Sight of the Week: Apr 21-27, 2014 | Archive

The Unisphere.

Must-See Remains of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair

Queens, New York

As a sequel to the successful 1939 New York World's Fair, the second World's Fair opened on April 22, 1964, and sold itself as "A Millennium of Progress." It operated for only two years. When the Fair closed for good in October 1965 it had been a commercial flop, but that's been forgotten with the passage of time. Instead, it's remembered for its sense of Space Age style and its optimism.

Chrysler's VIP-JR license plate photo op (gone).
Chrysler's VIP-JR license plate photo op (gone).

Children of the time, 50 years later, still fondly recall the Tower of Light, GE's atomic fusion sun, the giant car, robot Lincoln, "It's a Small World" boat ride, the first Ford Mustang, dinosaurs, space rockets, supersonic jets, and satellites. Cheery visions of the future were intermixed with product placement and feel-good-about-our-brand messages.

There was the talking House of Formica, and the Kodak Picture Tower. A two-page ad spread in the Fair's official guide helped visitors find the best examples of Fair buildings made of fiberglass. Scott Paper wanted visitors to wander through their Enchanted Forest of Paper Products. U.S. Steel's Unisphere was touted as "The Largest Earth Model in History." A cigar company building continuously belched giant smoke rings.

Much of what was at the Fair was knocked down by 1966, and the former World's Fair site is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a pleasantly empty and tree-lined oasis surrounded by a metropolis of concrete and asphalt. Some of the Fair's attractions, however, were either too permanent or too inconspicuous to be demolished, and have survived in situ, outlasting New York City air and politics for 50 years.

Enjoying an Oscar Mayer Wiener Whistle at the 1964 New York World's Fair.
Enjoying an Oscar Mayer Wiener Whistle at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

Other Fair exhibits were crated and shipped elsewhere. Although travelers can still encounter relics from the U.S. World Fairs of 1893, 1901, 1904, 1933, 1939, 1962, 1974, 1982, and 1984, the New York World's Fair of 1964-65 has an unmatched legacy of tourist junk sprayed across the vacationscape. Time has taken some, such as the World's Largest Replica Cheese (which vanished in 2005), but many still survive.

New York State Pavilion.
New York State Pavilion.

Leftovers from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair are sunny reminders of a time when science and technology were our heroes, when larger-than-life attractions were not simply easy targets for complaints about wasted resources on a worn-out planet.

Scattered Remains

  • Replica of Michelangelo's David - St. Augustine, FL
    According to Ripley's Believe it or Not, this big nude-but-classy guy was on display at the Fair.
  • Trachodon - Brookfield, IL
    Giant plant-eater, featured at the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit, grazes amid trees at a zoo.
  • Corythosaurus - Independence, KS
    The crested dinosaur stood in a fake swamp at Dinoland; now he's in a public park.
  • Triceratops from the World's Fair - Louisville, KY Abandoned by the museum that had adopted him, currently stands in an outdoor storage yard.
  • World's Largest Tire - Allen Park, MI
    Formerly a Ferris wheel sponsored by U.S. Rubber, the post-Fair tire rolled home to Michigan and is now a drive-by roadside attraction outside of Detroit.
  • Giant Replica Runestone - Alexandria, MN
    Proof that giant Vikings once visited America? Former exhibit at the Minnesota state pavilion.
  • The City Reliquary - Brooklyn, NY
    Repository for many types of New York City junk, including small items from the Fair.
  • World's Fair Muffler Man - Lake George, NY
    Several Muffler Men were supposedly at the Fair; this one's claims seem especially credible.
  • "Peace Through Understanding" Arch - West Hempstead, NY
    There were 11 of these large meeting place landmarks at the Fair; this may be the only survivor.
  • Brontosaurus and T. Rex - Glen Rose, TX
    The two big stars of the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit, now basking in the Texas sun.
  • Ankylosaurus - Houston, TX
    Armored with a mace-like tail, this beast has been at a Houston museum since 1970.
  • Stegosaurus - Dinosaur, UT
    Formerly at Sinclair Dinoland, this familiar plant-eater now guards the visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument.
  • Wisconsin Pavilion - Neillsville, WI
    Crazy googie-style building now serves as a radio station next to a giant talking cow.
  • Saucer-Shaped Theater of Gold - Racine, WI
    Built by Johnson Wax to show its film, "To Be Alive!" -- which you can still see in the same theater.

Still at the World's Fair Site

These are the highlights of what is still visible at the old site in Flushing Meadows (which is within strolling distance of the Mets baseball stadium).

1964-65 New York World's Fair Attractions

Address:
Queens, NY
Directions:
Take the #7 train to 111th St. in Queens. Walk downhill on 111th St. (south) for four blocks. Just after you cross under a bridge, you'll see the rockets to the left; you can cut diagonally through the parking lot to get to them. The supersonic jet sculpture is behind the rockets. To get to the other World's Fair sites, walk down the road to the right of the supersonic jet sculpture, then make a left at the geodesic dome and walk across the bridge over the Grand Central Pky. To the right is a gray, boxy building, the Queens Museum of Art; the plaque to the bomb victims is set in the ground, to the left of its front entrance, which faces the Unisphere. To the left of the plaque are the towers and ruins of the New York State Pavilion. The time capsules are on the far side of the Pavilion, to the right, in a little circular patio.
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