The Queens Museum, which started out as the New York City Pavilion during the 1939 World’s Fair, is the only remaining building left at Flushing Meadows from that time. It is also the major repository of souvenirs and memorabilia from the 1964 extravaganza.
If you like tchotches and souvenirs, this is the place for you. The museum now has on view 900 three-dimensional pieces arranged by date. There are sections for both the 1964 and 1939 fairs.
Items from 1964 range from salt and pepper shakers, Unisphere plates, trays, coasters, ash trays and more to models of buildings planned for the fair.
David Strauss, a museum spokesman, said the exhibit will remain permanent, replacing a smaller one displayed before the facility’s expansion, completed last year.
Soon to be added, Strauss said, is a touch-tone telephone — very modern for the time — that was used by President Kennedy to signal the one-year countdown to the fair, which he did not live long enough to see.
There are soft plastic replicas of dinosaurs from the Sinclair pavilion in different colors. Strauss is hoping the museum will be able to track down one of the vending machines that made them for visitors.
Meanwhile, another staff member, Annie Tummino, is working with the help of a grant to catalogue fair post cards, brochures and other ephemera so that the public will be able to access them in the future.
If you’re looking for a virtual experience of the 50-year-old fair, head to the museum’s exhibit titled “ChronoLeap: The Great World’s Fair Adventure,” next to the memorabilia. There are video tours of pavilions and even a short conversation with Robert Moses, president of the fair.
Also on display now and through Sept. 7 is an exhibit on artist Andy Warhol’s “13 Most Wanted Men,” which he designed to appear on the side of the Theaterama, part of the New York State Pavilion.
It depicted mugshots from an NYPD booklet of the most wanted criminals of 1962, but proved too controversial and was painted over before the fair opened. Warhol later made another set and nine of them are assembled at the museum.
Future fair-related programs there include:
• An exhibit of 30 World’s Fair posters from a 100-year period, spanning several continents, from May 25 to Aug. 31.
• A showing of rare photographs taken of Louis Armstrong on June 30, 1964, which was Louis Armstrong Day at the fair, from June 30 to Sept. 14. Corona was Armstrong’s home.
• “That Kodak Moment: Picturing the Fairs” includes more than 1,500 donations by professional and amateur photographers of the two fairs, from Oct. 5 to Jan. 4, 2015.
But hands down the most famous and long-standing exhibit is the Panorama of the City of New York. It remains from the 1964-65 fair as a popular attraction for children and adults. Departing museum Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl, who will become the city’s cultural affairs commissioner, has called the Panorama “our pride and joy.”
The exhibit is built to scale and featured 835,000 buildings (now 895,000) from all five boroughs. Visitors would board mock helicopters for simulated flights that took them around the city with the lighting changing to evening. The helicopters are long gone, but a ramp around the panorama allows people to see the city in all its glory.
It is still being updated on a piecemeal basis, such as the additions of Battery Park City and the Yankees and Mets baseball stadiums.
After the 1939 fair ended, the art deco building was used by the Parks Department, including its chief, Moses, who ran the two fairs. From 1946 until 1952 the facility served as the headquarters for the United Nations. It was here that the state of Israel was born, India became independent and the Republic of Korea organized.
Moses wanted the UN to settle there permanently since it was close to the airports and would be less disruptive than in Manhattan, where it eventually was situated.
After the UN left for Manhattan, the World’s Fair Ice Rink took over and for some time included a roller rink on one side.
The other side of the building became home to the museum in 1972. It was modernized in 1994 and a major overhaul was completed last year after the ice rink moved to a new facility in the park, providing the museum with almost twice the amount of space. It also added an additional entrance facing the Grand Central Parkway.
This is the third in a series about the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows.
If you attended the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows and are old enough to remember it, the Queens Chronicle wants to hear from you.
As part of its series on the 50th anniversary of the fair, the Chronicle is seeking reminiscences from Queens residents who were there.
What were your favorite memories of the fair? What astounded you? Did you go often? Do you still have any souvenirs from it?
We will also accept photographs of you and your family at the fair for possible publication. The deadline for your comments and photographs is May 8. Email to LizR@qchron.com or by mail to Liz Rhoades, Queens Chronicle, PO Box 74-7769, Rego Park, NY 11374.
Please put your name and address lightly on the back of photos so they can be returned. Include a separate caption of who is in the picture.
The story will run later in May. We hope to hear from many Queens residents about their reminiscences and what the World’s Fair meant to you.