2004-04-21 / Star Journal

Two World’s Fairs Make 1939, 1964 Stand Out

Two World’s Fairs Make 1939, 1964 Stand Out

More than 23 million people visited the New York State Pavilion and its 226-foot observation tower.More than 23 million people visited the New York State Pavilion and its 226-foot observation tower.

Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).

Welcome to the Worlds Fair!

October 1935 - Groundbreaking

On October 7 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia attends the groundbreaking ceremony of a project to pave and resurface Queens Boulevard from Elmhurst to the Grand Central Parkway intersection. The $1,500,000 improvement, part of the preparation for the World’s Fair, was a WPA project, a reminder that while looking forward to the World of Tomorrow, Queens was still emerging from the Great Depression

“The Unisphere cannot be treated as a building or monument. It is a piece of open structure...”“The Unisphere cannot be treated as a building or monument. It is a piece of open structure...”

August 1937 – Trylon

and Perisphere

The Trylon and Perisphere will be dedicated in an impressive ceremony befitting the $1.7 million project. Work continues on the 18 story high orb with its 700 foot companion during ceremony. The thump-hiss, thump-hiss of the pile driver putting 99 foot ‘sticks’ for the Trylon’s foundation beat a steady rhythm for the speeches and music. Two Navy blimps and dozens of planes circle around. One thousand orange and blue helium filled balloons, each bearing a miniature Trylon and Perisphere, will soar into the air. Present will be several governors, the mayor, officers of great corporations taking exhibit space, judges, ambassadors, chambers of commerce, and officers of historical societies. The court awards $1.4 million to owners of 83 acres of land slated for the World’s Fair, a fraction of the $5.1 million asking price.

December 1937 – Flushing

Meadow Park Improvements

Cost of Worlds Fair will top $150 million. Large portion will go into permanent improvements for Flushing Meadow Park. President of the Worlds Fair Grover Whalen reports that $60 million is budgeted for a Central Mall with statues, lagoons, fountains and landscaping. It will contain the largest statue of modern times, a 65 -foot monument showing George Washington at his inauguration, the largest sundial ever constructed, the largest ball ever built and the largest triangular shape in the world [Trylon and Perisphere], scores of sculptures, hundreds of fountains, five lagoons, five waterfalls and over a thousand trees. A centerpiece will be a group of four sculptures showing President Roosevelt’s famous "Four Freedoms:" Freedom of Press, Religion, Speech and Assembly.

March 1939--The Fair Readies

for Opening Day

The president of the World’s Fair Corporation, Grover A. Whalen, predicted the Fair would bring Queens $100 million. Whalen further explained that visitors to the Fair would spend over a billion dollars in New York City.

The $155 million Fair would be 99.75 percent ready on opening day, April 30. Boy Scouts would have a two-acre exhibition at the Fair. Each week 150 different Scouts and leaders would camp out in tents and demonstrate woodcraft, camp craft, and handicrafts. People living near the fair grounds were invited to register spare rooms in their homes for tourists visiting the Fair. The going rate was $1.50 per night. The advance sales of tickets were brisk--27 admission tickets for $7.50--and season books for $15.

January 1962 – Civic


The upcoming World’s Fair initiates many civic improvements in Queens. A marina for 850 boats, a $94 million highway project, and a $65 million LaGuardia Airport expansion are in the cards. The city is enlarging the Queens Botanical Garden and creating a Queens Museum. The commitment to build a ballpark by April 1, 1964 is on target.

June 1962 – Construction

of the Unisphere

Constructing the Unisphere is an engineering and artistic triumph. To support the globe and resist the wind requires 670 simultaneous equations of engineering problems--an effort that would normally take 10 years. Computers at the Electric Boat Company in Connecticut, which are used in the construction of submarines and other sophisticated military applications, pitch in. To give an idea of the complexity of the problem, only 30 to 40 equations are needed for most structures.

The Unisphere is to be the symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair, illustrating the theme, "peace through understanding in a shrinking globe of an expanding universe." Topographic features on the continents are inflated 44 times. The 120-foot globe has three tons of stainless steel arcs orbiting its structure. It can resist the force of a hurricane. Designing engineer Peter Muller-Munk said, "The Unisphere cannot be treated as a building or monument. It is a piece of open structure. This is perhaps the most demanding form of all art, for it must be viewed from all sides."

