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Abandoned

Ruins of the ’64 New York World’s Fair

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The empty observation towers of the New York Pavilion hover over Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

In Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the oddball ruins of the “Tent of Tomorrow” are fading into yesterday.  This land had been home to the Corona Ash Dumps—immortalized as the “valley of ashes” in the Great Gatsby—until master builder Robert Moses set out to transform the area by selecting it as the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  While the overall design of the park was laid out for the ’39 event, its most evident landmarks date back to the ’64 exhibition.  The Space Age design of the New York Pavilion was intended to inspire visitors with the promise of the future, but today it serves to firmly plant the structure in the context of the 1960s.

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The New York State Pavilion in its youth.

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The tallest tower was the highest point in the fair at 226 feet.

Concieved by New York businessmen and funded by private financing, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was once again headed by Robert Moses, who saw the project as an opportunity to complete his vision for Flushing Meadows Park.  In order to make the fair financially feasible, organizers charged rent to exhibitors and ran the attraction for two years, ignoring the regulations of the worldwide authority on world’s fairs (the Bureau of International Expositions.)  As a result, the BIE refused to sanction the fair and instructed its forty member nations not to participate, which included Canada, most European Nations, Australia, and the Soviet Union.

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Faint remnants of bright yellow paint can still be spotted on the metal components of the structure.

The fair was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe,” but the majority of exhibitors were American companies.  Some of the most popular destinations included General Motors’ “Futurama” exhibit, Disney’s original “It’s A Small World” attraction, and a model panorama of New York City (which you can still visit at the Queens Museum of Art).  Although over 51 million people attended the fair, the turnout was far less than expected.  The project ended in financial failure, returning only 20 cents on the dollar to bond investors. 

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The observation decks were re-imagined as space ships in the original Men In Black film.

Most of the World’s Fair pavilions were temporary constructions that were demolished within six months of closing, but a few were deemed worthy of becoming permanent fixtures of the park.  Once the centerpiece of the fair, the 12-story high stainless steel Unisphere has gone on to become a widely recognized symbol of Queens. Designed by notable modernist architect Philip Johnson, the nearby observation towers and the “Tent of Tomorrow” remain striking examples of the Space Age architecture the fair embraced.  Unfortunately, they’ve sat empty for decades, and are starting to show their age.  In the Tent of Tomorrow, space that once hosted live concerts and exciting demonstrations are occupied by stray cats and unsettling numbers of raccoons.

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The Tent of Tomorrow once held the record as the largest cable suspension roof in the world.

The pavilion was reopened as the “Roller Round Skating Rink” in 1970, but roof tiles soon became unstable and the city ordered the attraction to close by 1974.  Owing to their singular design, the structures have found their way into the background of many feature films, television shows, and music videos, including a memorable turn as a location and plot element for the original Men in Black.  You can still make out the design of the pavilion’s main floor—modeled after a New York state highway map—in this late ’80s They Might Be Giants video.

The New York State Pavilion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, and a group of preservationists have helped clean up the exterior, restoring a bit of the original color scheme.  As we near the 50th anniversary of the ’64 World’s Fair, here’s hoping something can be done to put these unique structures back to use.

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A group of preservationists have restored the original paint job on the structure’s exterior.

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Vines, and a not entirely incongruous robot head, have been affixed to this tower.

 

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Discussion

27 thoughts on “Ruins of the ’64 New York World’s Fair

  1. Thanks so much for this piece. I was fortunate enough to go to the World’s Fair and have great memories of the exhibits. I remember the NY State Pavilion really well. I remember the elevators to the towers and the map of NY on the floor and the fantastic 360 movie in the round. I can remember having to hold onto the railing when the movie showed the SI Ferry bobbing in the water. I would love to see it restored fully as it is as much significance to New Yorkers as the Unisphere.

    Posted by fRANK | 7-21-13., 7:27 pm
    • Thanks for sharing, Frank!

      Posted by abandonednyc | 7-24-13., 2:49 am
    • That was the year I came to New York, incidentally the year the Beatles arrived [which is perhaps why I keep humming “I wanna hold your hand” to this day… Among the exhibits there was the introduction of the IBM Selectric “ball” typewriter, along with the touch button telephone dial… I wish so much like Frank, that I were able to see this again as a “replay”… Oh well!

      Posted by Lucien Riviere | 9-3-13., 1:04 pm
  2. Amazing photos!!! :)

    I remember learning about the World’s Fair in school briefly. I found it very refreshing and informative to learn more about it through your piece. I would love to see this structure restored.

    Thanks so much for posting this. :)

    Posted by zeenyc75 | 7-23-13., 8:12 pm
  3. No pics of the inside?? I snuck in there back in the early 80s, I must have been like 11 yrs old. It’s truly amazing inside. Back then, it had a weak gate secured with a chain and lock. I see a real gate at the entrance now from your pics. Thanks for the memories

    Posted by John Lee | 7-25-13., 11:09 am
  4. Thanks for the incredible pictures and the history of the 64 worlds Fair. My family and I attended it. Another pavilion that comes to mind was either Mormon or Seventh Day Adventist. I did not think about to countries that were not represented. I do remember attending a Guy Lombardo and the Roal Canadians concert. We sat in the third row from the stage, my wife and I thought the concert was great, however, when I looked at my 15 year old daughter- she was sitting on the seat and facing away from the stage. Guy Lombardo saw this, smiled, and kept on directing the band!

