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1964 World's Fair Pavilions: Where Are They Now?

Culture | April 22, 2021

New York State pavilion during the World's Fair, Queens, New York, April 1964 (Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

The 1964 World's Fair, held in Queens, New York, was a showcase of mid-century optimism. Its famous pavilions touted a bright future of science, technology, convenience and style with wonders including a video phone from Bell Labs, a jet pack and the 1965 Ford Mustang. The pavilions themselves were stunning; General Motors and Coca-Cola summoned architectural visions out of The Jetsons, while other brands went with the obvious crowd pleasers: U.S. Rubber offered an 80-foot ferris wheel disguised as a giant tire, Sinclair hosted a display of life-sized dinosaurs, Austria built a ski lodge suspended from A-frame supports.

What happened to these structures after the fair came to an end in October 1965? A few of them stayed put, others were simply demolished, and still others were transported elsewhere and repurposed.

Man's Achievement On A Shrinking Globe

The World's Fair, with the Unisphere. Source: (Wikipedia).

The 1964-65 World’s Fair, which was held in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York City, was dreamed up by several New York businessmen who remembered the 1939 World’s Fair in New York fondly. Once it was underway, the 1964 Fair had more than 140 pavilions, and 110 restaurants for 80 nations, 24 U.S. states, and more than 45 corporations, which could all build attractions or exhibits; the exhibits, however, were dominated by American companies. It ran from April 22 until October 18, 1964, and then again from April 21 until October 17, 1965. The theme of the World’s Fair was “Peace Through Understanding,” and it was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.” The symbol of the World’s Fair was the Unisphere, a 12 story-high-stainless steel model of the earth. 

The Unisphere Became A Symbol Of Queens

The Unisphere. Source: (Wikipedia),

Unfortunately, the 1964 World’s Fair, which did not sell as many tickets as they had anticipated, lost money, and six months after it ended, many of the buildings and pavilions were demolished. They did attempt to repurpose some of them, but some of them were demolished eventually anyway. A number of them were moved to other sites around the country.

The globe known as the Unisphere remains in the center of the park. It has become not only a symbol of the Fair, but of the Borough of Queens as well. The New York Hall of Science, one of the country’s first science museums, still operates on the original site, and includes a Space Park, which deteriorated because of neglect, however, some of it was restored in 2004. 

The New York State Pavilion Is Considered A Ruin

Source: (Duncan Kendall/National Trust for Historic Preservation).

The New York State Pavilion is also still standing, but it has been left to decay. There are three observation towers that are completely unused, though their purpose remains fairly clear -- they were towers from which fair-goers could look out at the cityscape around the fair. The "Tent Of Tomorrow" structure is a little more mysterious. It appears to be little more than a massive concrete oval supported by concrete columns. During the fair, though, it was fairly impressive, with translucent colored roof panels allowing light to stream into a large chamber (bigger than a football field) that featured a giant map of the state of New York. The translucent panels were removed after the fair, exposing the structure to the elements.

In 2009, the New York State pavilion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and NYC Parks announced plans to restore it in 2013; then, in 2015, it was painted yellow. Interestingly, it was one of the sites used for the 1997 Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones movie Men in Black.

Giant Pop Art Went To The Weisman Art Museum

Source: Weisman Art Museum

The Theaterama, a drum-shaped building adjacent to the towers that was another component of the New York State pavilion, wasn't terribly interesting to look at, but architect Philip Johnson commissioned some of the era's biggest artists to create works to spice it up. Two 20-foot-tall mural pieces by pop artists James Rosenquist and Roy Lichtenstein ended up in the collection of the Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota.

The most famous of the Theaterama artworks didn't even make it to the fair. Andy Warhol's "Thirteen Most Wanted Men" depicted 13 mugshots of criminals from a list published by the New York Police Department. After Warhol installed it, and two weeks before opening day, it was painted over with silver paint. The order had reportedly come from New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was concerned that the demographics of the criminals represented -- they tended to be, ahem, Italian -- would be insulting to Italian Americans or visitors from Italy.

In 1993, the Queens Theater in the Park took over the Theaterama.

Jordan's Column Remains In Queens

The Jerash Column. Source: (Justin Rivers/Untapped).

Another culturally significant object was not on loan. Jordan, whose exhibit focused on a reverence for the past and included artifacts, donated the Column of Jerash, which dates from 120 AD. It still remains on the site, and is the second-oldest outdoor monument in New York City, behind only Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.

Michelangelo's Pieta Went Back To The Vatican

The Pieta. Source: (Wikipedia).

