Two New York icons, the Whitestone Bridge and the 1939 World’s Fair, celebrate their 75th anniversaries this year.
In their honor, the Queens Library and the Queens Historical Society have joined forces to recognize the connection between the two with an extensive photo exhibition on view at the Whitestone branch of the library. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Entitled “The Bridge and the Fair,” the display explores the social, economic and political environments which made both possible.
Focusing primarily on the construction of the bridge, the exhibit also includes four or five images of the fair’s opening ceremony, according to the Queens Historical Society curator, Richard Hourahan, who oversaw the creation of the exhibit.
Hourahan said the exhibit consists of some two dozen photographs, opening with the connection between the bridge and the fair.
Among the exhibit’s highlights are an image of a parade over the bridge heading to the fair the day before the latter’s official opening, as well as multiple images of the bridge in its various stages of construction.
Included are a few rare photos that captured some of the former construction workers in action, images that Hourahan said lend a “more personal” feel to the construction process.
While Hourahan indicated that not all of the photographs are dated, he said every effort was made to arrange them chronologically, the better to show progress in the construction.
The exhibit draws heavily from photos on loan from the MTA, augmented with additional images taken from the society’s own collection.
Most of the images have not been seen by the public for at least 20 years, according to Hourahan. Designed by Othmar Ammann, the bridge opened to traffic on April 29, 1939, the day before the fair first welcomed the public, allowing for easy access to Queens from the Bronx and New England — the Throgs Neck opened in 1961.
A suspension bridge that crosses the East River, it originally consisted of four lanes for vehicular traffic as well as pedestrian walkways. The original toll was 25 cents.
According to Hourahan, the bridge was on the drawing boards for a decade and the total construction time was between 18 and 24 months.
The short construction time may at least partially be attributed to the personal interest then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt took in the success of the World’s Fair.
Roosevelt, along with New York City’s mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, helped keep the pressure on.
“Between 1937 and 1939 a lot of forces came together for the bridge and the fair,” Hourahan said.
In 1943, the walkways on the bridge were removed and two additional lanes were added for vehicles.
While the original photos are larger, Hourahan said the small space available for the current exhibit dictated that the photos be reduced to 8-by-10s.
Hourahan sees the exhibit as part of the borough’s high-profile recognition of the anniversaries of the two New York World’s Fairs.
The 1964-65 edition is celebrating an anniversary of its own this year, its fiftieth.
“We want to get into the community,” Hourahan said, adding that the site for the exhibit was chosen because the library is conveniently located near the bridge, is easily accessible by car and public transportation and allows for free admission for the public.
While the exhibit will likely attract visitors from around the borough, Hourahan said he hopes residents of Whitestone will take particular pride in it.