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posted: 4/20/2014 5:30 AM

Revisiting NYC's 1964 World's Fair, 50 years later

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  • A restored statue and a giant metal globe called the Unisphere are some of the remaining symbols from the 1964 World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York. This month is the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York World's Fair.

      A restored statue and a giant metal globe called the Unisphere are some of the remaining symbols from the 1964 World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York. This month is the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York World's Fair.
    Associated Press

  • These two NASA rockets outside the New York Hall of Science in Corona in the Queens borough of New York debuted at the 1964 World's Fair. They were part of a space park that captured the excitement of the era's quest to explore space and get a man on the moon. They are among a number of World's Fair relics that are still in place.

      These two NASA rockets outside the New York Hall of Science in Corona in the Queens borough of New York debuted at the 1964 World's Fair. They were part of a space park that captured the excitement of the era's quest to explore space and get a man on the moon. They are among a number of World's Fair relics that are still in place.
    Associated Press

  • Children ride a carousel that dates to the early 1900s. It was brought to Queens from Coney Island, Brooklyn, for the 1964 World's Fair. Today the carousel is located near the Queens Zoo, one of a number of attractions that can be seen as Queens marks the 50th anniversary of the fair.

      Children ride a carousel that dates to the early 1900s. It was brought to Queens from Coney Island, Brooklyn, for the 1964 World's Fair. Today the carousel is located near the Queens Zoo, one of a number of attractions that can be seen as Queens marks the 50th anniversary of the fair.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS/NEW YORK CITY PARKS DEPARTMENT

  • Those looking to soak up a little nostalgia on the 1964 World's Fair's 50th anniversary can visit the space-age towers, topped by flying-saucer-like platforms, and a ring of pillars that once housed the New York State Pavilion in New York.

      Those looking to soak up a little nostalgia on the 1964 World's Fair's 50th anniversary can visit the space-age towers, topped by flying-saucer-like platforms, and a ring of pillars that once housed the New York State Pavilion in New York.
    Associated Press

  • The Unisphere is the best-known symbol still standing from the 1964 World's Fair. This and a number of other landmarks and sites can be visited in the Corona neighborhood of Queens in New York.

      The Unisphere is the best-known symbol still standing from the 1964 World's Fair. This and a number of other landmarks and sites can be visited in the Corona neighborhood of Queens in New York.
    Associated Press

  • The "Panorama of the City of New York," a scale model of the city on display at the Queens Museum of Art in New York, debuted at the 1964 World's Fair.

      The "Panorama of the City of New York," a scale model of the city on display at the Queens Museum of Art in New York, debuted at the 1964 World's Fair.
    Associated Press

  • This poster from the 1964 World's Fair is on display at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Park along with other artifacts from the fair.

      This poster from the 1964 World's Fair is on display at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Park along with other artifacts from the fair.
    Associated Press

  • A man walks near the Unisphere, a 12-story steel globe that debuted 50 years ago at the 1964 World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York.

      A man walks near the Unisphere, a 12-story steel globe that debuted 50 years ago at the 1964 World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York.
    Associated Press

  • The 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair is being observed April 22, and there are a number of sites and relics in Queens dating from the fair, including this display of tickets, brochures and other memorabilia at the New York Hall of Science.

      The 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair is being observed April 22, and there are a number of sites and relics in Queens dating from the fair, including this display of tickets, brochures and other memorabilia at the New York Hall of Science.
    Associated Press

  • A visitor to the Queens Museum of Art takes a photo of the Unisphere through the museum windows in the Queens borough of New York.

      A visitor to the Queens Museum of Art takes a photo of the Unisphere through the museum windows in the Queens borough of New York.
    Associated Press

 
By Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press

NEW YORK -- You can just barely see them through the window of the No. 7 subway as it rattles into the elevated station in Corona, Queens: a gigantic steel sphere, two rocket ships and towers that appear to be capped by flying saucers.

These unusual landmarks are among a number of attractions still standing from the 1964 World's Fair, which opened in Flushing Meadows Corona Park 50 years ago, with marvels ranging from microwave ovens to Disney's "it's a small world" ride to Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.

But visiting the area today is as much about 21st-century Queens as it is a walk down memory lane. Many of Queens' contemporary cultural institutions -- like the Queens Museum and the New York Hall of Science -- grew out of fair attractions and incorporate original fair exhibits.

Other relics are stupendous in their own right, like the Unisphere, a 12-story steel globe so glorious to behold, you almost feel like you're seeing Earth from outer space. There's also a modern zoo, an antique carousel and outdoor sculptures.

Here's a guide to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair on a visit to Queens.

