Wednesday, November 2

The Unisphere Then and Now

Postcard of the New York World's Fair
Taken on November 01, 2011
The 140 feet tall, 700,000-pound Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a fifteen-minute walk from the Mets-Willets Point subway station. For the first three to four minutes it is visible among the trees before disappearing into the park. Sitting low in the horizon, the stainless steel globe blends into the sky during the day, but at night, illuminated by ten floodlights and twenty lampposts, the Unisphere shines brightly. Hidden by leaves when approaching, the structure suddenly looms above visitors coming on any of the eight pathways leading there.
Originally designed and created for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, the Unisphere is an official landmark as designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and an unofficial symbol of the borough of Queens. The Unisphere is in the second largest public park in New York City bordered by neighborhoods with a total population of around 344,000. It is visible to drivers on the Van Wyck, Grand Central and Long Island Expressways as well as passengers flying into La Guardia and JFK. Those who see it may not realize its visibility and their constant sight of it is a small part of the legacy of Robert Moses—New York City Parks Commissioner, head of multiple public authorities and shaper of New York. The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair was a financial failure and many of the buildings erected for it are gone or unused. Today, Flushing Meadows Corona Park and its focal point, the Unisphere, have been given new purposes and meaning. Many have reinterpreted the globe as a symbol of the diversity of Queens and a look at the ethnicity of park goers quickly confirms this to be valid. (According to the 2005 American Community Survey, 47.6% of Queens residents are immigrants.) However, this current understanding of the Unisphere isn’t the one the designer originally envisioned.
As recorded in “Remembering the Future” by Marc H. Miller, on March 6, 1963 at the ceremony during which the first support of the Unisphere tripod pedestal was placed, Robert Moses said, “We looked high and low for a challenging symbol for the New York World's Fair of 1964 and 1965. It had to be of the space age; it had to reflect the interdependence of man on the planet Earth, and it had to emphasize man's achievements and aspirations. It had to be the cynosure of all visitors, dominating Flushing Meadow, and built to remain as a permanent feature of the park, reminding succeeding generations of a pageant of surpassing interest and significance.”
It may satisfy Moses to know the Unisphere is still a permanent feature of Flushing Meadows. Even if few visitors may recollect the World’s Fair or know that the Unisphere was intended to remind them of its significance.

Aerial photograph of FMCP, 2006. Credit DOITT, NYCMAP-2006 Series

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