Robert Moses and the World’s Fair

From Ash Dump to One of the Greatest of Urban Parks

What is a World’s Fair?

A world’s fair is various large public exhibitions held in different parts of the world, with its main intention in serving as a forum to display the different aspects regarding the culture of the country sponsoring the event. Being chosen as the site for two world fairs in 1939 and 1965 has allowed Flushing Meadows to reap the benefits associated with housing such a substantial event. For one, Flushing Meadows Park has become an attraction for many visitors on the weekend as a result of introduction of roadways and other means of transportation that has made the area highly accessible and easy to get to. Also, both world fairs are responsible heavily for developing the site into how it is today. The first world fair was responsible for transforming the area into an actual park from it previously being an ash dump. The second world fair was responsible for modernizing the surroundings with the addition of many of the buildings and attractions still there today.

The 1939 World Fair

Plan for the 1939 World Fair (New York City Parks Photo Archive)

In 1939, Flushing Meadows was chosen as the primary site for the 1939 World Fair because it offered designers a blank slate in terms of layout and overall construction. 1  Bulldozers, large cranes, and trucks all began work to further transform a presumably ash dump and salt marsh into areas of usable land, more than there was before. Mountains of ash were leveled down and some of the meadow mat, otherwise known as the surface level of the salt marsh , was excavated to form two lakes. 2 Today these two lakes are now Meadow Lake and Willow Lake. Flushing Meadow’s current layout and design can be attributed greatly to Robert Moses’ idea to house the 1939 World Fair in Flushing Meadows. This choice resulted in two drastic changes to the area: the construction of new arterial highways and the diversion of the Flushing River. The new highways were built to improve traffic flow to the fair itself. 3 Organizers of the fair were able to reroute the river’s water flow by introducing cavernous underground tunnels. 3 Two new sewage-treatment plants rid Flushing Bay of pollution, while a tide gate and dam controlled damage. 5 This change resulted in an increase in the amount of actual usable land for the Fair and its activities and attractions. Much of the revenue that was collected through the fair was able to be reused later on to continue the growth and transformation of the area to a sustainable park because many of the buildings created for the fair were temporary and inexpensive to build. 6 Nonetheless some of the buildings, no matter how temporary they were, needed a firm foundation in order to remain standing. It is for this reason that large timbers were transported into the area. Along with this, large trees were brought in as well. Between the years of 1937 and 1938 twelve hundred trees were planted that include American, English elms, red and Norway maples, sycamores, and several kinds of oaks, ginkgoes, and willows. 7 Furthermore, once planted the trees were carefully looked after until the roots were planted.

1939 Early Development Plan of Flushing Meadows Park 8

1965 World Fair

Aerial View of 1965 World Fair 9

Site Plan of the 1965 World Fair with the Unisphere at the Center 10

Once again Flushing Meadows was selected as the site for the World Fair in 1965. Robert Moses was once again chosen to organize the event, and this time his purpose was “the completion of Flushing Meadow Park with the legacy of permanent
recreational facilities,” 11 after the fair was complete. He was looking for permanence as well as sustainability. He accomplished what he set out to do for the reason that many of the buildings he constructed for the World Fair still exist today. For example, the Unisphere, which was constructed as the official symbol for the fair 12, is still visited by many people today. Other buildings that still exist include the Queens Zoo, the Queens Theatre, and New York Hall of Science.

Unisphere

Footnotes:

  1. “Introduction” The 1939-1940 New York World Fair: 10
  2. “A New Profession for Women.” Long Island Landscapes and the Women Who Designed Them:24
  3. The Designing of the Fair.” The 1964-1965 New York’s World Fair: Creation and Legacy: 13
  4. The Designing of the Fair.” The 1964-1965 New York’s World Fair: Creation and Legacy: 13
  5. Twentieth Century Limited: Industrial Design in America (1925-1939):190
  6. The Designing of the Fair.” The 1964-1965 New York’s World Fair: Creation and Legacy: 14
  7. “A New Profession for Women.” Long Island Landscapes and the Women Who Designed Them.
    :22
  8. A New Profession for Women.” Long Island Landscapes and the Women Who Designed Them:23″
  9. "Complexities in Conservation of a Temporary Post-War Structure: The Case of Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair" Susan Singh: 9″
  10. "Complexities in Conservation of a Temporary Post-War Structure: The Case of Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair" Susan Singh: 10″
  11. “Complexities in Conservation of a Temporary Post-War Structure: The Case of Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair” Susan Singh: 7
  12. “Complexities in Conservation of a Temporary Post-War Structure: The Case of Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair” Susan Singh: 8

1 Response to Robert Moses and the World’s Fair

  1. Jason Munshi-South says:

    In the first sentence, “contributed” should be changed to “attributed”.

    I have a couple of questions after reading this section:

    1) Why was this site chosen for the World’s Fair?

    2) How did they get rid of the dump?

    3) What is a World’s Fair and why is it important!?

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