03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

45 Years Late to the Fair

By the time I got there, it was gone.

The World's Fair, you ask? Nope. I am referring to something far more unbelievable...


That's right: Queens once had an honest-to-God Parks Department-approved fountain named "Fountain of the Planet of the Apes." And if that's not odd enough, an identical fountain on the opposite side of the Queens Zoo was named "Fountain of the Planet of the Grapes of Wrath." You can see them labeled on this park map, courtesy Flickr user Joshua:

fountain of the planet of the grapes of wrath

Sadly, when I arrived, the signs were gone, and the fountains now appear to be nameless (below is the former "Fountain of the Planet of the Apes"). Originally called "Fountain of the Planets" for the World's Fair, former Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern added the "of the Apes" to the name in the mid-90's because, according to his quote in this NY Times article, "'It's a great movie which is also a treatise on the dangers of war."


Why "Fountain of the Planet of the Grapes of Wrath?" According to Stern, "We thought since we were paying tribute to a motion picture with an animal title, we should pay tribute to a motion picture with a vegetable title." Makes sense to me. Very disappointed to see their signs removed - here's hoping they return.


While in the area, I figured it'd be a good time to explore a little-known section of Queens known as Flushing Meadows Park.


Kidding, of course! I don't know why it's taken me so long to visit the site of two World's Fairs. Originally, I wasn't even going to put up a post about it - how could I even begin to find an original way to present material most New Yorkers are familiar with, a post people have done countless times in the past. Heck, there are World's Fair aficionados who run sites chock full of every tidbit of World's Fair info you could ever possibly hope to learn! Why add to the mix?

I decided to do a post anyway, for three reasons. One, if you haven't been, maybe this will finally convince you to go. Two, if you have been, maybe this will bring to mind the park's beauty.

Three, last Friday marked the anniversary of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall advocating the demolition of the iconic Philip Johnson-designed Tent of Tomorrow, seen below. According to Marshall: "It should be demolished. We have great artists. He's not the only artist in the world." Wow.

Well, since then, the Tent of Tomorrow site has gained Landmark status, protecting it from narrow-minded politicians. I present this post as a late celebration of an important victory.

Though a shell of its former glory, the Tent of Tomorrow is still an incredible structure, the future as envisioned in 1964:


How it looked during the 1964 World's Fair:


Measuring in at 350 ft x 250 ft, the surrounding 100-foot columns originally supported a 50,000 sq-ft roof made up of orange and blue panels.


The Tent featured numerous New York-themed arts and sciences exhibits. Most incredibly, an enormous map of New York covered the floor, rendered in in 567 mosaic panels weighing 400 pounds each and described by the NY Times as "an exuberantly overstated mix of small-town parochialism, space-age optimism and Pop Art irony."


Following the end of the fair, the tent became a roller rink, and then a performing arts space. When the roof was removed in 1976 over fears of its impending collapse, the map was largely destroyed by the elements, and vandals took care of much of the rest.

Abutting the Tent of Tomorrow are three towers, which once held cafeterias and an observatory.


The towers were accessed by "Sky Streak" capsule elevators. The elevators were removed in recent years, one of which had been stuck about 150 feet up for decades.


Though it cost tax payers $12 million and was supposed to become an arts center following the fair, the Tent of Tomorrow has basically sat rotting for 45 years. Though the structure is still generally sound, roof cables are apparently in danger of snapping.


As mentioned, the Tent is now a State Landmark, and pro-bono
architects are considering ways of saving it (according to engineering
reports, portions of it would have to be rebuilt to meet safety
standards). In the meantime, the floor map, which was being restored by
a group from U. Penn, will be (or has been?) covered in a layer of sand
and gravel to help it survive the winter.


Meanwhile, two New Yorkers recently took to repainting the walls, though much work needs to be done. I wish they had been a bit louder in putting the word out - I for one would love to help!


Next door is a World's Fair structure that's been completely renovated: the former Theaterama, now the Queens Theatre in the Park.


During the fair, the Theaterama exhibited works by such artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as showing a 360-degree film about the wonders of New York in the actual Theaterama space. Since the 1970's, the building has been through a number of renovations, beginning with this (pictures from the Queens Theatre in the Park website)...

Followed by this (which I love):

And finally, the above picture, which, while certainly modern, seem pretty bland. But what do I know? At least they left these great transistor-like adornments:


I don't think they were around for the fair, but I love the water fountain design right outside:


And now, the Unisphere!


I really can't think of anything more iconic in Queens than the Unisphere. Measuring in with a diameter of 120 feet, the Unisphere was designed in accordance with the theme of the World's Fair: Peace through understanding. The three lines encircling the globe represent the first man in space, the first American to orbit the Earth, and the first communications satellite. The Unisphere was rehabilitated in the early 90's and received Landmark status in 1995.


