An Almost Fond Farewell
Before the Show Even Started
 
BY
Craig Bavaro

During a recent visit to New York I was fortunate enough to do some extensive research of the actual corporate records of the New York World's Fair 1964-1965 Corporation at the New York Public Library. What most struck me was that many ordinary citizens routinely wrote to the Fair Corporation with ideas as to what should be done with the site, buildings and exhibits after the Fair. It seems even the most outlandish ideas were circulated amongst the corporate staff and, in every instance, each individual received a written response. If the idea in question was of merit someone on the senior staff usually wrote a personal response. Sometimes, even Robert Moses himself wrote the return letter! But usually, if the idea was too outlandish or impractical, a canned but cordial response was sent along with a printed report on post-Fair use. What is so touching is that every one of these letters and their corresponding responses are carefully preserved for future generations in the official records of the Fair and it didn't matter whether one was a school child, housewife or important politician. It appears every letter was kept and carefully cataloged for posterity. While sitting there reading these letters I often wondered if these people were still alive and if so would they even remember the letter they had written so many years before? It was obvious that many people had given some very careful thought to their ideas, as quite a few of the letters went into great detail as to what they thought the Fair Corporation should or should not do.

What I also discovered is that while the Fair was still under construction, serious thought was being given to what structures would be kept after the Fair. As early as the later part of 1963 the Fair Corporation, Parks Department and the City of New York were carefully evaluating for retention many structures even while they were still under construction. During much of 1964 and throughout all of 1965 Fair officials explored, pursued and discarded many ideas before they finalized their master plan.

Some of the facts that I discovered are very interesting indeed as they illustrate what lengths the Fair Corporation had to maneuver around the borough, city, state and federal authorities as they went about the business of deciding what structures would be incorporated into the post-Fair park. Many documents contain handwritten notes as to what various Fair officials thought about each idea and how to pursue it if they believed that it warranted further examination. So here for review and amusement is what I found after pouring through almost ten boxes of some very dusty old records:

Bell System - Fair officials felt very strongly that the lower portion of the Bell Pavilion was note-worthy enough to be retained. The removal of the upper portion of the building was a big issue to overcome as well as how to relocate the heating and air conditioning equipment to the remaining portion of the building after the Fair.

Rendering of the Bell System exhibit as it may appear if converted for post-Fair use. The lower portion of the building would be an indoor recreation center with court games, dance floors, meeting rooms, and a small theatre for dramatics and dancing.
 
SOURCE: NY World's Fair Corp. Publication "The Fair in 1965"

Bell System - Post-Fair

While these issues were being hashed out there was also much discussion through the latter part of 1963 and well into 1964 amongst senior Fair officials as to what to do with this structure once it was retained. Those ideas ranged from table tennis and ping-pong to something as mundane as storage. A number of memos concerned how to preserve the site lines down the main axis of the Park. To solve this problem serious consideration was given to covering the top of the structure with approximately four feet of soil and a suitable number of plantings to conceal the structure accordingly. Ultimately, as with many of the proposals, this one died due to the fact that the cost of converting the building to post-Fair use far exceeded the $35,000 in funds that the Bell System was willing to contribute from its demolition budget.

Coca Cola - During 1963, while the Coca-Cola Pavilion was still under construction, the Fair Corporation seriously lobbied Coke to make the carillon a permanent part of the post-Fair park. It seems that the 1939-1940 Fair had missed a similar opportunity to retain a carillon from that Fair and this Fair's management did not want to make the same mistake. Unfortunately, by the time the Fair Corporation had evaluated what design changes needed to be made to the carillon tower to make it permanent, and then agonized over the possibility that Coke would not pay for it, they had once again missed the opportunity. By the time Fair officials finally contacted the Coca-Cola Company the tower foundation was already in place and, at this late date, would have been prohibitively expensive to rip out and redo to the Fair Corporation's revised specifications. More importantly though, in their letter responding to Fair officials, the Coke representative in New York stated that the carillon had already been promised for a "civic project in the Atlanta area" (it ultimately ended up at Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta where it still resides to this day).

