From Alligators to Atoms

Jim Brown

Click on the thumbnails to see photos up close.

In the exact spot where life size dinosaur models once "roamed" at the New York World's Fair of 1964-65, today real-life alligators roam among other animals at the Queens Zoo. The zoo occupies the space within the Transportation Area where the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit took visitors into a natural prehistoric environment. The area also included other transportation related pavilions such as Chrysler, SKF Industries, the U.S. Rubber featuring a Ferris wheel in a tire, Avis, and the Transportation & Travel pavilion.

Meanwhile next door, all ages are invited to learn some principles of science in the Hew York Hall of Science which once introduced World's Fair visitors to docking maneuvers in outer space and the building blocks of all matter in Atomsville.

Come with us on a photo journey that explores one specific area of the New York World's Fair that spans from prehistoric creatures and modern day alligators at the Queens Zoo to atoms at the New York Hall of Science.

On July 22, 2012 a group of about five World's Fair fans explored two attractions that now occupy the former transportation area of the World's Fair, the Queens Zoo and the New York Hall of Science. The event was organized by Gary Miller as a part of the program known as come-back-to-the-fair. With the assistance of Jim Brown who lead the informal tour with a narrative and group discussions, the group got to see many surprising parallels and symbolic elements between these attractions and their former fair-location counterparts.

How things have changed around here!
The first thing that became apparent when entering the Queens Zoo was the drastic contrast. The industrial design of the 60s as seen at World's Fair attractions such as the Chrysler Pavilion and many others of the Transportation Area have given way into the natural tranquility of winding paths and habitats for wild animals. Visitors today could not easily detect that two futuristic "cities" of tomorrow once stood in these wooded acres that seem to have always been there.

This aerial photo shows part of the Transportation Area within the 646 acres of the 1964-65 fair. Very different from the "Transportation Area" of today.

Winding paths, dense trees, and babbling streams replace concrete, picture-phones, audio-animatronics, audio-visual projections, automobiles, and computers. Perhaps a new look at "progress."

While strolling these paths, It's hard to believe that this was once a major world's fair... Not one but two world's fairs.

Alligators and dinosaurs

Are these pre-historic looking creatures world's fair legacies left behind on the site during demolition of Sinclair Dinoland? Perhaps they're from over at the Ford pavilion some few hundred feet away. It would seem that way but these are living alligators at the Queens Zoo. They could not have been placed in a better spot as this part of the zoo roughly corresponds to the location of the Sinclair exhibit pictured below.

Perhaps we can still experience Dinoland in a small way. Only now they're real!

Look what we see on that rock, left. Could it be a baby dinosaur, right, hatched from an egg left behind from Dinoland?

Fair parallels keep popping up.

Is that the remains of the SKF Industries building? One could be easily misled since this snack stand is located almost in the footprint of the former SKF ball bearing exhibit which has a somewhat similar roof. Notice the spire on the top of the SKF building and what appears to be it cut off on the snack stand. But on closer look, the snack stand is clearly a new and different structure.

Just beyond the refreshment area we get a reminder that we are still on the site of the World's Fair with the sight of the Unisphere in the distance.

This is what we would have seen in 1964 if standing in the same spot of the previous photo.

Could we be at the Lowenbrau pavilion?

This looks like it could have been a rustic structure left from the Lowenbrau beer garden which was in this same spot according to the fair map held here by Jim Brown. Perhaps the covered bridge along the path of the Avis antique car ride in another picture below.

It may look that way, but this is a new covered bridge across a stream in the Queens Zoo.

The covered bridge is situated within the former Lowenbrau beer garden site and has the same rustic look. Had they known that the site would become a zoo, they could have made the beer garden into a nice petting zoo.

Part of the Winston Churchill Pavilion still stands.

As we come to the far left back corner of the zoo, we see something very familiar to world's fair fans. This geodesic dome was once the roof of the of the Churchill Pavilion which was simply "the Pavilion" during the fair's first season. Today it serves as the Aviary in the Queens Zoo. During the fair the Churchill Pavilion was in the Industrial Area, far from the former Transportation Area where the dome now resides. It had been in storage for many years until it was re-erected here.

This sign at the entrance to the Aviary informs visitors of the dome's role
in the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

The geodesic dome had been first created by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld. Years later in 1949 Richard Buckminster Fuller further developed the concepts and was awarded United States patents. In the early 1960s architecht Thomas C. Howard used these concepts in creating the roof for the pavilion at the fair that was constructed by Synergetics Inc. The overall design for the rest of the pavilion was by architechtual firm of Eggers & Higgins. .

The Churchill Center during the 1965 season of the World's Fair and The Pavilion during the 1964 season as pictured here.

