1964 New York World's Fair

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Image:Max mordecai.jpg
View of the New York World's Fair 1964/1965 as seen from the observation towers of the New York State pavilion. The Fair's symbol, Unisphere, is the central image.

The 1964/1965 New York World's Fair was the second World's Fair to be held at Flushing Meadows Park in the Borough of Queens, in New York City in the twentieth century. It opened on April 22, 1964, and ran for two six-month seasons concluding on October 17, 1965. The World's Fair took place without sanctioning from the Bureau of International Expositions, the only one to do so.

It was the largest World's Fair to be held in the United States, occupying nearly a square mile (2.6 km²) of land. Hailing itself as a "Universal and International" exposition, the Fair's theme was "Peace Through Understanding," dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." The theme was symbolized by a twelve-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called Unisphere. United States corporations dominated the exposition as exhibitors at the expense of international participation. The Fair is best remembered as a showcase of mid-twentieth century American corporate culture. The nascent Space Age, with its vista of promise was well-covered by the exhibits. More than fifty-one million people attended the Fair, but this was less than the hoped-for seventy million.

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[edit] Controversial beginnings

The 1964/1965 Fair was conceived by a group of New York businessmen who fondly remembered their childhood experiences at the 1939/1940 New York World's Fair and wanted to provide that same experience for their children and grandchildren. Thoughts of an economic boon to the city as the result of increased tourism was also a major reason for holding another Fair a scant twenty-five years after the 1939/1940 extravaganza.

World's Fairs in the United States are not government financed. Organizers must turn to private financing and the sale of bonds to pay the huge costs to stage them. The organizers hired New York's "Master Builder," Robert Moses, to head the corporation established to run the Fair because he was experienced in raising money for vast public projects. Moses had been a formidable figure in the city since coming to power in the 1930s. He was responsible for the construction of much of the city's highway infrastructure and, as Parks Commissioner for decades, the creation of much of the city's park system.

In the mid-1930s Moses oversaw the conversion of a vast Queens garbage dump into the glittering fairgrounds that hosted the 1939/1940 World's Fair. Called Flushing Meadows Park, it was Moses' grandest park scheme. He envisioned this vast park, comprising some 1300 acres (5 km²) of land and located in the geographical center of the city, as a major recreational playground for New Yorkers. When the 1939/1940 World's Fair ended in financial failure, Moses did not have the available funds to complete work on his project. He saw the 1964/1965 Fair as a means to finish what the earlier Fair had begun.

To ensure profits to complete the Park, Fair organizers knew they would have to maximize receipts from the Fair. An attendance of seventy million people would be needed in order to turn a profit and, for an attendance that large to be feasible, the Fair would need to be held for two years. The World's Fair Corporation also decided to charge site rental fees to all exhibitors who wished to construct pavilions on the Fairgrounds. These seemingly prudent decisions caused the Fair to come to blows with the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), the international body headquartered in Paris that sanctions World's Fairs. The United States was not a member of the BIE at the time but Fair organizers understood that a sanction by the BIE would assure that its nearly forty member nations would participate in the Fair.

BIE rules stated that an international exposition may run for one six-month period only, no rent may be charged to exhibitors who wish to participate and only one exposition may be held in any given country within a 10-year period. Both Seattle, Washington and Montreal, Canada had already been sanctioned by the BIE to host World's Fairs in 1962 and 1967 respectively at the time New York put their World's Fair bid before the BIE in 1960. Robert Moses, undaunted by these rules, journeyed to Paris to seek official approval for the New York Fair. When the BIE balked at New York's bid, Moses, used to having his way in New York, angered the BIE delegates by taking his case to the press, publicly stating his disdain for their organization and their rules. The BIE retaliated by taking the action of formally requesting their member nations not to participate in the New York Fair. The 1964/1965 New York World's Fair thus became the only significant World's Fair in history to be held without BIE endorsement.

