Flushing Meadows-Corona Park · Queens, NY
The unofficial symbol of Queens, the Unisphere exists as one of the few remaining artifacts from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. This world's largest world stands at 140 feet high and 120 feet in diameter. It was constructed of stainless steel by the United States Steel Corporation and presented to the fair on April 22, 1964. Three rings circle the globe, representing the orbits of the first American astronaut, the first Russian cosmonaut and the first communications satellite to orbit the Earth (although I read somewhere that one or more of them may be geographically incorrect.) And speaking of geography, it's worth noting that the continents of the Earth are lopsided, making the balance and the construction of the Unisphere difficult, one side being considerably heavier than the other. In total, the skeletal sphere weighs 700,000 pounds, probably one of the biggest reasons it still remains. The biggest reason, in my opinion, however, is that it's just plain cool.
Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to convey its magnitude through photographs, but trust me, it's really freakin' huge. Riding the Number 7 out to Queens, I could spot it from the train, peeking above the buildings. Once at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it was a short walk that seemed to get longer and longer as I headed toward the globe. Its scale plays tricks on you; you think it's just ahead, but it keeps getting bigger. Of course, the locals don't pay much attention. Most probably don't bother to look up anymore. It is an object of community pride, though, and has been honored with landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
If it looks familiar despite the fact you've never been there, that's no surprise. The Unisphere has been featured in many print ads, television commercials and music videos. It's most interesting appearance, though, was in the 1997 film Men in Black, where it was destroyed by a crashing flying saucer. If you'll remember, the saucer itself was a facet of the fair's architecture, camouflaged at the top of a three-pier tower. That building still exists as well, although the art directors took some artistic liberty with it in the film. The towers were part of the New York State Pavilion and were accessible by elevator, allowing visitors a bird's-eye view of the fairgrounds from the tallest platform, providing them with snacks on the middle one and giving visiting dignitaries a place to relax on the lowest. Today, they are a dangerous and rusted hulk.
The major element of the New York State Pavilion, however, was a large arena, shaded by a huge tesselated cover of colored plastic called the Tent of Tomorrow. The plastic has since been removed for safety reasons, but the rest of the building remains, although pretty much in a state of ruin. On the floor of the open-air theater was displayed a large terrazzo map of the state of New York. Visitors could wander the map locating their nearest Texaco station, all conveniently marked, or watch performances from a catwalk running the periphery of the court. It now serves as the Queens Theatre in the Park, but my guess is the slowly-deteriorating stadium won't be around much longer.
Unfortunately, most of the fair's original structures have already met such a fate. Only a handful still remain; even fewer are in decent shape. I had hoped to investigate the existance/condition of many more buildings during my visit, but I had made the ill-considered decision to break in a new pair of shoes that day and ended up hobbling wearily back to the train station.
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