The globe is built on the former site of the Perisphere, the symbol for the 1939 World's Fair. Originally 180 feet in diameter, the interior of the Perisphere depicted a utopian world of the future. It also featured, at the time, the world's longest escalator.

Currently, the pool surrounding the fountain is undergoing renovations to fix leakage problems. The design of the fountains was intended to obscure the base of the sphere, so as to make it seem as if it's floating.


How old is this sign?


During the fair, lighting at night would simulate sunrises across the globe.


The capitals were once marked with lights, though this seems to have been removed:


Nearby, a number of tablets have been set to commemorate both World's Fairs, and I wanted to share some of my favorites.


Looks almost like the Diner of Tomorrow, which was allegedly present for the '64 Fair.


The silhouettes:


I love this woman encountering a robot:


What are they looking at? A TV? A jukebox? Record player? All of the above?


So cool:


Great retro-space-age feel:


A satellite:


I'm dreading the day when a iPod and a flat screen TV seem antiquated:


Apparently, this fair-goer has traveled to another planet. Any ideas on this one?


Ah, water sports:


Down past the now empty pools leading up to the Unisphere is the Rocket Thrower statue, yet another space-themed sculpture, depicting a giant throwing a rocket up to the heavens while reaching out to a constellation with his other hand.


The sculpture received mixed reviews upon its installation (the NY Times descirbed it as "the most lamentable monster, making Walt Disney look like Leonardo Da Vinci.”). In 2008, donations were being sought after for its restoration.


Closer to the NY Hall of Science is my favorite park sculpture, Forms In Transit, meant to depict all aspects of flight:


While the statue lost part of a wing to weathering, the visible corrosion is actually part of the original sculpture, perhaps intended to show the effects of atmospheric re-entry.


Around the corner in front of the NY Hall of Science are Queens' very own rocket ships: a Mercury Atlas and a Gemini Titan:


The two rockets were originally manufactured to carry nuclear warheads, and later were acquired by NASA. Unused, they were donated to the World's Fair Hall of Science Space Park in 1964. Having deteriorated badly since then (one of the interior support structures had a termite infestation!), they were refurbished in 2001 and now look absolutely stunning.


Next: There's an episode of the Simpsons in which a treasure is reputedly buried beneath a "Big T" (a reference to It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - note the W on the left).


I always think that if Homer lived in Queens, his first stop would be Flushing Meadows Park:


Now a catering hall, the above structure was original built as the Port Authority Pavilion (the "T" is for Transportation), intended to serve as a landing spot for helicopter transport.


The top floor featured an 1,100-seat restaurant called the Top of the Fair; the lower floor, a 400-seat cocktail lounge known as "Drinks Around The World," which served drinks from 24 international locales. Note the helicopter on the roof in the bottom picture:


Though a lot of films shoot here, I've never been up it.  It almost looks like a playground on the roof!


Though it has great views, you might want to check out some online reviews before booking your next wedding here. Just sayin...


This is the lower floor - what is all that junk? Does the cocktail lounge still exist?


This random column in the middle of the park, known as the Column of Jerash, was donated to the Fair by the King of Jordan:


Originally from a Roman temple in the Jordanian city of Jerash built in 120 AD, it is known as one of the "Whispering Columns." As Forgotten NY points out, it's probably the oldest man-made outdoor object after Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park, which is 3,500 years old.


Last but not least, the site of both the 1939 and 1964 World's Fair time capsules, buried to endure for 5,000 years.


A picture of this spot in 1964 (ha, that white cylinder reminds me of Doc Brown's DeLorean fusion reactor in Back to the Future II):

Click here to read more about the time capsules, how they were designed to last so long, what they contain, and to see pictures:


From the tablets I wrote about earlier, I believe this one commemorates the insertion of the 1939 Fair capsule, which was lowered at the exact moment of the Autumnal Equinox in 1938.


The top of the monument covering the capsules, featuring the now-closed hole through which they were lowered:


Fall has hit Flushing Meadows Park pretty hard:


Finally, as I biked back, I passed by the Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard. I'm not sure how old it is, but it feels to me like it goes hand in hand with the world of the 1964 Fair.


Other than a website address, I don't think any changes have been made to the building since it was built:


The two pyramids light up at night. The future is now!


Whew! There it is, my trip to Flushing Meadows Park. Again, I realize that what I wrote about is nothing new, but hopefully, this post has reminded you of the beauty of the Park.

Happy Thanksgiving!



If you’ve made it this far, think about subscribing to our RSS feed or Twitter account for future updates!