The Vatican had a pavilion at the World's Fair that included a chapel where mass was said daily. The pavilion also hosted a recreation of St. Peter's crypt and a photo exhibit about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But without a doubt the star attraction -- of the pavilion if not the entire fair -- was Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Pieta was first put on display in Old St. Peter's Basilica in 1499, and the sculpture had not left the Vatican in the ensuing four-and-a-half centuries -- but Pope John XXIII agreed to let it be shipped to New York for display at the World's Fair.

Before it was transported across the Atlantic, a replica was sent as a test to make sure it could arrive without damage. The original Pieta returned to the Vatican after the fair, but the copy is on display in the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Douglaston, New York.

You Know Where 'It's A Small World' Ended Up

Source: Pinterest

At the 1964 World's Fair, "It’s a Small World" was an attraction designed by Disney for the Pepsi-Cola pavilion, and described as "a salute to UNICEF and all the world's children." A nine-minute boat ride through scores of singing animatronic children and animals, it was extremely popular, and today is one of the signature attractions at Disney parks all over the world. After the New York World's Fair was over, "It's A Small World" was transported across the country to Anaheim, California, and installed at Disneyland, which was then the only Disney park in operation (Florida's Walt Disney World was in the planning stages but did not open until 1971).

Other Disney Creations Found A 'Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow'

Source: veermag.com

General Electric's pavilion hosted a Disney creation as well, "Progressland." A tribute to the benefits of electricity, the attraction presented an animatronic musical of sorts, on a rotating stage, featuring a regular American family singing the praises of their electrical conveniences and devices. This is another exhibit that made its way to Anaheim, as the Disneyland "Carousel of Progress" attraction.

The World's Fair proved to be a showcase for Disney's animatronics, which were a huge hit. The Illinois pavilion featured a life-size Abraham Lincoln giving some of his famous speeches. Called "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln," it too was installed at Disneyland after its time in Queens. 

The Ford pavilion included "Ford's Magic Skyway," which was also designed by Disney engineers. It became the basis for the PeopleMover at Disneyland.

The Big Tire Ferris Wheel Went To Michigan

Source: (Pinterest).

The ferris wheel shaped like a U.S. Royal Tire was broken down into 188 parts and transported by train to a regional Uniroyal Tires sales office in the Detroit community of Allen Park. To this day, it looms over Interstate 94, although it has no gondolas and is not a ride anymore -- it's just a giant tire. Like many kitschy landmarks, the tire has seen its share of vandalism (for some reason, Michiganders were fond of shooting it with arrows) and has been restored periodically. At one point, to promote Uniroyal's "Nailguard" tires, a 11-foot long, 500-lb. nail was stuck into the tread. The nail was later removed and auctioned off for charity.

Sinclair's Dinosaurs Scattered

Dinosaurs traveling to the Fair. Source: (Sinclair Oil Corporation).

Sinclair Oil’s exhibit, “Dinoland,” featured life-size dinosaurs, which grabbed attention during the preparation stage when they were transported by barge down the Hudson River to the fair. In a fairly scandalous development, one of the dinosaurs, Ornitholestes, was stolen while the fair was in progress, and its whereabouts remain unknown. The others, though, went to good homes. Tyrannosaurus rex and Brontosaurus (now called an Apatosaurus) were both set up at Dinosaur Valley National Park in Glen Rose, Texas. Triceratops is in Kentucky (at the Louisville Science Center); Stegosaurus went to Utah (Dinosaur National Monument in Harpers Corner); Corythosaurus landed in Kansas (at the Riverside Park and Zoo in Independence); Ankylosaurus is in Texas (at the Houston Museum of Natural Science); the Struthiomimus is in Wisconsin (at the Milwaukee County Museum); and the Trachodon is at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

The Carillon Went Down To Georgia

Source: iamthemountain.org

The pavilion of the Coca-Cola company, which is based in Atlanta, boasted a 610-bell carillon. After the Fair, it was moved to Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, and additional bells were installed, bringing its total to 732. According to the park's website, Mabel Sharp has been playing the immense instrument for park guests for over 30 years.

Subway Cars Were Tossed Into The Sea

Repurposing the subway cars. Source: (Rich Galiano/Pinterest).

One of the more interesting repurposings involves the subway cars created specifically to service the World's Fair. Some of the cars built for the Flushing Line are in the New York Transit Museum and some are still in use. But much of the fleet was sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, where they serve as part of the “Redbird Reef,” an artificial barrier reef created to support marine life.

Tags: 1964 Worlds Fair | Architecture | Remember This?... | Theme Parks

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!