When the World Went to Queens: Part 1

By Kristen Olson


The Near Tomorrow


The Unisphere in 2011. Photo by Vertical Access.

We are now living in the future envisioned at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, which opened 50 years ago last week and attracted over 50 million visitors to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. With the theme “peace through understanding,” the fair promised a utopian, technologically-driven “near tomorrow.” For many fairgoers, especially those who were children when they attended, the playful, exuberant architecture had as much of an impact on their expectations for the future as did exhibits promising undersea colonies and driverless cars.


World’s Fair souvenir tin tray. Photo by Kristen Olson.

Despite plenty of criticism, the visiting public’s response to the fair was overwhelmingly positive. With the fair’s 50th anniversary, people across the country and across the globe have been sharing their World’s Fair memories. We’ve gathered here some memories of the fair from the Vertical Access family:

Evan’s father, Eric, was at the fair before it even opened. In 1963, he had a summer job with a surveying company inspecting construction work on many of the pavilions. One that Eric remembers was the Bell Telephone pavilion, which was designed to look like a giant telephone handset on two cradles.  He says that the contractors were working very quickly to meet their deadlines; at that time, the fair’s opening day was less than a year away.

Julie remembers being hungry and hot while attending the fair with her family at age 10, but also remembers the anticipation of waiting in line to see General Motors’ Futurama II exhibit and being amazed by the huge stainless steel Unisphere.

Franny’s most vivid memory is of standing on a “people mover” and slowly gliding past Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Our bookkeeper, Chris, went to the fair and, several years later, saw Led Zeppelin perform at the New York State Pavilion.



The Panorama of the City of New York as it appeared in 2007. This 1:1200 scale model of New York City was one of the most popular attractions at the fair. It is currently maintained in the collection of the Queens Museum. Photo by Kristen Olson.


For more World’s Fair memories, check out recent articles in Architectural Record, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Daily News.

Read Part 2 where we take a closer look at the New York State Pavilion, one of the fair’s most memorable architectural creations, and one of the few structures from the 1964-65 fair still standing in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.