The neighborhood

On weekends, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is packed with people from the dozens of ethnic groups that populate Queens, speaking many languages, eating food from around the world and playing soccer with a seriousness of purpose often found among those who grew up with the sport. That makes for "a wonderful unique experience," said Janice Melnick, Flushing Meadows Corona Park administrator.

And yet, as you walk out of the 111th Street train station, there's something about Corona that also brings to mind an older, simpler New York. No hipsters here; no luxury condo skyscrapers. Instead, you'll find modest brick apartment buildings and single-family homes, pizzerias and diners, barber shops and variety stores. That throwback sensibility adds a layer of nostalgia to the experience of revisiting fair sites, especially for boomers who attended the event as kids.

"I think for many people, the fair represents this last moment of true optimism," said Melnick. "We were looking into the future, and the future was going to be bright. That really struck a chord with a lot of people."

The Unisphere

The fair's best-known symbol, an elegant steel globe, has appeared in movies like "Men in Black" and "Iron Man 2." Visitors enjoy setting up photos so that they appear to be holding the world in their hands. Located in the park, outside the Queens Museum of Art.

New York State Pavilion

You can't miss the towers topped by flying saucers, surrounded by 100-foot-high concrete pillars. This was the New York State Pavilion, where visitors rode elevators to an observation deck above an enormous suspended roof of translucent colored tiles. Today the structure is padlocked, rusted and cracked, with preservationists and critics fighting over its future.

Queens Museum

The museum is housed in a building that dates to the 1939 World's Fair, which marks its 75th anniversary this year. It also briefly housed the United Nations General Assembly after World War II. Exhibits include posters from both fairs and a replica of Michelangelo's "Pieta," which was shown in the Vatican Pavilion during the '64 fair.

The museum's most famous display, the "Panorama of the City of New York," is a scale model of the city that debuted at the '64 fair. The panorama includes models of each of the city's 895,000 buildings built before 1992, along with every street, park and bridge, on a scale of 1 to 1,200. The island of Manhattan is 70 feet long, the Empire State Building 15 inches tall.

Opening April 27 is an exhibit of posters that pop artist Andy Warhol did for the '64 World's Fair, inspired by mug shots of the city's 13 most-wanted criminals from 1962. The posters were too controversial for the fair and were never shown.

Located in the park, near the Willets Point stop on the No. 7 train. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults and free for children younger than 12.

Rockets and New York Hall of Science

Two NASA rockets stand 100 feet high outside the New York Hall of Science, a museum that opened a few years after the '64 fair, replacing a temporary pavilion. The rockets were part of a space park at the fair that captured the excitement of the era's quest to get a man on the moon.

Towering over the Hall of Sciences is an undulating concrete building called the Great Hall, an architectural marvel that was an original fair site. Undergoing renovation now, it's due to reopen in October, when visitors will be able to experience the otherworldly interior covered in blue stained glass.

The Hall of Science has undergone a series of renovations over the years and today houses exhibits exploring everything from microbes to the science of basketball. It also has a small but worthwhile display in a second-floor hallway of brochures, tickets and other memorabilia from the fair, along with a first-floor display of photos of World's Fairs going back to the 19th century.

Located at 47-1 111th St. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children 2-17.

Wildlife Conservation Society's Queens Zoo

A geodesic dome from the '64 fair serves as the zoo's walk-through aviary. The zoo specializes in North and South American animals, ranging from bears to pumas.

Located at 53-51 111th St. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (5:30 p.m. on weekends). Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children 3-12.

Carousel

The carousel dates to the early 1900s and was brought to Queens for the '64 fair from Coney Island, Brooklyn. Located outside the zoo, near 111th Street and 55th Avenue. Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends and school holidays. $3.

Outdoor sculptures

Flushing Meadows Corona Park is home to several sculptures commissioned for the fair, including "Rocket Thrower," "Freedom of the Human Spirit," "Form" and "Forms in Transit."

Events

Many events and exhibits will mark the anniversary, including "A Taste of Queens" April 29 at the Sheraton in Flushing. It costs $100 a person, with a variety of food vendors and an appearance by the woman who came from Belgium to sell Belgian waffles at the fair. Find information at itsinqueens.com/WorldsFair/ and nycgo.com/worldsfair.

Getting there

No. 7 train to 111th Street in Queens; walk down Roosevelt Avenue toward the Hall of Science at 47th Avenue. You'll see the rocket ships come into view over an auto-parts store. The zoo, Unisphere and art museum are nearby, though it's a lot of walking. The next stop on the train, Mets-Willets Point, is closer to the Unisphere, art museum and a bike rental station. By car, take the Grand Central Parkway to the Tennis Center.

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