What happens to a building that is no longer standing?
Sure, we know that the physical space that the structure once occupied is cleared, and that the debris gets carted away. But how do we remember a built space that we can no longer access, or that no longer exists? For many visitors at the 1964-65 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, N.Y., their memories only live on through souvenirs, photographs, and stories. Almost all of the fair’s roughly 150 pavilions are gone.
Below, we highlight popular 1964-65 World’s Fair sites that were either moved or demolished, or both.
“The Johnson Wax Rotunda was moved to Racine, Wisc., without the towering arches,” explains Bill Cotter, a historian and World’s Fair enthusiast who maintains an online archive of fair photos. “The Thailand pavilion went to Expo ’67 in Montreal and lasted about eight years before it was finally torn down. Everything else was demolished at the end of the fair.”
The National Trust recently named the still-standing New York State Pavilion as its newest National Treasure. Our hope? That by preserving these relics of the past, a new generation of visitors will get the chance to make their own memories, and that the fair’s legacy of shared wonder and new experiences can live on through more than just lagniappes and snapshots.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles is famous for the celebrity hand- and footprints pressed into the cement in its front courtyard, and the smaller facsimile of the theater’s facade at the Hollywood, USA pavilion included replicas of the spread-out hands of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe. On the inside, visitors could tour exact reproductions of the throne room sets featured in 1963’s Cleopatra and 1956’s The King and I, as well as exhibits of costumes, jewelry, props, and famous film monsters. A highlight: watching a duel on the main set of Gunsmoke.
The gilded roof of the Thailand pavilion’s main building, inspired by a Buddhist shrine, was shipped to the United States piece by piece and assembled on the fairgrounds. Visitors could immerse themselves in the country’s past and present, and sample cuisine like meekrob, or sweet and sour noodles with crisp chicken, and musaman, or curried meat served with fresh pickles. A gift shop sold jewelry, dolls, silks, and cookbooks, and a travel booth touted tourist information.
Illinois “Land of Lincoln” Pavilion
Admission was free to Illinois’ state pavilion, which included copies of every known photo of Abraham Lincoln, the “prairie president.” The showcase also featured an original manuscript of the Gettysburg Address. Perhaps most impressively, a life-sized, animatronic replica of Lincoln created by Walt Disney performed some of his most famous speeches to a 500-seat theater inside the pavilion and was capable of more than 250,000 actions, including smiles, frowns, and gestures. The facial features were taken from Lincoln’s life mask. The pavilion also aimed to draw tourists to the state, extolling the virtues of spots like the Illinois Ozarks and Chicago.
Eastman Kodak’s Moondeck on the pavilion’s roof featured raised platforms perfect for capturing panoramic views of the fair, as well as a multilingual information center where camera experts answered questions about photography and showed hobbyists how to take better pictures. The pavilion’s 80-foot tower featured five illuminated prints in vivid color.
The Pepsi-Cola/Disneyland pavilion was marked by the 120-foot Tower of the Four Winds, making the exhibit visible from almost anywhere within the fairgrounds. A 9-minute boat tour of child-sized replicas of world landmarks, titled “It’s a Small World – A Salute to UNICEF,” opened visitors’ eyes to wonders like the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. The exhibit’s theme song was composed especially for the occasion, and it still soundtracks the famous Disneyland attraction today.
The 18-minute color film To Be Alive drew fairgoers to a 500-seat theater in the Johnson Wax pavilion, or Golden Rondelle. The film depicted the daily lives of people around the world, from children playing in Africa to an Italian wedding, emphasizing a theme of commonality. The wax and household cleaning supplies manufacturer also sponsored a maze-like children’s “Fun Machine,” a home care information center, a shoeshine center, and an international display of flooring materials such as marble and teakwood.
Lowenbrau, a Bavarian beer maker, sponsored an open-air Bavarian-style restaurant and beer garden styled to look like a village square and located in the Transportation Area of the fair. The square featured alpine chalets, a bell tower, and a wooden gate, and Lowenbrau’s draft horse-drawn delivery wagon could often be spotted around the fairgrounds.
The General Motors exhibit, featuring the Futurama “ride into the future,” was one of the most popular at the World’s Fair. The famed Futurama, an update on an attraction premiered at the 1939-40 fair, took passengers on a journey through a desolate moonscape dotted with “lunar crawlers” and commuter space ships to a futuristic city featuring moving sidewalks and high-speed bus-trains. Displays also showcased GM’s research, from home appliances to the newest fuel-cell developments.
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