, was used again 25 years later. This same area serves as a prominent locale in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.” The filling station where Tom Buchanan’s floozy, Myrtle lived—and died—with her husband, was located next to the Corona Ash Dumps.
Iconic remnants can still be visited from the two fairs, including the New York State Pavilion, the New York City Pavilion and the Unisphere. The adjacent United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, sight of the US Open Tennis Tournament, has made use of the 1964 Fair’s Singer Bowl, now the Louis Armstrong Stadium, since 1978.
Named for the 106th mayor of New York City, David Dinkins Circle is the promenade that marks the entrance to Flushing Meadows Corona Park when a visitor, such as me, arrives from either the Long Island Railroad or the NYC #7 subway train.
Colorful mosaic medallions, commemorating attractions at the 1939 and the 1964 World’s Fairs, are arranged around a paving-stone version of the Trylon and Perisphere, the symbol of the 1939 Fair. This tribute dates from 1998.
Billy Rose’s Aquacade was an aquatic show featuring music, dancing and swimming; Rose originally produced it at Cleveland’s 1937 Great Lakes Exposition. The original show starred Olympians Eleanor Holm, Johnny Weissmuller, who later replaced by Buster Crabbe, and Esther Williams. The Aquacade moved to the 1939 New York World’s Fair; it was the most popular attraction at the Fair.
Salvador Dalí created a dream world pavilion for the 1939 Fair; he called it “A Dream of Venus.” The mustachio’ed Surrealist brought his version of a “girlie show,” the sort his American audience would have known from traveling circuses, to fairgoers. This surreal experience had patrons purchase tickets from a booth shaped like a fish’s head and enter through a pair of women’s legs! Strong stuff for 1939.
Westinghouse buried a time capsule scheduled to be open in the year 6939. The actual time capsule is not buried here, but elsewhere within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The mosaic lists the time capsule contents. I would not want to eat those carrots! Beetleware is a type of plastic made by American Cyanamid. It is only 75 years since this time capsule was buried, and it is unlikely that few people today would know what beetleware was. And you did not have to wait until 6939 to find out!
Elsie the Cow was one of four cows that appeared in series of 1936 magazine ads. By 1939, Elsie was featured in her own ads; this campaign was voted the best of the year at the 1939 Annual Advertising Awards. Borden decided to feature a live Elsie at its World’s Fair exhibit. Company executives interviewed 150 cows; they selected a 7-year-old Jersey named “You’ll Do Lobelia.” By the end of the 1939 Fair more than seven million people had seen Elsie in person.
The New York City Pavilion is all that remains in Flushing Meadows from the 1939 Fair. Designed by Aymar Embury, today it houses the Queens Museum of Art. Aymar Embury also designed the red granite plinth that supports the Jagiello Monument in Central Park, as well as the Central Park Zoo.
The 1964 Fair’s Fountain of Planets used more than 400-tons of water passed through 2,000 nozzles. This was the location of the water and fireworks show, held nightly during Fair season; it was free. During the show 10,000 tons of water were recirculated and 150,000,000-candle power lit up the waters with changing color lighting. The fireworks were fired from 464 mortars. Over 1,000 different patterns of water and light effects are produced. On the two occasions where w visited the Fair, we did not stay long enough to see this. It must have been spectacular!
Based on an Andy Warhol silkscreen of Robert Moses, the driving force behind the 1939 and the 1964 World’s Fairs, this likeness was hated by Mr. Moses. Warhol created it as a replacement for his original mural, “Thirteen Most Wanted Men,” which was rejected by Governor Nelson Rockefeller for political reasons. “Thirteen Most Wanted Men” had already been installed on the side of New York State Pavilion; it was whitewashed, literally painted over.
Designed by Philip Johnson, America’s most enthusiastic practitioner of Mid-Century Modern architecture, the New York State Pavilion was among the most striking buildings at the 1964 Fair. It was the tallest and largest building.
The Pavilion’s main building was the Tent of Tomorrow, consisting of sixteen 100-foot columns supporting a 50,000 square foot roof of multicolored panels. The pavilion remained in use for years as a roller rink. It was also used as a performance space by the Council for International Recreation, Culture, and Lifelong Education. The roof of the tent became unstable and was dismantled in 1976, leaving the detailed floor map of New York State severely damaged because it was exposed to the elements.
Next to the Tent of Tomorrow were three towers, standing 60, 150 and 226 feet tall. Fairgoers could zip to the top of the towers by way of capsule-shaped elevators. From the tallest tower’s observation platform observers could see New Jersey, Connecticut, the Atlantic Ocean and most of Long Island on a clear day. The middle tower sold refreshments; the third was a lounge for visiting dignitaries.
Inside the pavilion, there was a scale model of the new St. Lawrence River hydroelectric plant, information about industry in New York State, artwork from the 19th-century Hudson River School, and portraits of NY State colonists. The Pavilion’s main feature was a 9,000 square-foot map of New York State, sponsored by the Texaco Company. It was made up of 567 terrazzo panels, featuring the state’s cities, towns, roads and highways with Texaco gas stations highlighted along the way.
When it opened the architectural critic for the New York Times, Ada Louise Huxtable called the New York State Pavilion “a sophisticated frivolity … seriously and beautifully constructed. This is ‘carnival’ with class.” In June of 2010 the Pavilion was listed on the New York State and the National Registers of Historic Places. Admission to the pavilion was free. For the Observation Tower, adult admission was 50¢; for children it was 25¢.
The Port of New York Authority built a pavilion with a rooftop-landing pad where helicopters made scheduled landings and takeoffs. There was a restaurant, a private dining club and a cocktail lounge. The supporting structure showed a film and exhibits about the Authority’s work. Today it is a high-end event space. I recall this pavilion so clearly, seeing the helicopters take off and land. The building appeared so strange to me as a child.
New York City Pavilion has housed the Queens Museum of Art since 1972. Inside is one of the 1964 Fair’s most remarkable exhibits, the Panorama of New York, a scale model of the entire city. It shows off the city’s seven bridges, its highways and subways, the Empire State Building and more than 800,000 miniature replicas of every building in the city. Queens’ two airports, LaGuardia and the recently renamed JFK, have with tiny planes overhead.
The New York City Pavilion served as the temporary home of the United Nations from its organization in 1946 to 1952, when it moved to its newly finished headquarters in Manhattan. The state of Israel and UNICEF were established in this building.