On the surface, there appear to be only a few relics left from the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows, but look a little deeper and there is quite a bit more — if you know where to search.
The 12-story-high Unisphere and neglected New York State Pavilion are the two most visible reminders of the fair, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. Part of that pavilion was the circular Theaterama, which several years ago was transformed as the Queens Theatre.
The Port Authority Heliport, designed for sightseeing tours of the fair with a landing deck on the roof, is now Terrace on the Park. It featured the Top of the Fair restaurant with seating for more than 1,000 and a cocktail lounge for 400 on the floor below that offered international mixed drinks. Today it’s a catering hall.
The Singer Bowl became the Louis Armstrong Stadium, part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The bowl was an open-air stadium which held 18,000 people and was the scene of U.S. Olympic trials, folk festivals and more. It is scheduled for demolition as part of the tennis center’s renovation plans by 2018.
Several statues designed for the fair remain, including “Forms in Transit,” “The Rocket Thrower,” “Form” and “Freedom of the Human Spirit.” In addition, The Whispering Column of Jerash, an ancient 25-foot stone pillar designed by the Romans for an ancient Jordanian city, remains in the park. It was given to the fair by King Hussein of Jordan during the event and displayed in front of the Pavilion of Jordan.
Another statue associated with the 1964 fair is of George Washington. It is a copy of a model displayed at the Masonic Pavilion and honored Washington’s association with the Masons. The bronze replica was erected in 1967 in Flushing Meadows, the same day the World’s Fair Corp. officially returned the park back to the city.
An early 1900s carousel was situated in the Lake Amusement area of the fair and moved in 1968 near the Queens Zoo. It was a combination of two Coney Island merry-go-rounds made by the famous carver Marcus Illions.
The fair had a full-service post office on the grounds. New sorting and handling machines allowed the post office to deliver mail twice a day, six days a week to fair exhibitions. Visitors could see the operation and hear a narration via a 9-foot-high ramp. Today it is used for storage and maintenance by the Parks Department and is located across from the miniature golf course.
The geodesic dome that is now an aviary at the Queens Zoo had two earlier incarnations at the fair. It began as an information pavilion and in 1965 was transformed into an exhibit on Winston Churchill, who had recently died.
The reflecting pools leading to the Unisphere are a vestige of the 1939 fair.
There were many fountains, but only two sorry remnants remain from 1964. The Pool of Industry’s Fountain of the Planets and the Astral Fountain are all that’s left. The grandest was the Fountain of the Planets located in the Pool of Industry. Considered the largest fountain in the world, it sent 10,000 tons of water in the air in shifting patterns, sometimes reaching as high as 150 feet. Each night special lighting, fireworks and music helped orchestrate a spectacular show.
Today the fountain is a stagnant piece of water, often strewn with garbage. At one point, former Mayor Bloomberg wanted to turn it into a slalom course for a proposed Summer Olympics and later Major League Soccer wanted to replace it with a soccer stadium. Neither plan came to fruition.
Other than the New York State Pavilion — where plans are being considered for its reuse — the Fountain of the Planets is the most neglected spot in the park.
Not doing much better is the Astral Fountain, near the New York State Pavilion. The water has been drained and the decorative star-patterned encasement has been long-removed. It’s just a concrete circle.
Located nearby is the Excedera, a round stone bench that commemorates the location of the Vatican Pavilion, which Pope Paul VI visited.
Also near the New York State Pavilion is a granite monument that marks the spot where time capsules from the 1939 and 1964 fairs are buried. During the ’64 fair, the large capsule was suspended in the air above the pavilion. Visitors could sign a book and place their names in the capsule.
It was lowered into the ground the day before the fair closed on Oct. 16, 1965 and included a bikini, a credit card, a Beatles record and birth control pills among hundreds of other objects. Both capsules are supposed to remain underground for 5,000 years.
The undulating Hall of Science and Space Park were built for the fair and remain today. The building has been expanded several times and the original facility is undergoing renovation and expected to reopen in October. The rockets underwent a major facelift a few years ago and now gleam for the world to see.
Although the Queens Botanical Garden had its beginnings at the 1939 fair, as Gardens on Parade, it had to move across the street off College Point Boulevard to make way for the 1964 extravaganza. Some of the original trees were moved there.
Parks Department officials say that the 1964 fair’s administration building, a prefab structure, was always going to remain and it has near the Queens Museum. President Kennedy went there to see a model of the fair in 1962.
John Krawchuk, director of historic preservation capital projects, told the Chronicle that about 5 percent of the fiberglass benches from the fair remain. There are also entrance pilllars at the Grand Central Parkway and College Point Boulevard entrances.
Still questionable is the fate of the underground house. The pavilion cost $1 to enter and featured a home of the future tucked away beneath the ground. After the fair was over all pavilions were expected to be demolished by the sponsor.
But demolition is expensive and the story is the owner may have just destroyed the surface structure and removed the furniture, then buried the house.
Parks officials believe it’s gone, but some individuals still are hoping to investigate through scientific equipment to see if it’s there. The location is between the Hall of Science and Terrace on the Park.
Perhaps the most unique exhibit remaining at the fairgrounds is the New York City Panorama. Visitors rode on simulated helicopters around the city that featured 895,000 buildings in a scale of 1 to 1,200. The copters are gone, but the panorama remains in the New York City Building, now the Queens Museum.
This is also the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair. A few relics remain, including the New York City Building, that later served as headquarters for the United Nations General Assembly from 1946 to 1951 and after the second fair became the Queens Museum.
A boathouse from 1939 on Meadow Lake was renovated a few years ago and is used for storage by nonprofit groups
There are also two large, imposing flagpoles topped by eagles overlooking the Van Wyck Expressway. And one bench from 1939 remains near the gazebo outside the museum.
This is the second in a series of articles about the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows.
• The Rocket Thrower — north of Unisphere, halfway to Fountain of the Planets.
• Form — northwest of Unisphere.
• Freedom of the Human Spirit — halfway between Unisphere and USTA.
• Forms in Transit — near Hall of Science parking lot.
• The Whispering Column of Jerash — west of The Rocket Thrower.
• George Washington — closest to the Louis Armstrong Stadium, near the Rocket Thrower
• Time capsules — southwest of NY State Pavilion
• The Excedera — east of NY State Pavilion
• Astral Fountain — between NY State Pavilion and the Excedera
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.