DuPont - As early as 1964 this building was given a lot of consideration for retention after the Fair. Fair officials were so serious about this that they spent the considerable sum of $22,000 to evaluate its potential use as a marionette theatre after the Fair to replace the aging theatre in Central Park. The records contain much correspondence back and forth between Fair officials, their engineering consultants and the Parks Department. Finally, in early 1965, the plans, cost estimates and requests for building code variances were submitted to the New York City Building Department. Unfortunately though, city officials disagreed with the Fair Corporation's cost estimates and the steps necessary to bring the structure up to code. At this point the Fair Corporation gave up on the proposal and moved on to more pressing matters, thus consigning this building to the scrap heap.

Equitable Life - Early in the evaluation stage the idea of retaining this simple structure was proposed by certain Fair officials. As with many ideas, there were people for and against it. The group advocating retention proposed using the structure as a covered performance area or an outdoor checkers court or bocce court as well as simply a shelter during inclement weather. The opponents, namely Martin Stone, felt that "lowering the bar" for this pavilion would open the gates to many other similar requests that would infringe on the already designated use of picnic area on the post-Fair master plan. But this idea was not going to go away as easily as with some of the others due to the fact that the cost of upgrading the structure to code was not an issue. It seems that Equitable had gone to great pains to build their pavilion in compliance with New York City building codes and not the more lenient and temporary New York World's Fair building code. To further their cause, none other than the Equitable's own engineer, as well as the prestigious architectural firm of Skidmoore, Owings and Merrill, wrote to Fair officials attesting to this fact and backed their statements up with the data necessary to authenticate their claim. If that wasn't enough, and to make the offer even more enticing, Equitable indicated to the Fair Corporation that they would consider it an honor if their pavilion was accepted for retention after the Fair and as such would gladly pay the small amount necessary to convert the building to post-Fair use in return for a small plaque being placed on the site indicating that it was a gift of the company. Now the Fair was in a real quandary about what to do. Unfortunately a case of aesthetics ultimately decided the building's fate since the powers-that-be decided that this structure was just too ugly to warrant its retention after the Fair and thus, early in the process, was marked for ultimate demolition.

Formica World's Fair House - This by far was the smallest file in the corporate records. It contained one letter dated 1965 from Formica officials proposing retention of their "pavilion" and a brief handwritten response from a Fair official stating briefly but succinctly "no way." The Fair was so amused by this proposal that they didn't even see fit to send a written response back to Formica officials. Word has it that some former Fair officials are still laughing about this request even to this day!

Greyhound - Contrary to what has previously been reported, according to the Fair records, this building was actually demolished in the early part of 1967 in conjunction with the return of the Park to the City of New York that summer. Curious enough is the fact that the records clearly indicate early on that the Fire Department would take over this building after the Fair. To that end the building was indeed turned over to the Fire Department in late 1965 by Greyhound, and Greyhound paid the City of New York the sum of $37,000 as their portion of the conversion costs from their demolition budget. At some point in 1966 the Fire Department determined that, once again, the cost to upgrade the building to bring it into compliance with New York City building codes was more than it was worth. The records are silent as to why the upgrade costs were not quantified early in the decision process as was so well documented with most other structures considered. Unfortunately they dragged their feet in notifying Fair officials of this fact. And as such, by late 1966, Fair officials became increasing concerned that this matter would not be resolved in time for the Fair Corporation to avail themselves of the demolition contractors already on site doing other work if the pavilion should need to be torn down. To further complicate matters, during the same period, someone in city government floated the idea of using this building for some kind of poverty assistance program. Needless to say Moses was not happy about this for he felt that a city park was no place for such use. Finally, in early 1967, all parties agreed that the building would be demolished and the orders were issued to disconnect the utilities in preparation for the wreckers to move in. It seems that in their rush to complete the work by the re-dedication of the Park, the demolition company retained to do the work caused some serious damage to the underground electrical distribution system, even though Fair officials took great pains to provide them with the necessary blueprints to prevent this. Curiously, the record ends there and it was not possible to tell who ended up paying for the necessary repairs to the underground utilities.

