Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Future Faded: New York World's Fair 1964

Yesterday, Mike and I decided to trek out to see the old World's Fair park in Flushing toward the end of the 7 line just to see what was still around from this international festival from 46 years ago.

I had seen the iconic Unisphere and observation towers 13 years ago in Men in Black but had always wanted to see them in person. Places like this have a strange allure.  While their origins are partly forgotten (and structures partly abandoned) there is still life crawling through them as new generations discover them.

The park itself, nearly a square mile, was littered with families, soccer games and skateboarders (using the former fountains as skate parks).

At the center is the Unisphere was donated by the United States Steel Corporation symbolizing "Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." Since the theme of the World's Fair was "Peace Through Understanding" it makes sense that at its center the Fair offered this symbol of one world around which dosens of countries, states and companies "revolved."

The Unisphere is still a center of culture in Queens another major structure is now just a skeleton of its former self.

The observation towers were once the New York State Pavilion.    The towers once had glass "Sky-Streak" elevators which carried passengers up the sides of the towers.  Visitors could enjoy  refreshments while a third tower served as a private lounge for visiting dignitaries.  The "Tent of Tomorrow" was (and I suppose technically still is) a massive structure which featured a 130' x 166' terrazzo map of New York's highways underneath a tiled tent.  The map is nearly unrecognizable, heaving suffered the wrath of Mother Nature since the roof no longer exists to protect it.  Apparently the powers-that-be considered moving the map to the World Trade Center but that plan never came to fruition.  At various points since the fair it has been a skating rink, parking lot, dumpster and as a set for movies (Dorothy arrives in Oz and meets Miss One in The Wiz) and in music videos.  Now it sits alone, locked behind huge gates.

Next to the towers is the old Circarama theatre which has been, thankfully, saved from the same neglect that the towers suffered.  It is now the Queens Theatre in the Park and continues to offer visitors excellent reasons to visit the old pavilion today.

It was somehow equally beautiful and creepy to wander the park.  If you step just far enough in any one direction you suddenly feel very alone, almost time shifting to a point where you are the only person there, feeling the past and present collide around you.  Staring up at the towers you can, if paying attention, hear the laughter of children playing near the Unisphere, and almost imagine that those same cheers are coming from the ghosts of the past who were awed by the wonders of the fair.

Spooky? Yep. Gorgeous? Absolutely.

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