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Queens Chronicle

Dreaming of the World’s Fair, past and future

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:31 am, Thu May 29, 2014.

Let’s hear it for Queens! We’re sure Chronicle contributor, semiretired teacher, actor and playwright Mark Lord of Forest Hills won’t mind if we borrow the name of his recent musical to sum up the pride we hope everyone in the borough feels after last Sunday’s spectacular World’s Fair Anniversary Festival in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

What an event. Thousands came out to relive the exuberance of both the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World’s Fairs that each, in its own way, helped put Queens on the map. There were musical and other performances, fireworks, a touching tribute to the man who designed the Unisphere that was attended by his widow, and, of course, Belgian waffles, those tasty treats that debuted at the fair 50 years ago and are still a hit with all ages. And that wasn’t all.

For those who are old enough, the event brought back the memories of the extravaganza in the park they’ve never forgotten over the last 50 years — and, in some cases, 75 (at least one senior citizen brought her ticket book from the 1939-40 fair to show with pride that she had been there). For those who weren’t even born yet, it was a chance to imagine what it must have been like for Flushing Meadows to have been filled with people day after day for months, to walk through what amounted to temporary towns highlighting the latest in human technology and understanding, towns of which now only a few remnants remain.

More than one person told the Chronicle reporter at the festival — none other than that same Mark Lord — that they wished there could be another World’s Fair here.

Which raises the simple question: Why not?

No, there is no driving force today quite like Robert Moses, the legendary and controversial urban planner who was behind both fairs. And it often seems that we Americans simply think smaller than we did 50 or 75 years ago. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done.

We certainly would rather see Flushing Meadows host another temporary event such as a World’s Fair than be further developed permanently, as so many have tried to do. It was only just last year that public opposition defeated a plan to build a soccer stadium right on top of the Fountain of the Planets, one of the neglected remnants of the 1964-65 fair. And of course the Willets Point redevelopment project involves building on part of the park, albeit a part that’s now paved over for parking.

And we fear that if New York were to make another bid for the Olympics, an idea recently floated again, and if it were to actually win this time, the park would again be targeted for development. We don’t need that, we don’t want that, and the Olympics are almost always a financial disaster for their host city and nation anyway — just ask Russia or Great Britain.

We much prefer the idea of billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, who said both during his failed campaign for mayor last year and more recently that he would love to see another World’s Fair here. Crucially, Catsimatidis has also said publicly that he would be willing to help bankroll the restoration and repurposing of the New York State Pavilion, the most sadly neglected relic of the 1964-65 fair.

Borough President Melinda Katz appears dedicated to the idea of saving the endangered parts of the pavilion, the Tent of Tomorrow and the Observation Towers. Katz is as serious a player in city politics and governance as Catsimatidis is in business. Maybe together Katz and Cats can actually save the pavilion. And maybe, just maybe, they could even see it put to use again for another World’s Fair. It’s worth dreaming about. Let’s hear it for Queens!

Welcome to the discussion.