[edit] International participation

The BIE decision was nearly a disaster for the Fair. The absence of Canada, Australia, most of the major European nations and the Soviet Union, all members of the BIE, tarnished the image of the Fair. Additionally, New York was forced to compete with both Seattle and Montreal for international participants, with many nations choosing the officially sanctioned World's Fairs of those cities over the New York Fair. The Fair turned to trade and tourism organizations within many countries to host national exhibits in lieu of official government sponsorship of pavilions.

New York City, in the middle of the 20th century, was at a zenith of economic power and world prestige. Unconcerned by BIE rules, smaller nations saw it as an honor to host an exhibit at the Fair in the world's most prestigious city[citation needed]. Therefore smaller nations and so-called third-world countries made up the majority of the international participation. In the end, only Spain and Vatican City hosted a major national presence at the Fair. Other international participants included Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Thailand, Philippines, Greece and Pakistan, to name a few.

One of the Fair's most popular exhibits was the Vatican pavilion where Michelangelo's Pietà was displayed. A recreation of a medieval Belgian village proved to be very popular also. There, Fairgoers were treated to a new taste sensation in the form of the "Bel-Gem Waffle" — a combination of waffle, strawberries and whipped cream. Elsewhere emerging African nations displayed their wares in the Africa Pavilion. Controversy broke out when the Jordanian pavilion displayed a mural emphasizing the plight of the Palestinian people. The city of Berlin, a Cold War hotspot, hosted a popular display.

[edit] American industry takes the spotlight

Image:NYWF Bag 1964.JPG
Souvenir bag art

At the 1939/1940 World's Fair, industrial exhibitors played a major role by hosting huge, elaborate exhibits. Many of them returned to the 1964/1965 Fair with even more elaborate versions of the shows they had presented twenty-five years earlier. The most notable of these was General Motors whose Futurama, a show in which visitors seated in three-abreast moving armchairs glided past detailed dioramas showing what life might be like in the "near-future," proved to be the Fair's most popular exhibit. Nearly twenty-six million people took the journey into the future during the Fair's two-year run.

Other popular exhibits included that of the IBM Corporation where a giant five hundred-seat grandstand was pushed by hydraulic rams high up into an ovoid-shaped rooftop theater. There, a nine-screen film showed the workings of computer logic. The Bell System hosted a fifteen-minute ride in moving armchairs depicting the history of communications in dioramas and film. DuPont presented a musical review by composer Michael Brown called "The Wonderful World of Chemistry." At Parker Pen, a computer would make a match to a world-wide International PenFriend(R).

The surprise hit of the Fair was a non-commercial movie short presented by the SC Johnson Company (S.C. Johnson Wax) called "To be alive!" The film celebrated the joy of life found worldwide and in all cultures. The movie went on to win an Academy Award in 1966.

[edit] Disney influence

The Fair is remembered as the vehicle Walt Disney used to design and perfect the system of "audio-animatronics," in which a combination of sound and computers control the movement of life-like robots to act out scenes. The Walt Disney Company was responsible for the creation of four shows at the Fair:

After the Fair, there was some discussion of the Disney company retaining these exhibits on-site and converting Flushing Meadows Park into an east coast version of Disneyland, but this idea was abandoned. Instead, Disney relocated several of these exhibits to Disneyland, and subsequently replicated them at other Disney Theme Parks; Walt Disney World along with Epcot are essentially the realization of the original concept of an "east coast Disneyland".

[edit] Federal and state exhibits

The Federal exhibit was titled "Challenge to Greatness" and focused on President Johnson's "Great Society" proposals. The main show in the multi-million dollar pavilion was a fifteen-minute ride through a filmed presentation of American history. Visitors seated in moving grandstands rode past movie screens that slid in, out and over the path of the traveling audience. Elsewhere, there were tributes to President John F. Kennedy, who had broken ground for the pavilion back in December 1962 but had been assassinated in November 1963 before the fair opened.

