I opened up the May Issue of Hemmings Classic Car the other day, and it had a story about all the auto exhibits at the 1964/65, New York World’s Fair! Immediately I was taken back to the exciting summer days in 1964 and 1965, when for three young Queens boys, the fair was our playground! I remembered writing a blog piece about the fair, and started going through my archives looking for it. Reading that piece brought back many great memories of those two summers. If you’re interested in my memories, here’s a slightly updated version of the piece that I wrote in 2010.
When the New York World’s Fair opened in April of 1964, I was a 14 year old boy who lived in Queens just 5 subway stops away on the #7 train. The brand new Fair Subway Special subway cars were our gateway to a place that we would know like the back of our hands by the closing day in October of 1965. The “we” I refer to were my best friends Richard, David and myself, and over the next two fair seasons we spent over 100 days at the fair’s Flushing Meadow Park site. Richard and I took the #7 train to the fair, but got on at different stops. In the days before cell phones, we’d try to hook up on the subway, but if we missed each other, we’d meet up at the fair stop. (Take a look at the commercial from NYC Transit, advertising the Subway Special to the World’s Fair…you even get a peek at the brand new Shea Stadium as the #7 train pulls into Willets Point, the World’s Fair stop! https://youtu.be/wStZZ6hNweU) The third member of our group, David, lived on the other side of the park and would come in the Rodman Street entrance, and then the three us would meet up at the Unisphere.
The first act of this story happened years before any of us were born. I’m speaking of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens. The purpose of that fair was to help lift the city and the country out of the great depression, and it was the first fair to look to the future with it’s slogan, “Dawn of a New Day”. It took place on 1,216 acres of a former ash dump, that after the fair would be turned into a city park (This was the same ash dump that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters passed through on the train ride from West Egg to Manhattan). As a kid growing up in Queens, I knew the park (in fact I’d even skated at the ice rink in one of the surviving buildings from the ’39 fair, the New York City Pavilion), and had heard stories of the fair from my father.
Turn the clock ahead to the late 50s and a group of businessmen, who had fond memories of the 1939 Fair, and wanted the same kinds of experiences for their children and grandchildren. The result was the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. If you read the history of this fair today, you will discover that there were all kinds of problems associated with it right from the beginning. Money was, of course, a huge problem, as was sanctioning from the Bureau of International Expositions. But to a group of teens who lived literally down the street from the fair, all that we cared about was that for two summers we’d be blocks away from a huge playground of the future! Even better was the fact that Walt Disney had signed on to design exhibits in a number of pavilions, so this would indeed be our East Coast Disneyland.
The fair, with the slogan Peace through Understanding, had lots of incredible cultural happenings during it’s two years, such as the ability to view Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Vatican Pavilion, but the favorites of the three of us were the pavilions of the Industrial area. We knew the song from the Pepsi Pavilion (“It’s a Small World After all”…come on, sing along), enjoyed GE’s Carousel of Progress (which we just visited again last month in Florida’s Disney World as Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress), and had even seen Mr. Lincoln talking to us at the Illinois Pavilion (well, when Mr. Lincoln worked!). Thanks to Mr. Disney and others, the 1964/65 World’s Fair was a real showcase of new ideas, new products and new ways of doing things! The perfect playground for three teenage boys! Our days started early and didn’t end till we’d watch the fountain-and-fireworks show every night at 9 p.m. at the Pool of Industry, just outside the Kimberly-Clark Pavilion.
At the Bell System Pavilion, we got to see and use touch tone phones for the first time. At the IBM Pavilion, we loved the way the theater slid up into the huge egg, and we learned about the future of computing. We signed up for pen pals at the Parker Pen Pavilion, and looked at the contents of a new time capsule at the Westinghouse Pavilion – a match to the one Westinghouse had sunk in the ground at the same spot at the 1939 Fair. We enjoyed the chemical magic show at the Dupont Pavilion, got to use a microwave oven for the first time, and even got to taste Belgian Waffles and have chicken chow mein in bowls made of fried noodles! But, as full-fledged car nuts already, many of our days were spent across the Grand Central Parkway from the main fair in the Transportation area.
I remember the Chrysler Pavilion, and getting our first up close look at the Chrysler Turbine Car in its incredible copper color with decidedly Thunderbird design influences. I remember seeing the automotive near future at the General Motors Futurama Pavilion – although I am still waiting for the roadways they claimed we’d have by the year 2000 that would have imbedded control strips in the pavement that would allow drivers to sit back and relax with their passengers while the road controlled the cars! As a died in the wool Ford Fan, I especially remember the Ford Rotunda!
I remember walking up and seeing the Mustangs (which were introduced to the world at that fair) on the carousels outside the pavilion as we waited to get on the ride. As “World’s Fair Experts”, we were partial to pavilions that had continually moving rides as the line went faster than did those with theater style exhibits. This was how the folks at Disney had constructed the Magic Skyway, so Ford was one of our favorites, and it was one we went to almost every time we were at the fair! The ride started you out in the past – as far back as the dinosaurs (which look to me to now have a home in Ellen’s Universe of Energy pavilion in Disney World’s Epcot) – giving you a look at the history of transportation, starting with the invention of the wheel, and then moving you through the present into the future. Of course, the best part of the ride was that, unlike the GM pavilion where you sat in a moving chair, at Ford, you took your ride through time in a Ford Motor Company convertible!
There were lots of family groups going to the fair, so they were often put in one of the big Ford convertibles such as the full size Ford, Mercury or Lincoln cars. As three teenage boys, more often then not, we got one of the smaller cars, like a Falcon or Comet convertible, or one of the Mustangs. I have to honestly say that from what I remember, the ride was good in a typical Disney way, but it was the ride in a new Ford convertible that kept us coming back! Once you were finished with the ride, there were still lots of Ford cars to see, and even sit in, and of course, the Ford Rotunda state pin to take home as a souvenir!
One of our saddest days was our visit to the fair the day it closed for good, October 17, 1965. It, of course, included a visit to our favorite pavilion, the Ford Rotunda. For three young teenage boys from Queens, the two years since the April 1964 opening had been magical. We always had a destination, and a way to have fun and explore, and at a $2 entrance fee, for not a lot of money. I remember that last day that folks all over the park were taking souvenirs, and that many of the knobs were missing from the Ford cars on the Magic Skyway. Over 50 years later, the memories I have of those two summers spent with my two best friends are some of the best souvenirs I could have. It may also be why my candy apple red Mustang convertible is my pride and joy, and my own Magic Skyway vehicle!
If you’re interested, there are pages and pages of videos from the New York World’s Fair on YouTube! As I write this, we are less than 2 weeks away from the 53rd anniversary of the fair’s opening date, April 22nd, 1964…..A lifetime ago!