The First Day of Spring, 2013
It’s been spring for a week, but at last it feels like the first day of spring. After a long winter, I walk through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York City and I hear birdsong. People jogging, cycling. Kids playing soccer. A cool, March sun wakes the world up again. I feel happy and relieved.
Walking down Book Row, Fourth Avenue on Manhattan. You’re after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby. It got good reviews, but no one’s buying it. You smile to yourself when you reach Chapter 2 and the description of the Corona Dumping Ground in Queens:
About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens … But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
April 30, 1939
The New York World’s Fair opens. City Planner Robert Moses cleverly got the New York World’s Fair Corporation to pay for the conversion of the Corona Dumping Ground into Flushing Meadows Park, site of the World’s Fair. Paths laid out, a gigantic lake. So many sites to see.
It opened months before the outbreak of World War II.
The Fair lost money and the park was left unfinished. Buildings were demolished or left to fall down. Robert Moses’ plans for a grand park in Queens had failed.
October 24, 1949
President Truman is present at a ceremony laying the cornerstone for the new United Nations headquarters. Architects for the General Assembly building are Le Courbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. Between 1946 and 1951 when it has no home, the General Assembly meets in various locations, including the abandoned New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Park.
April 22, 1964
Gates open for the second New York World’s Fair to be held at the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (“Corona” had been added to the park’s name that year). He wanted to finish his park.
Kennedy had been assassinated five months before. In a little over two months’ time, President Johnson will sign the Civil Rights Act. By the time the Fair opened for its second season in 1965, American troops were on the ground in Vietnam.
As with the 1939 Fair, after two seasons, the pavillions were broken up and the exhibits either destroyed or scattered throughout the world. And, just as in 1939, the Fair lost money.
The First Day of Spring 2013
I longed to see this park for years. To see the remnants of two World’s Fairs. I am searching the country to find as many of the scattered remnants as possible. But this is the epicentre. Most buildings are long gone. But enough remains for it to be interesting… some still in use, others abandoned. The park still feels half-finished. Incomplete.
The photograph at the top shows the Unisphere as it looks today, centrepiece of the 1964 World’s Fair; behind it is the last remaining building from the 1939 World’s Fair, the New York State Pavilion. In a series of posts, I am going to share with you some the things I found in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park: their stories, their decay and their history.
This is one in a series of linked posts on the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. Follow this link to see the others.