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The ’64 World’s Fair’s legacy to Queens

Even though it has been 45 years since people streamed into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to attend the World’s Fair, it has left an enduring legacy within the borough.

One huge result of the 1964 World’s Fair was creating more of a name for Queens. Bill Cotter, who has co-authored two books on the fair, said that before attending it, he had a prejudice as someone coming from Brooklyn. He said that, for many people, Queens was merely a place you drove through while going somewhere else.

“I thought it was a real eye opener,” Cotter said. “I think it was just a tremendous time to have the people [going] there and participating there.”

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall also said that the World’s Fair invigorated Queens.

Others see the fair as one of the reasons that Queens has become such a diverse county.

“I feel very strongly that the reason we have such a multi-cultural area of New York … [is] a result of the people that settled here during and after the World’s Fair,” said Whitestone resident Eddie Mantione.

Another large part of the legacy is the buildings that are still standing. Although the vast majority of the structures from the 1964 World’s Fair are only a distant memory, there are handfuls that remain in use in Queens today.

One of the most notable remaining pieces from the fair is the Unisphere, which some now call an unofficial symbol of Queens. The giant globe sits distinctly in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and can easily be seen as one drives past it along the highway.

The building that was formerly the New York City Building is now home to the Queens Museum of Art. For about six years following the fair, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority occupied the building, which was also part of the 1939 World’s Fair, according to museum Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl.

In 1973, the Queens Museum of Art moved into the building. It underwent a major renovation in 1994. In the future, there are plans to undergo a second renovation that will double its current size.

Terrace on the Park, a catering hall which is currently owned by Jimmy Kaloidis and George and Thomas Makkos, is another piece of the past. During the fair, that distinct building was the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. It was also the location of the fair’s turnstiles.

The building was taken over in 1968 and converted into a catering hall that first opened in 1969. Terrace on the Park General Manager Mark Gelfand said that the building had to be “totally gutted” to create the catering hall.

“It’s a very, very unique building because it’s a big T so all the rooms upstairs have a magnificent panorama view,” he said. “It’s a very unique setup. The location is phenomenal because we’re right by every major highway.”

From the very beginning, the plan was for the New York Hall of Science to be a permanent part of the borough. Although it was not ready in time for the very beginning of the fair, it did open several months later on September 9, 1964.

NY Hall of Science Director and Chief Content Officer Eric Siegel said that the facility has changed physically in many ways. It has tripled in size and added new attractions.

“This was a building built to last,” Siegel said, adding that the architect did some “amazing” things with the building and describing the facility’s great hall as “an engineering marvel.”

The Queens Zoo has taken advantage of what was left after the World’s Fair. Although it is has been changed a great deal, it is on the location of a former pavilion.

A couple of years after the fair closed, the city opened a zoo on the grounds. It closed and then reopened and also went through a complete renovation about 17 years ago. One aspect of the zoo that was a part of the fair is the aviary exhibit. The zoo also uses an original dome from the fair, although it is in a different location.

“It does a tremendous amount to place us in the context of the World’s Fair and the World’s Fair dome,” Queens Zoo Director Dr. Scott Silver said. He also said that during his 11 years at the zoo he has “heard some great stories of people visiting the World’s Fair.”

Queens Theatre in the Park (QTIP) has also benefited from the fair. The building it is now in was known as the Theaterama during the 1964 World’s Fair. Like many of the other facilities, QTIP has also undergone many renovations to change the appearance of it.

 

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