Japan - As with other exhibitor's, Fair officials tried to get Japan to agree to a modification of their lease that would include the removal and labeling of the stones that comprised the famous stone wall of the pavilion for use in a Japanese meditation garden at the end of the Fair. The response received from the Japanese official responsible for the pavilion was quick and to the point. While they appreciated the Fair's interest in this idea the answer was no and that is were this idea ended. Case closed. Next!

New York State - Surprising enough the Fair records indicate that in 1966 the State of New York and the City of New York "told" Fair officials that this building was to be a "gift" to the people of New York! The files contain no structural evaluations and there was very little discussion amongst Fair officials about this decision. This obviously was a very political issue and even Robert Moses himself did not feel compelled to dispute this decision and, as such, it was accepted as fact by Fair officials.

Rendering of the New York State Pavilion, which may be altered and retained as a prominent feature of Flushing Meadow Park after the Fair. The New York State buildings would be used as a recreation center with emphasis on summer activities.
 
SOURCE: NY World's Fair Corp. Publication "The Fair in 1965"
NY State - Post-Fair

At this point the Fair Corporation proceeded with the small amount of work necessary to convert the building for some kind of park use after they received assurances from the state government that the necessary funds would be made available to pay for the work.

United States Pavilion - This is where the records really get interesting. By far there was more discussion and documentation about the retention of this structure after the Fair than any other building noted in the files. As early as 1963 Fair officials were adamant about their desire not to see this building retained in the Park after the Fair. At some point during 1964 it seems that the New York Board of Education expressed a serious interest in the building even though Moses once again expressed his view that a city park was no place for a school. Once again proposals were made and opinions voiced. The records clearly document that through much of 1964 and well into 1965 many meetings were held where various state and federal officials weighed in on this subject with no clear decision as to the building's fate being made. At various times in mid-1965 the idea of using the building for a presidential library was proposed as well as a federal office building! It doesn't seem that Moses objected to the library idea but he positively had a fit over the office building idea! Looming as a bigger issue now was the fact that the U.S. government had neglected to pay for any of the electric and water service to the building from the date the utilities were turned on back in 1963. By the time the Fair Corporation began in earnest to pursue the government for payment of the bill it totaled almost $215,000! Bearing in mind that the Fair was working to put its financial affairs in order and it desperately needed as much money as it could lay its hands on, Fair officials spent a considerable amount of time corresponding back and forth with various government officials about the validity of the bill and the need for it to be paid. Each time pressing a little with one official and then another as they worked their way up the government food chain. At one point the government flat out told the Fair that they thought the bill was excessive. Moses countered with a press release slamming the government for failing to pay its bills in a timely fashion and throwing in, for good measure, that the government had also not allotted any money in its budget for demolition of the building. Behind the scenes though, Fair officials countered with numerous meter readings and various contract verbiage in a desperate attempt to collect on this large bill. Finally, Fair officials relented and reduced the bill to approximately $197,000 which the government finally paid in October, 1965 just as the Fair was preparing to close its gates. The government's correspondence during this period indicate that $125,000 was budgeted for utilities and that $72,000 would need to be transferred from the demolition reserve fund to pay the agreed amount. While this dispute was being worked out it seems that the Board of Education lost interest in the building, once again due to the high cost of upgrading the structure to then current building codes. An earlier study had estimated the total cost of conversion at $3,761,000. By this time it seems that whatever remaining demolition funds the U.S. government had set aside for this purpose were no longer available. Possibly this was due in large part to under budgeting and the belief on the government's part that maybe, somehow, water and electric were free for them at the Fair! As such (as would be the case with the New York State pavilion) in January 1966 the people of New York got another unexpected "gift," this time courtesy of the federal government, with control of the building being turned over to the Parks Department in September, 1966. It is at this point that the Fair Corporation simply washed their hands of any responsibility or involvement with the building even though at the time they were still very actively involved and in control of the rest of the Park as they proceeded with the final phases of the restoration work. As a side note to this issue as late as mid-1967 Sam Lefrak, the developer of Lefrak city in Queens, proposed creating an art museum in the building and was aggressively pursuing this plan of action in hopes of having the museum ready for the re-dedication of the Park in June of that same year. Obviously nothing ever came of his idea and, as such, the building was to sit vacant until the city finally put this once magnificent structure out of its misery and demolished it in the mid-1970's.

