By all accounts, the World’s Fair Anniversary Festival at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on Sunday, May 18, was a huge hit with Queens residents. More than 100,000 came to celebrate not only the anniversary of two gala expositions of a bygone era, but also enjoy just a hint of the magic both fairs provided to generations of New Yorkers.
In a way, however, one could not help but feel a twinge of sadness walking around the park, thinking about what might have been, what it once was and what it is today.
One of the main symbols of the 1964 fair-the New York State Pavilion-towered over the festivities, rusting away after decades of neglect, awaiting a savior to come along and provide money toward its restoration.
There was also the condition of Flushing Meadows itself; some of the grass fields had no grass at all. Many spots-eroded from overuse by soccer players-were covered with bare dirt, rocks, gravel and even shards of broken glass bottles. Few public bathrooms were available, so most visitors were forced to rely upon portable commodes brought in for the festival.
The 1939-40 World’s Fair was originally a scheme hatched by master builder Robert Moses, in part, to transform a former ash heap into a grand greenspace rivaling Central Park. Economically speaking, the fair proved modestly successful, but Moses didn’t get the funds needed to fully carry out his vision. Moreover, the U.S. was soon thrust into World War II, and the city threw everything it had-including the Trylon and Perisphere, the fair’s symbols recycled for the war effort- toward achieving victory.
The 1964 fair-beloved as it was by Baby Boomers-didn’t make a profit. Today’s Flushing Meadows Park grew in the fair’s shadow, but the city underachieved in turning this nearly 900- acre oasis into the crown jewel of Queens parks, if not the city’s park system.
Over the last five decades, segments of the park were either eaten up by developers; selectively reused for other purposes; eroded from overuse and lack of maintenance; or neglected altogether. At one point, there was even an effort to develop a grand prix auto racetrack that, thankfully, never came to pass.
Rather than selling off another piece to the New York Mets or the United States Tennis Association-or backing some other corporate scheme to take parkland from the people-let’s improve what is there for all the people that visit it year in and year out. Let’s build durable athletic fields, put in more trees and public facilities and reopen the park’s many fountains.
Let’s restore, as Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is advocating, the New York State Pavilion, an effort estimated to cost tens of millions. It should be a year-round attraction; it’s observation deck would surely provide a glorious view of the cityscape, and the Tent of Tomorrow could serve as a venue of the many cultural events that reflect the greatness of Queens.
Queens residents love Flushing Meadows-Corona Park; thousands go there every weekend to play, relax and enjoy nature. The city has taken millions from taxpayers over the years to half-heartedly maintain Flushing Meadows. Now it’s time for the city to go all out and make it the grand park Queens truly deserves.