By Alex Christodoulides
The 1964-65 World's Fair returned to Queens for a day 44 years after opening as collectors and aficionados gathered in Corona to reminisce, trade tales, buy and sell memorabilia and watch video footage of the event.
Texas native Curtis Cates never attended the World's Fair, since it was too far from home, but that did not stop him from filming a documentary about it — “Peace Through Understanding: The 1964/65 New York World's Fair” — with collaborator Terri Marlowe.
“I was very disappointed at not being able to go. I read all the stories in Time and Life magazines. It's the king of all fairs, and to this day I think it's the greatest fair,” Cates said.
Marlowe said the self-financed project could have been a much longer film, such was the enthusiasm and interest in the fair.
“The hardest part was reducing it to a cohesive story because every place we visited was a film unto itself,” she said.
The trip back in time took place Sunday at the Holiday Inn in Corona, overlooking the remaining World's Fair buildings in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. There were photos of the various country-themed pavilions on display, and vendors sold pieces of their collections of memorabilia — books, ceramic mugs, elevations of some of the buildings signed by architect Philip Johnson — as short films about the fair played in another room.
Brooklyn native Fred Stern attended the World's Fair when he was 12, telling his mother a tall tale in order to go unsupervised to Queens.
“My friend Harvey and I told my mom we were going shopping on 86th Street in Bensonhurst. She said, 'The stores aren't open at 7:30 in the morning,' but we had a two-hour train ride ahead of us,” he recalled. “I got home at midnight. God bless my mom, I got hit, but there was nothing she could do to take that away from me.”
Roxana Stern helped her husband, Fred, at a table groaning under the weight of his World's Fair memorabilia, and said the collection was so big he had to rent a storage space for it.
“We're trying to narrow it down,” she said.
Event organizer Richard Post said things came together easily for the one-day nostalgia fest.
“When I told people what I wanted to do, they were very supportive, including the hotel,” he said.
Cates had a ready explanation for the enthusiasm, the sense of possibility and change in 1964-65.
“It was an amazing time in history: Kennedy had just been assassinated, there was the Civil Rights Movement,” he said.
Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.