The year was 1964 and there was more than a lot going on across the country. Martin Luther King Jr. was well on his way to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize the year after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech. The civil rights movement was gaining ground and America mourned the loss of JFK. The Beatles topped the U.S. singles charts for the first time, while Sidney Poitier was the first African American actor to win an Oscar. It’s auspicious year for many changes in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Up in New York City, the feeling caught on and made it’s way right to the forefront of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, where organizers coined the year’s motto, “Peace through Understanding.” From April 22 through October 18 in 1964 and April 21 through October 17 in 1965, the fair showcased brand spankin’ new mid-century technology and a sense of fresh optimism for the future.
Now, fast forward to 2014, and the gates to the fairgrounds, known collectively as the New York State Pavilion will swing wide for the first time in 50 years. After all, what better way to celebrate a half-century of overlooking our fine metropolis? The gates are scheduled to open to the public for just 3 hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22nd inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Many will recognize the fair’s iconic structures thanks to Hollywood. A nasty-lookin’ alien took over the space in “Men in Black” and Tony Stark paid a visit in “Iron Man 2.” But for this exclusive look at the space, we’re handing props to folks at People for the Pavilion (PFP), who have led the efforts to preserve the site.
Co-founders Salmaan Khan and Matthew Silva helm the volunteer-run organization, and they’re ushering in the New York Pavillion Paint Project Crew to host the event along with the New York City Parks Department. The group will work diligently to restore the long-dilapidated pavillion, starting with 90 gallons of red, white and yellow paint.
According to PFP, the space was originally designed to “showcase all of the varied attractions that the state had to offer, from natural scenery and wildlife to achievements in the fine and performing arts.” Inside the grounds, the Tent of Tomorrow, Astro-View Towers, and Theaterama were each home to attractions that lured in people from across the globe. There was everything from fashion shows and art exhibitions to a small zoo and presentations on computer technology far ahead of its time.
The most popular though were the Astro-View observation towers, which were, “purportedly inspired by the buildings of Krypton in the Superman comics,” the PFP writes. The tallest one towers over Queens at 226 feet high with two observation platforms, where folks could spot the Manhattan skyline far in the distance. To get up to the top, visitors would take a speedy 20-second ride aboard a glass capsule called the “Sky Streak.” Sounds Superman-worthy to us.
Luckily, we’re finally getting another peek inside the fairgrounds. During the 3 open hours on April 22nd, curious New Yorkers will be welcomed through the gates and handed the requisite hardhat before exploring the long-abandoned relic. “Though the structure was in use for only two years, it was a lynchpin of the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair, one of the most popular events of the 1960s,” writes the PFP. “Decades later the structure remains, highly visible to millions of New Yorkers every day…[It] means as much to those who attended to the Fair as to those who have known it only in its neglected years.”
Ready to take some snaps for posterity’s sake? Take the 7 train out to Mets-Willets Point and stroll southward-bound through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Pro tip: pack the camera, charge the batteries and grab extra memory cards. This is a once-in-a-very-long-time opportunity.