New York State played host to the Fair at its six million dollar open-air pavilion called the "Tent of Tomorrow." Designed by famed modernist architect Philip Johnson, the pavilion also boasted the Fair's high spot observation towers.

Wisconsin exhibited the "World's Largest Cheese." Florida brought a dolphin show and water skiers to New York. Oklahoma gave weary Fairgoers a restful park to relax in. Missouri displayed the state's space-related industries. At the New York City pavilion, a huge scale model of the City of New York was on display complete with a simulated helicopter ride for easy viewing. Visitors could dine at Hawaii's "Five Volcanoes" restaurant.

[edit] Controversial ending

The Fair came to a close embroiled in controversy over allegations of financial mismanagement. Controversy had plagued it during much of its two-year run mainly due to Robert Moses' inability to get along with the press. As a result the press seemed unduly harsh on the Fair, criticizing everything from a perceived lack of fine arts displays to the prices charged for admission to charges that the Fair smacked of crass commercialism. It was no secret that the attendance had been disappointing. Only twenty-four million people attended the Fair by the close of the 1964 season. Whether the attitude of the press played a part in poor attendance or whether the apathy of New Yorkers toward the Fair gave the press an additional excuse to attack it is open to debate. But it was a gross accounting error brought to light at the close of the 1964 season that gave the press their most destructive ammunition.

The Fair Corporation had taken in millions of dollars in advance ticket sales for both the 1964 and 1965 seasons. However, the receipts of these sales were booked entirely against the first season of the Fair. This made it appear that the Fair had plenty of operating cash up to and including the first season when, in fact, they were inadvertently borrowing from the second season's gate to pay the bills. Before and during the 1964 season, the Fair spent lavishly despite attendance that was considerably below expectations, simply because there was apparently so much money in the coffers. By the end of the 1964 season Moses, and the press, began to realize that there would not be enough money to pay the bills and the Fair teetered on bankruptcy. There would be millions of people attending in 1965 who had tickets to enter but whose receipts had already been spent. The press, and soon the City of New York, began to demand accountability for what they considered gross mismanagement of the Fair.

The Fair was eventually able to limp through the second season without having to declare bankruptcy because of emergency monies provided by the city, an increase in ticket prices and a surge in attendance as the Fair drew to a close. However, the financial crisis further tarnished the image of the Fair and of Robert Moses, who was seen to be taking personal advantage of the Fair after the escrow account guaranteeing his one million dollar salary was discovered and made known to the public by the New York press.

[edit] Epilogue

Image:New York Worlds Fairgrounds.jpg
Aerial view of the remaining structures in Flushing Meadows in 2004
Image:WorldFairTower1.jpg
The observatory towers.

Like its predecessor, the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair lost money. It was unable to repay its financial backers their investment and it became embroiled in legal disputes with its creditors until 1970, when the books were finally closed and the New York World's Fair 1964-1965 Corporation was dissolved. Most of the pavilions constructed for the Fair were demolished within six months following the Fair's close. While only a handful of pavilions survived, some of them traveled great distances and found reuse following the Fair:

  • The Austria pavilion became a ski lodge in western New York.
  • The Wisconsin pavilion became a radio station in Neillsville, Wisconsin.
  • The US Royal Tire-shaped Ferris Wheel was relocated to become a road sign along Interstate 94 near Detroit, Michigan.
  • The Pavilion of Spain relocated to St. Louis, Missouri and is now a part of a Hilton Hotel.
  • The Parker Pen pavilion became offices for the Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.
  • The Johnson Wax disc-shaped theater was reworked and became part of the S.C. Johnson office complex in Racine, Wisconsin.
  • The stained glass windows from the Vatican pavilion were built into Saint Mary's Church in Groton, Connecticut.
  • The Christian Science pavilion became a church in Poway, California.
  • The Carillon from the Coca-Cola Pavilion was moved to Stone Mountain Park, near Atlanta, Georgia.
  • As noted, the Disney-created ride called "it's a small world" was transferred to Disneyland, as was the "Carousel of Progress." The Abraham Lincoln animatronics figure became the centerpiece of the "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" Show. Scenes from the Ford Magic Skyway were used in Disneyland Railroad's Primeval World Diorama and the ride system was improved upon and used for the PeopleMover.