The dome now sits on a new concrete footing with an entrance that blends nicely into the dense foliage.

Lets see if anything looks the same inside.

Whow! The inside of the former pavilion does not look at all like it did at the fair.

The darkened auditorium was turned into a jungle! What a difference 50 years makes. Not the same place at all. But there are some similarities as we will soon explain.

Today, exhibits of a very different nature prevail.

As these visitors of 2012 observe; there's been a bird infestation at the Winston Churchill Center!

Yes, things have changed. But there are some similarities if you look hard enough and let your imagination take some liberties.

In the 1939 visitors at this same location waited for hours on long switchback lines to enter the General Motors Futurama to see the transportation and cities of the future in an attraction called "Highways and Horizons." These curved ramps led up to the entrance.

Look familiar? Now visitors walk winding paths to see birds, trees, and plants.

There were curves at many heights. In 1939 they marveled at the wonders of technology that was to come. Today they marvel at the wonders of nature that existed since well before recorded history.

In 1964, visitors rode simulated antique cars along winding paths in this same location at the Avis Rent-A-Car pavilion. Left picture: News Colorfoto by Richard Lewis, New York Sunday News, July 11, 1965

Now all you need to do is imagine yourself in one of those Avis cars while walking these wooded paths for another parallel experience.

Here's more "Highways and Horizons" at the Queen's Zoo aviary.

Now this is what happens when a world's fair pavilion is abandoned for 50 years. The birds take over! But that's just fine by nature lovers at the Queens Zoo.

A flood on the pavilion floor? Remember, this was marsh land before the '39 fair. Or was this left over water from between the islands of the Chrystler Pavilion? Rather it is part of the beautiful nature habitat the Wildlife Conservation Society* has created for it's animals. (*Organization that runs the zoos throughout New York City)

Not all rocks are what they seem to be.

Looking out over a very transformed "Transportation Area." Looking this way in 1964 we would have seen the new Mustang car being introduced in front of the Ford Motor Co. Rotunda.

Lets take a closer look at the geodesic dome. While on our walking tour we looked up and noticed another World's Fair reminder. Only once in the top center of the dome there is the five sided shape of the Chrysler logo that was so prominent in the shape of the "Show-Go-Round" puppet theater pictured below. Look for it in the center of the above picture.

The spaces between the stainless steel support membrane were once solid panels to keep light out of the auditorium within, but birds like sunlight and fresh air, so sturdy screens were installed instead.

The individual pieces of the structure are fastened to hubs with hex nuts and bolts making assembly quick and easy on site. Looking at a shot (smaller picture below right) showing the original pavilion roof, it is clear from the shadows that the roof was a canvas like "tent" that was suspended on cables about a foot or more from each of the hubs. The center hole seen in the picture above accommodated the fastening of the cable. The picture below shows an installation with suspension cables and fitting in the center holes. The chain's anchor in the hole can be seen on the right side hub. More information on geodesic domes Also see Buckminster Fuller Institute

A view of the underside shows the screen frames that now take the place of the original roofing. It is unclear how the screen frames attach to the load bearing structure. (We'll add this information once we get an answer.) These frames had to be precisely made to fit the unequal dimensions of each space as each space was slightly different to accommodated the curvature of the sphere. Original engineering drawings would have been essential in prefabricating these new frames to size before anything was re-erected. Keep in mind that these frames were not a part of the structure at the fair. (Right) Section of Chruchill Pavilion roof showing tent suspended from geodesic dome.

Before coming out from under the Churchill dome, Cary Miller takes a moment to read Bill Cotter's take on the pavilion in book, "The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair" available through Arcadia Press or HERE.

From automotive transportation to seal traffic.

Instead of the latest model cars by Chrysler appearing to be floating on the water that surrounds several exhibit islands pictured below, seals frolic in beautiful habitats of foliage, rocks, and water.


Gary compares the Queens Zoo map to the map of the World's Fair.

This is now the kingdom of wild animals.

Is this a former Pinkerton guard still watching over the Transportation Area. Digging to find the underground home may be safer than digging here to find any remaining foundations from the Ford Pavilion that stood in this area during the 1939-40 fair. Perhaps the zoo would loan this guy to us on the restoration crew at the New York State Pavilion to scare off the graffiti vandals.

Just like the fair, the Queens Zoo is a great place to learn many amazing things.

The Greyhound parking lot was torn down to make a farm.

On the other side of the Avenue of Transportation is an extension to the zoo. Here a petting zoo of farm animals occupies the area where there was a Brass Rail fast food restaurant and the Greyhound bus parking area. Are these sheep catching the scent of hamburgers from the Brass Rail?