August 1964 – Scenes at the Fair

Amy Rodgers of Forest Hills H.S. receives a medal from American Legion Post 1424. During ceremonies hoisting the American flag, she is the only member of the audience observing correct protocol by standing and placing her hand over her heart while the National Anthem is played. The Spanish Pavilion is suggested as a future home for the Queens Museum of Art after the Fair. Fifty boys ages 8 to 13, sing "Happy Birthday" to Sally, a Hereford cow, at the Montana Pavilion. At the Travel and Transportation Pavilion, boys and girls ages 7 to 19 vie for a puppy by eating the most ice cream. At the Lowenbrau Gardens, a team of Westphalian stallions from Bavaria hauls beer in wagons.

February 1965–Tribute to

Winston Churchill

The World’s Fair attracted visitors from far and wide. It was announced here and in London that a special tribute to Winston Churchill will be presented at the World’s Fair this season. "The Pavilion will be turned into a comprehensive Churchill Center depicting the illustrious career of Sir Winston," Fair President Robert Moses said. "Churchillian items will include works of art and memorabilia from his public and private lives; the proclamation signed by the late President [John F.] Kennedy making him an honorary U.S. citizen and the American passport that accompanied it, a letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Atlantic Charter Draft." In July 1941 President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to issue the Atlantic Charter, a joint declaration against fascism, although the United States would not enter World War II until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

October 1965 – The Fair’s End

The World’s Fair was pulling in huge crowds over the Columbus Day weekend. The total for Saturday through Monday was a record breaking 1,011,725. On October 17, when the 1964-1965 World’s Fair closed, it had been visited by more than 51 million people.

The final two days were the busiest ever, with many people standing on line for hours to say goodbye to their favorite attractions. The General Motors "Futurama" exhibition was the most popular, playing host to an estimated 29 million people over the two-year period and beating its own record of 24.2 million visitors during the 1939-1940 World’s Fair.

More than 23 million people visited the New York State Pavilion and its 226-foot observation tower, which Queens groups campaigned to keep for the post-Fair park. It was outstripped only by General Motors and the Vatican Pavilion. Ford’s "Magic Skyway" attracted 15 million adventurous souls, and fair-goers quenched their thirst with seven million cups of Seven-Up.

Fair President Robert Moses was quoted as saying that the closing was really a commencement. "I have seen Flushing Meadow rise from ash dump to glory," he said, "and after this second fair we shall inaugurate what I am sure will eventually be the city’s finest park." Moses noted that many were saddened by the closing of the Fair but added, "We have fostered enduring friendships and memories which will persist and draw the people of a troubled world closer together."

It all came to an end late on Sunday, October 17. Couples embraced as "Auld Lang Syne" was played through the loudspeakers just before midnight. In the press building through which so many stories of the world’s greatest fair had passed, "the teletypes fell silent, the rows of new push-button phones were mute." People began to drift out the gates for the last time. "I wish it could have gone on forever," Tina Stone of Sunnyside sighed as the carousel in the Belgian Village slowed to a stop. But, in the words of the Star Journal’s headline, "All the Tomorrows were Spent." The flags of many nations were lowered and the Tower of Light went dark.

On the morning of Monday, October 18 the Unisphere stood alone and deserted as garbage collectors moved in and the demolition crews readied their wrecking balls. Children were no doubt saddened to learn that Sinclair Oil’s Dinoland would be the first pavilion to be razed. But they got some good news on October 21, when it was announced that a zoo would be built as part of the new park.

One temporary resident could hardly wait: the Star Journal announced that "Caesar, an eight-year-old leopard, got loose for 45 minutes yesterday during transfer to another cage at the closed World’s Fair African Pavilion. Five animal company employees finally prodded Caesar back into his cage. The Queens Zoo is planned for the former Chrysler Pavilion Grounds, so we may yet see tigers in tanks. At any rate, a leopard marks the spot."

That’s the way it was at the Fair!

For more information, contact the Society at 718-278-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.

Return to top

Copyright 1999-2018 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.