World of Food - As far as the Fair-going public was concerned, this pavilion never existed. To the Fair Corporation, it represented a demolition and a legal challenge of a different sort since ground was broken and steel work erected right at the main doorstep of the Fair. As can be expected there was much litigation involved as it relates to the demise of this exhibit and what claims the Fair Corporation had against its organizers. What has been reported in the past, that Fair officials had the steel work torn down and buried on the site, is only partially correct. While it is true that the Fair Corporation did tear the steel work down and seed the plot, they also realized that the steel did have some salvage value and until all litigation was settled it might be in the best interest of the Fair to preserve it. As such the Fair Corporation paid close to $3,000 to have it removed and stored in an unknown location for almost a year. At some point in mid-1965 it was moved to a nearby storage yard in preparation for its sale. During this period the storage yard billed the Fair Corporation $450 a month for storage fees and kept pressing the Fair as to its intentions for the steel. In early September, 1965, once all litigation had been settled, it was finally sold for scrap for the huge sum of approximately $8,300 never to be heard from again.

Some other minor tidbits I was able to glean from the records involving the post-Fair period were also amusing. They included the following:

  • As the Fair Corporation started to reduce staff and turn over various office space to the Parks Department in mid-1967 they became very cramped in the way of working space. Most employees competed for space along with records as well as excess furniture and fixtures.
  • Fair officials were very interested in moving the official model of the Fair back from the American Express Pavilion after the Fair's run ended. They even went as far as getting bids from Lester & Associates for the move and reinstallation in the Administration Building. At the time they requested the bids they were considering keeping the model as is with the Fair buildings shown, or modifying the model to reflect how the Park would look after the Fair. Cost estimates for this work were in the 15 to 20 thousand dollar range at the time. It appears that the Fair Corporation ultimately gave up on this idea due to their concern that the Parks Department probably would not adequately maintain the large model and, that in ten years time, it would most likely be ready for the scrap heap!
  • Newbold Morris, the Parks Commissioner at the time, wanted to hold an international competition to come up with a master plan for Flushing Meadow Park; the most incredible part of which included an idea to demolish every existing structure in the Park including the Unisphere! Needless to say Robert Moses was not very happy about this plan and presented him with some hard facts and figures that detailed the millions of dollars spent in restoring the Park up to that point. Obviously, this idea died a quick and just death for the records don't indicate anything else from Mr. Morris after Moses sent him this letter.
  • Fair officials received many unsolicited requests from the public to alternately make the Fair grounds a university, an east coast Disneyland or a trade Fair utilizing the existing Fair structures. Once again Fair officials went to great pains to respond to each one by pointing out that most, if not all of, the buildings were of temporary nature and as such could not be retained. Additionally the lease with the city prevented such use of the land. In those same letters these individuals also voiced how much they had really enjoyed the Fair and were sorry to see it go.
  • Close to the end of the Fair many ordinary citizens wrote to the Fair imploring officials to keep the Fair open past its scheduled closing date. Needless to say they all received a short but polite response telling them that this was not possible and thus, on October 17, 1965, one of the greatest expositions ever held passed into history as well as the hearts and minds of many who attended it.

Story © Copyright 2005, Craig Bavaro, All Rights Reserved

Craig is an avid collector of the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair with an emphasis on the many items published by and for the World's Fair Corporation. He resides today in sunny California and works as an executive in the Mortgage Finance Industry.
 
You might also wish to explore Craig's excellent memoir titled A World's Fair Odyssey & An Afternoon of Delight on Flushing Meadow Park as it was in the mid 1970s. You can contact Craig via email.

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