Controversial beginnings: 1964-65 NY World's Fair - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the March 2012 Juniper Berry Magazine

Controversial beginnings: 1964-65 NY World's Fair

Civil Rights protesters block trucks from entering NYWF on April 4, 1964. courtesy QGardens Gallery.

Controversial

beginnings

The 1964/1965 Fair was conceived by a group of New York businessmen who fondly remembered their childhood experiences at the 1939 New York World's Fair and wanted to provide that same experience for their children and grandchildren. Thoughts of an economic boom to the city as the result of increased tourism was also a major reason for holding another fair 25 years after the 1939/1940 extravaganza. Then-New York City mayor, Robert F. Wagner, Jr., commissioned Frederick Pittera, a producer of International fairs and exhibitions and author of the history of International Fairs & Exhibitions for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Compton Encyclopedia to prepare the first feasibility studies for the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair. He was joined by Austrian Architect Victor Gruen (creator of the shopping mall) in studies that eventually led the Eisenhower Commission to award the world's fair to New York City in competition with a number of American cities.

Organizers turned to private financing and the sale of bonds to pay the huge costs to stage them. The organizers hired New York's "Master Builder," Robert Moses, to head the corporation established to run the fair because he was experienced in raising money for vast public projects. Moses had been a formidable figure in the city since coming to power in the 1930s. He was responsible for the construction of much of the city's highway infrastructure and, as parks commissioner for decades, the creation of much of the city's park system.

In the mid-1930s, Moses oversaw the conversion of a vast Queens tidal marsh/garbage dump into the fairgrounds that hosted the 1939/1940 World's Fair. Called Flushing Meadows Park, it was Moses' grandest park scheme. He envisioned this vast park, comprising some 1,300 acres of land and located in the center of the city, as a major recreational playground for New Yorkers. When the 1939/1940 World's Fair ended in financial failure, Moses did not have the available funds to complete work on his project. He saw the 1964/1965 Fair as a means to finish what the earlier fair had begun.

To ensure profits to complete the park, fair organizers knew they would have to maximize receipts. An attendance of 70 million people would be needed to turn a profit and, for attendance that large, the fair would need to be held for two years. The World's Fair Corporation also decided to charge site rental fees to all exhibitors who wished to construct pavilions on the grounds. This decision caused the fair to come into conflict with the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), the international body headquartered in Paris that sanctions world's fairs: BIE rules stated that an international exposition could run for one six-month period only, and no rent could be charged to exhibitors. In addition, the rules allowed only one exposition in any given country within a 10-year period, and the Seattle World's Fair had already been sanctioned for 1962.

The United States was not a member of the BIE at the time, but fair organizers understood that a sanction by the BIE would assure that its nearly 40 member nations would participate in the fair. Moses, undaunted by the rules, journeyed to Paris to seek official approval for the New York fair. When the BIE balked at New York's bid, Moses, used to having his way in New York, angered the BIE delegates by taking his case to the press, publicly stating his disdain for the BIE and its rules.[5] The BIE retaliated by formally requesting its member nations not to participate in the New York fair. The 1939/1940 and 1964/1965 New York World's Fairs were the only significant world's fairs since the formation of the BIE to be held without its endorsement.