After our adventuring at the Maker Faire, where we saw the New York Hall of Science that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair, we walked over to the Unisphere, another relic of the fair. I’d seen many pictures of it, but it was much taller than I expected, around 12 stories. The fountains were off and some kids were wandering around the basin. When the fountains are on, they are meant to give the huge globe the appearance of floating in space, and during the fair special lights gave the illusion of the sun reflecting on its surface. The loops around it represented satellites circling the planet.
The 1964 World’s Fair was all about the space age, from the field of rockets to a “fusion machine,” that didn’t really work, but made a loud sound. (Thanks to a knowledgeable uncle who attended the fair for the fact!) The Unisphere was the icon of it all, a futuristic representation of the Earth built on the foundation of the Perisphere that was central to the 1939 World’s Fair.
The Observatory Towers are also still standing, although not in very good shape. They haven’t been open since the fair ended in 1965, although they’ve made a few pop culture appearances, most notably as space saucers in Men in Black. I mention this because I found out there are recreations of them at the Men in Black ride at Universal Studios, which are glistening in comparison to the originals. The Tent of Tomorrow is the arena-like structure to their left, which has also seen more glorious days. Although all of this complex is closed to the public, you can read a great account of an urban explorer climbing to the top at Undercity.org. (The guy who runs that site did the talk on exploring the catacombs I attended at the Flux Factory a while ago.)
Inside the Queens Museum of Art, we saw the stunning New York Panorama. As it was the end of the “day” in the small-scale city, the sun was setting and shadows were creeping across the miniature landscape. It was built for the fair by the prolific and controversial Robert Moses, and has every building built before 1992 in the five boroughs (buildings were added after the fair). I even spotted my little building in Greenwood Heights, easy to find with the expansive Green-Wood Cemetery in miniature nearby.
Here is a good view showing sections of all the boroughs but Staten Island. Visitors are able to walk around the perimeter, looking over at the tiny bridges, parks, and neighborhoods created in painstaking detail. Even the World’s Fair grounds are there, as is Coney Island, Washington Square Park, and Roosevelt Island.
The Queens Museum of Art also had an interesting collection of World’s Fair memorabilia, even in its shop. I would love to have gone to one of these optimistic World’s Fairs with technological wonders. Just watch this video of the Futurama ride to see some unfulfilled space age plans. Where is my moon colony? Well, maybe some dreams are meant to be unrealized. Still, it’s a little bit sad to look at that Unisphere in its dry lagoon, the observation towers crumbling behind it, and think that 45 years have passed leaving deterioration and faded ideas. And yet, it is a lovely park, where people were strolling and kids were riding skateboards. Maybe the legacy of a park as a vibrant centerpiece of the borough and an icon of the city is as good as international space travel.