By Bill Parry
The World’s Fair grounds at Flushing Meadow Corona Park was swarmed Sunday by an estimated 60,000 visitors who turned out for the free, daylong festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair and the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair.
Traffic was backed up on the Grand Central Parkway and the parking lots were filled early as fair lovers mobbed tents filled with memorabilia, live performances by the Andean band Raices, the all-female mariachi band Mariachi Flor de ToLache and Beatles tribute band Liverpool Shuffle.
The crowds around a vintage car collection, which included the original Batmobile, were so congested visitors could barely turn around.
“We knew there was going to be a huge turnout for this event,” Seth Bornstein, president of the Queens Economic Development Corp., said. “It changed the face of Queens forever, so of course everyone would be here to celebrate.”
Bornstein went on to explain that changes to federal immigration laws in 1965 made it possible for many foreign visitors to the ’64 World’s Fair to return and settle in Queens.
“It really did change the borough forever and this place is now part of our fabric,” Bornstein said.
The two World’s Fairs drew a combined 96 million people from around the country and the world.
Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said, “Flushing Meadows Corona Park was the site of a unique moment in history not once, but twice. Today it is a unique park, the largest park in our borough and one we believe is the most diverse in the nation.”
Borough President Melinda Katz called it the crown jewel of the park system in Queens and reiterated her commitment to preserving the iconic New York State Pavilion.
“Look at the excitement right here in the world’s borough,” Katz said. “Paris has the Eiffel Tower, we have the State Pavilion and the Unisphere.”
She paid special attention to the Unisphere, the 300-ton globe surrounded by three rings symbolizing early satellites at the start of the Space Race. Proclamations from Borough Hall and the state Assembly were presented to Delores Clarke, widow of Unisphere designer Gilbert Clarke.
“I’m so thrilled –– he deserves every honor,” she said. “He was a totally dedicated human being.”
The anniversary celebration stretched into the evening with a special performance by the Queens Symphony Orchestra followed by a fireworks display.
“I thought the whole day was great,” festival-goer C.C. Walsh said. “But I don’t think they were prepared for the crowd that showed up, like there wasn’t enough food trucks. The wait for Belgian waffles was over an hour. My friend and I went to the golf course and grabbed a couple of burgers.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.