Still A Small World: The World’s Fair At 50
This week Queens celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair. More than 2,500 people visited the New York State Pavilion during a celebration held on Tuesday, April 22.
The Pavilion has also been officially designated as a “National Treasure.”
In a ceremony at the fair’s former site at Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, NYC Parks’ Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski joined Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey and National Trust for Historic Preservation board member Paul Goldberger to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening ceremony of the 1964-65 World’s Fair. They also announced that the New York State Pavilion, one of the most iconic remnants of the 1964 World’s Fair, has been named as one of the Trust’s “National Treasures.” The National Treasures program recognizes historically, culturally and architecturally important sites to raise awareness and funding for their preservation. The Pavilion is one of only 44 sites in the country to bear this designation.
Also attending the event were Congressman Joseph Crowley; State Senator Toby Stavisky; Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry; Council Member Julissa Ferreras; Council Member Peter Koo; Council Member Jimmy van Bramer; Council Member Mark Weprin; NYC Parks’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park Administrator Janice Melnick and Director of Historic Preservation John Krawchuk; and members of the New York State Pavilion Paint Project, a volunteer group which has worked to repaint the Tent of Tomorrow’s distinctive red and white stripes and yellow trim.
Visitors were able to view some of the original road map panels from the Tent of Tomorrow’s two-dimensional terrazzo floor. Two restored panels and two unrestored panels depicting sections of Eastern Long Island were on display for comparison. They were also able to visit the inside of the Tent, with tours throughout the day run by volunteers from the Pavilion Paint Project.
“In the last 50 years, Flushing Meadows Corona Park has grown from the site of the World’s Fair to the home of the World’s Park,” Parks Commissioner Lewandowski said. “As we celebrate this anniversary, it is just as important that we look to the next 50 years and plan for the park’s future.
“I am very pleased with the decision of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to select the New York State Pavilion to be one of its National Treasures,” Queens Borough President, and co-chair of the World’s Fair Anniversary Committee, Melinda Katz said. “The announcement of this wonderful news is the perfect way to kick off our six-month slate of activities that will celebrate the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the 1964 and 1939 World’s Fairs.”
“This national treasure designation,” Assemblywoman, and co-chair of the World’s Fair Anniversary
Committee, Margaret Markey, noted “should also mean that we can be optimistic about the preservation and re-use of the entire iconic New York Pavilion just as other signature structures from those fairs have become vital cultural organizations for Queens and New York City.”
“This day marks an event of the rebirth of the New York State Pavilion," said Pavilion Paint Project Founder John Piro. “We are determined to bring back the excitement and energy that 1964 NY
World’s Fair brought to Queens and the City of New York.”
The New York State Pavilion was originally built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. It consisted of the Tent of Tomorrow, three Observation Towers and the Theaterama, which is now the Queens Theatre. During the fair, the Observation Towers held a snack bar, gift shop and viewing areas, with the tallest tower perched 226 feet above the fairground. The Tent of Tomorrow was an open exhibition space, highlighting New York attractions and hosting performances.
The Tent’s floor was designed as the world’s largest map, depicting the entire State of New York in terrazzo paving with 567 panels, each weighing 400 pounds. The map was sponsored by Texaco, so along with towns and roads it also showed the locations of the company’s gas stations.
In 2006, conservationists from the University of Pennsylvania, working with the NYC Parks, began a multi-year effort to preserve the map and restore some of its panels. Fourteen panels were removed for analysis and four panels were restored. The sections of the floor that remained on site were covered in layers of sand, fabric and gravel as a conservation technique in order to preserve them
More recently NYC Parks has completed several engineering studies of the Pavilion structures. The latest, finished in 2008 and 2012, found that both the Tent and Towers are structurally sound, and estimated that it would cost approximately $40 million to preserve the structures as architectural elements and approximately $50 million to preserve the structures while also restoring public access.
As part of the celebrations of the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the World’s Fairs, NYC Parks will be hosting a free festival on May 18, featuring World's Fair memorabilia; tours of fair buildings, sculptures and structures –including the Pavilion; and international food, music and dance. The day will be capped with a live concert and fireworks.
For more information about Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the New York State Pavilion and the
May 18 festival, including a complete listing of activities, visit nyc.gov/parks.
A variety of other cultural institutions will also be holding events over the next six months in celebration of the World’s Fair anniversaries. A list of these events can be found at itsinqueens.com/worldsfair.
The site that is now Flushing Meadows Corona Park was first constructed to host the 1939 World’s
Fair and formally opened as a city park in 1967. At 898 acres, Flushing Meadows is the largest park in Queens and the fourth largest in New York City.
In addition to the Pavilion, which includes the Queens Theatre, both of the fairs left behind a number of prominent structures in the park. These include the Unisphere, Meadow and Willow lakes, and the Meadow Lake boathouse, World’s Fair Marina, New York Hall of Science, Queens Museum and Terrace on the Park. The park has also become home to the Al Oerter Recreation Center, a pool and ice rink complex, the Queens Zoo, USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and Citi Field.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. Their website is www.PreservationNation.org.
Flushing Meadow-Corona Park made several appearances as the site of various World’s Fair-like ‘Expo’s’ in “Iron
Man 2” and “Captain America: The First
The New York State Pavilion was famously featured in 1997’s “Men In Black” where it was revealed the distinctive saucer shaped towers were actual extraterrestrial spaceships. According to the story line, the World’s Fair was built around them as a cover story.