Quick Hit: The Unisphere!

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Unisphere, taken between 1980 and 2006 – Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

I have gushed before about visiting Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site of both the 1939-40 and 1964-65 world’s fairs. One of my favorite fair remnants is, of course, the Unisphere, which has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Queens, though few people get out to see it in person. 

The structure is huge, and it’s very, very difficult to get a feel for its scale in photos. Standing 140 feet tall (that’s 12 stories!), it’s the largest globe structure in the world. It was built for the 64-65 world’s fair, the theme of which was “Peace Through Understanding”. The Unisphere itself was dedicated to “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. I love that dedication — I think it’s entirely relevant today, nearly 50 years and several paradigms later.

The structure was built on the foundations of the Perisphere, the centerpiece of the 39-40 World’s Fair. It was donated by the US Steel Corporation and built by Mohawk ironworkers. The three rings represent the paths of the three satellites that were in orbit during the fair, and at night a light glowed from the site of each capitol city on the globe, including one for the Kahnawake Indian Reservation, in honor of the Mohawks. In order to prevent any of those lights from going dark during the two fair seasons, there were three bulbs on a rotating base that could be rotated out if any light burnt out.

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Nowadays, the Unisphere mostly looks like this photo, taken in April – sort of sad. The fountains at its base are usually empty (or holding some stagnant water if there’s been a rainstorm lately), and kids are usually playing on its base or skateboarding around the edge of the fountains. There is one glorious time of the year, though, when Flushing Meadows-Corona Park takes the national stage, and the Parks Department decides it’s worthwhile to turn those fountains on.

In late August and early September, the US Open tennis tournament enlivens this end of the park with scores of people hanging out all day long to watch tennis matches. AND the Unisphere has its pools full and fountains on, spraying water joyfully into the air! 

If you’re heading out there between now and Monday to catch some tennis, definitely stop by the Unisphere for a gander and a photo. And, if you’ve been meaning to get out to Corona to explore the World’s Fair history there, it’s as good a time as any. Unfortunately the Queens Museum is closed for renovation until October, but there’s still plenty to enjoy – including baby sea lions at the Queens Zoo, also located in the boundaries of the park!

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