    Posted by Richard Stabnow | 7-25-13., 1:42 pm
  5. Oh this brings back memories. I performed under the “Tent of Tomorrow” as a member of my Brooklyn school district’s orchestra. It was the thrill of my ten year old life. During those two summers, visiting the World’s Fair was a regular outing for my family. I still remember the Worlds Fair Express special number 7 trains and what became our ritual on the way home – stopping for a big salty pretzel before getting on the train.

    Posted by Debbie D | 7-27-13., 11:22 pm
  6. Those pictures are phenomenal. Thank you for keeping this site updated with information of these beautiful, historic relics. New Yorks architecture and the fantastic stories behind it always have fascinated me. Thank you!

    Posted by Malik Honor | 7-28-13., 10:01 pm
  7. New York can be pretty weird sometimes…the unisphere is awesome

    Posted by Pipe Adams | 8-14-13., 10:59 pm
  8. We are the grass roots effort to bring dignity to this structure by freshening up its appearance with new paint. We have helped raise awareness in the community and with the local politicians. We hope to continue our effort towards finding reuse and getting the city to step up and renovate the building. Please help if you can: http://nyspproject.com
    Thank you!

    Posted by M. Silverstein | 8-21-13., 6:11 am
  9. As a child in the 70’s my father would drive by those structures and I would be fascinated by them. Now in my late 40’s I wish they would be restored so that I could see them they way they were originally. Thank you for sharing. I always considered that place beautiful.

    Posted by Rick | 8-30-13., 4:06 am
  10. i have two of the most beautiful original paintings from the the 1964 world fair pavillion. for those of you interested in priceless tresures of art. paintings are about six feet by four feet. need to see to believe.

    Posted by Martin.B | 10-10-13., 9:13 pm
  11. Feeling so melancholy tonight, as I go through old photos, and think about my parents. I have pictures that my father took of me at the Queens Zoo when it opened in 1968 (I was 2 years old), which was built on the grounds of the World’s Fair Park. I remember seeing the Unisphere whenever we’d drive to my grandmother’s house, and now, whenever we go to see the Mets play, I keep my eye out to see the Observations Towers as we drive by. It was so nice to find this write up. Thank you for sharing! I need to bring my family there someday.

    Posted by Chevonne Pannullo | 12-1-13., 1:42 am
  12. Port Morris Tile and Terrazzo laid down the NYS map within the Tent. My father who worked for PM, recalls working the Westchester County field of the map.

    Posted by Paul Ruoso | 12-8-13., 9:00 am
  13. You can see more of how the pavilion looked during the Fair on my site at http://www.worldsfairphotos.com/nywf64/new-york-1.htm

    Posted by Bill Cotter | 12-13-13., 5:49 pm
  14. Just found this. Thanks for the memories. I was in 2nd grade when the Fair opened. On the Fair’s opening day, they brought all 3 2nd grade classes to one classroom and showed the Opening Ceremony on a big (25″ maybe) Black & White TV to us. I was enamored with the Fair – The Daily news Coloroto special section launched it. We only went the the Fair 3 times – the 1st on a rainy Monday June, 1964. Somehow my Dad decided that he NYS pavilion would be our starting point and that’s were we started each trip – even if it meant walking past other pavilions on the way there. I still remember the taste of the super hot Hot Chocolate I got from one of the banks of vending machines – it wasn’t my Mom’s Droste’s Cocoa – and it was so, so hot – my mouth burns thinking about it. Again, thanks!

    Posted by Jeff B. | 1-25-14., 1:23 am
  15. i remember going to the fair, leaving from my grandmothers house in Ridgewood, we were visiting from Massapequa. I was 3 and my sister was 5 but I remember being in this car, and my father tuned in the car radio and dinosaurs started roaring…scared the hell out of me, I just remember giant dinosaurs and being totally freaked out…..did this really happen, was this a ride or something ? This is a very distant memory, and I never forgot it ! – Ed

    Posted by Ed | 4-20-14., 9:27 pm
  16. The cable suspended roof and structure—It appear’s to resemble some concrete structure’s in Germany which have been thought by some to have been launch or lift off “cradle’s” or such for 1930’s-40’s experimental UFo—saucer type craft– (one German ufo web site show’s such a structure—-circular– a ring on concrete pier’s–)
    I would see the New York structure as a possible “phenomenal” indicator of unknown’s we may be living with—a kind of link to something with a missing component,that being the “alternate” usage I suggest—lost somewhere in space and time—like an empty black hole in a time warp—(or—the ufo once left for– Buffalo—???)

    Posted by Carl A. Helsing | 9-24-14., 3:10 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Abandoned New York State Pavilion of 1964 | When On Earth - Places to See, Things to Do, Gear to GetWhen On Earth – Places to See, Things to Do, Gear to Get - 1-23-14.

  2. Pingback: The New York State Pavilion Opens to the Public on April 22 | Brownstoner Queens - 4-8-14.

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  4. Pingback: More than 5,000 Flock to See Inside of NYS Pavilion Today | Brownstoner Queens - 4-22-14.

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