New York City was left with a much improved Flushing Meadows Park following the Fair, taking possession of the Park from the Fair Corporation in June, 1967. At the center of the park stands the symbol of "Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe" – the Fair's Unisphere symbol, depicting our earth of "The Space Age." (The Unisphere later was made famous again in 1997 when it was featured in the film Men in Black.) The Unisphere has become a symbol of Queens, and has appeared on the cover of the county's phone books. The city also received a multi-million dollar Science Museum and Space Park exhibiting the rockets and vehicles used in America's early space exploration projects.

Both the New York State pavilion and the Federal pavilion were retained for future use. No reuse was ever found for the Federal pavilion and it became severely deteriorated and vandalized before being demolished in 1977. The New York State pavilion also found no residual use other than as TV and movie sets, such as an episode of McCloud; for The Wiz; and part of the setting (and the plot) for Men in Black. In the decades after the Fair closed it remains an abandoned and badly neglected relic of the Fair.

The Space Park deteriorated due to neglect, but the surviving rockets were restored and placed back on display in 2004. It is presently open again as part of the New York Hall of Science, a portion of which is a remnant of the Fair. The Fair's Heliport has found reuse as a banquet / catering facility called "Terrace on the Park."

In 1978, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, as it is now called, became the home of the United States Tennis Association and the US Open tennis tournament is played there annually. The former Singer Bowl, later renamed Louis Armstrong Stadium, was the tournament's primary venue until the larger Arthur Ashe Stadium was built. Together the two make up the complex called the USTA National Tennis Center.

Image:Worldsfaircover.jpg
World's Fair documentary cover

The former New York City building is home to the Queens Museum of Art and continues to display the multi-million dollar model of the city of New York.

Shea Stadium, while not part of the Fair grounds proper, was opened at the same time as the fair and was listed in the fair's maps. It remains the home of the New York Mets baseball team, who are planning on building a new stadium in the same general area.

In 1995, PBS produced The 1964 World's Fair, a 52-minute documentary about the Fair, narrated by Judd Hirsch. [1]

Also, parts of Universal Studios Florida in Orlando, Florida may have been inspired by the 1964 New York World's Fair. The entrance to the park has a globe that resembles the Unisphere with "Universal Studios" on it, and an area of the park called "World Expo" that features worldly music and flags of many nations. In 1999, the World Expo area expanded and opened the Men In Black: Alien Attack attraction with recreations of New York observatory towers in front of the building. The attraction itself is based on a fictional World's Fair pavilion, you enter as a tourist but soon you ride an elevator to the facility and learn that you are trying out to be a part of the Men In Black.

[edit] Sources

[edit] Text

  • International Participation in the New York World's Fair 1964-1965 Sharyn Elise Jackson. [2]
  • Third Supplemental Report on New York World's Fair 1964 -1965 Corporation Covering Operations from Inception to December 31, 1966. October 26, 1967. [3]
  • World's Fair Legacies William P. Young. [4]
  • Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Today William P. Young. [5]
  • Editors, Time-Life Books Official Guide: 1964-1965 New York World's Fair . Book Sales: 1963-1965.

[edit] Photographs

  • Fairgrounds view from the observation towers of the NY State Pavilion Photograph by Max Mordecai (deceased). Donated to GNU by son, Glen Mordecai, July 19, 2005. [6]
  • Aerial View of Relics of the Fair Source: Unknown (not placed by the author). GNU Public Domain Photograph

[edit] External links

1964 New York World's Fair

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