Queens salutes two World’s Fairs

By Alan Krawitz

As the site of both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, the history of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the events are inextricably linked.

So it’s only fitting that the 75th and 50th anniversaries of the fairs are commemorated in the park with a special NYC Park-sponsored free festival day of events and celebrations May 18 that will include site tours, music, dance, crafts, cultural exhibits and international foods.

“While many people remember the inventions first exhibited at the World’s Fairs, we all should know that Flushing Meadows Corona Park is also one of the Fairs’ enduring creations,” said city Parks First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh.

Kavanagh said that during the past 75 years, Flushing Meadows has improved the lives of New Yorkers as a distinct recreational and cultural destination. “With these anniversary events we will take a look back at the Fairs and a look forward to the future of Flushing Meadows – the World’s Park and Queens’ backyard.”

The anniversary celebrations for the two World’s Fairs were announced last month by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who co-chairs the World’s Fair Anniversary Committee with state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth).

The celebrations will kick off Tuesday with an opening ceremony at 10:45 a.m. and the unique chance to go inside the long dormant New York State Pavilion’s Tent of Tomorrow, currently the focus of numerous preservation efforts.

Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. the New York State Pavilion Project is granting special access to the pavilion for hard hat tours on a first come, first serve basis.

The World’s Fair Anniversary Festival Day will be held on Sunday, May 18, 2014 at The Unisphere, Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The festival will run from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m, followed by a concert and fireworks from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Events marking the fairs will be held throughout the borough over the next six months.

Queens’ preservationist Michael Perlman called the Fairs “one of the most significant moments in American history… witnessed in the heart of Queens.”

“We need to reflect upon and commemorate our World’s Fair history from a local to a national to an international history,” said Perlman, who supports various initiatives to save the NYS Pavilion as well as other structures in the park.

“The World’s Fairs shaped our city’s culture and architecture. It was a brilliant period which exercised the human mind in unique ways, which was proven on the basis of how various industries and countries made their mark by developing memorable exhibits, which educated the public by introducing revolutionary technologies while updating existing products.”

In fact, the first black-and-white television was officially introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair, while Ford’s iconic Mustang made its debut at the World’s Fair in 1964.

And while Perlman along with other city preservationists would like all of Flushing Meadows Park designated as a city Scenic Landmark, including individual landmark status for the Hall of Science, Queens Museum (New York City Building) and Terrace on the Park, the NYS Pavilion has been receiving attention from city officials, activists and elected officials alike.

The park’s distinctive Unisphere structure was designated a landmark back in 1995.

One of the most striking features of the pavilion was the Texaco Company’s map of New York State, designed with 567 terrazzo mosaic panels, weighing 400 pounds each.

Rand McNally & Company helped construct the $1 million map, which featured all of the state’s 50,000 square miles of New York State in vivid detail. The pavilion has also been featured in movies such as “Men in Black” and ‘‘Iron Man 2,” owing to its flying saucer-like architecture.

According to the city’s Parks Department, however, by 1976, the pavilion’s roof above the map became unstable and the tent was removed, exposing the map of New York State to the elements.

In December, the Parks Department released cost estimates involving the pavilion. To restore the 250-foot Pavilion for a new use would be $72 million, stabilizing it as a ruin $43 million, and demolishing it would be about $14 million.

Groups such as the nonprofit People for the Pavilion have been working to preserve and reuse the New York State Pavilion by raising awareness through programs, events and communications.

“Landmarking, restoring, and creatively reusing the endangered NYS Pavilion will commemorate the legacy of the 1964 World’s Fair and our history on a borough level to an international level, and generate civic pride, enable recreation and educational opportunities, and also create jobs during harsh economic times,” Perlman said.

“It will also pay tribute to the late great Philip Johnson and his Jet Age architectural masterpiece.”

For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/parks.

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