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:
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.