Inside the this petting zoo you would think you were at a farm in Virginia. That is until you look in this direction and are reminded that you are still at the site of the New York World's Fair. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Heliport, now the Terrace on the Park catering facility, looms over this peaceful country setting.

The heliport breaks the illusion in several points along the zoo's perimeter.

Revisiting Atomsville

Unlike the zoo where similarities to the World's Fair are subtle, that is not the case at the New York Hall of Science. Here it seems the World's Fair never ended.

The Hall of Science was one of the great pavilions at the fair and it operates today much as it did then. During the fair this room featured many scientific exhibits including one called "Atomsville U.S.A." Atoms are still part of the display today. This picture shows the massive poured concrete center column and ceiling beams needed to support this huge pavilion. Unlike most other workd's fair structures, this one was built to last well after the fair as a permanent science museum. It was not completed until the second season of the fair.

Two kids at heart, John Piro and Gary Miller relive the feeling of being at the World's Fair by operating this hands-on display which demonstrates how moving pictures are created by persistence of vision using flip cards.

The first three pictures above show a traveling exhibit by the Cartoon Network. The bottom right picture is of a permanent exhibit presented by IBM about mathematical computations and theories of logic and probability. It's no coincidence that it is based largely on the IBM pavilion exhibit area at the IBM pavilion pictured below. Down to the graphics on the information panels the designer of this display knew it would be here at the site of the New York World's Fair where IBM once had a major attraction. The probability machine which was a part of the pavilion's exhibits is reproduced here in a scaled down version.

The mathematics exhibit features a smaller version of the the probability Machine, left, that was at the IMB Pavilion, right.

Looking out the windows of a new extension to the Hall of Science, this relic of the fair can be seen. It is the badly damaged rocket ship sculpture that was originally between the Sinclair Dinoland and the SKF pavilions at the fair. It was commissioned for the fair and is titled "Forms in Transit" by Theodore Roszak.

Step back in space and time to 1964

Stepping into the Great Hall at the New York Hall of Science is like a time machine journey back to 1965. Many who were at the World's Fair in its second season remember being in this same room and remember being awestruck by it sheer size and it's place at the dawn of the space-age. The hall was dark and the outside light filtered through the thousands of cobalt blue glass chunks set in the tall curving concrete walls. Today, one could easily imagine that the huge projection screen was still hanging on the far wall and was showing "Rendezvous in Space," a cartoon about space travel. Soon the film would end and the live action would begin several stories up on the ceiling. A simulated docking maneuver between a model of a space taxi and a space station gave great hope for an exciting future of technology and learning. (See the film HERE.)

This vast space accommodated hundreds of fair-goers every half hour. After the docking demonstration, visitors walked down a ramp off to one side which lead them to the vast exhibit space in the basement level.

Temporary scaffolding, left, is seen at the ceiling for the renovation and restoration project that was underway. The projection booth was in the circular inclosure beyond the ventilation duct and to the right of the exit door.

The suspended lighting fixtures were added recently by the museum. They use the hall for traveling exhibits and catered affairs.

Over the years the museum had to add electrical conduit to the walls to accommodate fire safety systems and added outlets for exhibits. Much of the building is poured concrete and there was no easy run these wires inside walls and floors. Hopefully the these services can be provided in a more conceal way during the restoration project.

Thanks to Audio Visual Associate Monte Melnick, center, shown here with John Piro, left, and Jim Brown, right, for letting the group take a look at this amazing World's Fair legacy.

Jack Melnick has some of his World's Fair memorabilia on display in a case at the museum. Al Levy, a former greeter at the Dupont pavilion while as young man, gets emotional as he spots the brochure that he handed to guests as they entered to see "The Wonderful World of Chemistry."

A few relics of the World's Fair Space Park restored for a post space-age public

A much smaller "Space Park" replaces the comprehensive NAASA display that inspired hundreds of young minds at the dawn of the space-age. Only a few of the space vehicles have been restored and are on display and a couple small interpretive panels have been installed in the new park. A science education oriented minature gold course shares space beside the space park of today.

Read more about the Hall of Science at the World's Fair HERE at

In conclusion

There are many parallels between the two New York world's fairs and the attractions here today at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It could be said in a way, that we still have a world's fair of a sort here today — lots of crowds of people out for an enjoyable day, things to see and learn about, visitors and local residents of many nationalities and cultural backgrounds, and a huge breath-taking environment to marvel at.

All is not lost if the educational institutions that occupy the grounds of this once world of tomorrow continue to inspire young minds as the world's fairs of 1939-40 and 1964-65 inspired the generations that were lucky enough to have experienced them.

Join us on future tours, informal walks, lectures, and exhibits. Sign up for notifications at and learn more about the 1964-65 New York World's Fair at and by searching on For information on the 1939-40 fair see: