Moses Suggests Demolition of Many Noted Structures


Robert Moses yesterday made public his "tentative conclusions" as to which World's Fair structures should be retained and which should be demolished after the close of the fair.

Save for Philip Johnson's gaily colored carnival canopy of the New York State Pavilion and, possibly, the United States Pavilion, all of the structures on the fairgrounds that won architectural praise are on the demolition list.

Among these are the Pavilion of Spain and the stone wall of the Japanese Pavilion, which was called by one critic "perhaps the most important piece of contemporary art" at the fair.

The failure to include the wall was a surprise. As late as January, in the fair's report to its directors, the wall, the work of the well-known Japanese sculptor Nagare, was singled out as a structure that might be reconstructed elsewhere in the post-fair park on the site as part of a Japanese garden.

Site for Records Suggested 

In contrast, Mr. Moses added to the list of buildings that might possibly be retained one that had not been mentioned in the January report -- the Better Living Center, a huge structure that had not found favor with architectural critics. It was suggested that the center be used as a storage hall for city records.

Mr. Moses listing of the structures for possible preservation came as a result of the appointment by Mayor Wagner of William F. Shea, Director of the Budget, as head of a committee to work with the fair in selecting the buildings to be saved. The Mayor acted so that Mr. Moses would not have a unilateral hand in making the selections.

On Feb. 23rd Mr. Moses sent a letter to Mr. Shea making his recommendations and

appointing John T. O'Neil, director of the fair's engineering staff, as his representative on the committee. The letter was made public yesterday.

In it Mr. Moses outlined some of the factors involved in suggesting whether to retain a building, including the cost of converting a building to a permanent structure and the possible uses to which a building might be put.

Among the post-fair projects mentioned by Mr. Moses in his letter was the conversion of Singer Bowl to a permanent site for outdoor concerts. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Opera Association said that it had an engineering study of the possibility well underway and that the Met was considering using the bowl in 1967 after Lewisohn Stadium is demolished.

In the January report, Mr. Moses had mentioned that the lower portion of the Bell System's building might be retained. In the letter, however, Mr. Moses recommended its demolition because Bell was not willing to pay the $500,000 needed to adapt it. Bell is obligated to pay the $350,000 demolition cost.

The demolition of the du Pont and Ford structures was also recommended for similar reasons.

The Board of Education is interested in the United States Pavilion for lectures and administration, but Mr. Moses said that "whether the United States Government would contribute substantially is doubtful."

The case of the Better Living Center is somewhat different since its financial position is such that its owners may not be able to fulfill their obligation to demolish the structure. If they cannot, then the fair will have to assume the costs of demolition -- unless the fair can convince the city to undertake the cost of conversion to a record storage center.

SOURCE: The New York Times, March 5, 1965

SOURCE: Excerpt from Third Supplemental Report on New York World's Fair 1964 -1965 Corporation Covering Operations from Inception to December 31, 1966, Issued October 26, 1967

... The full amount owed [to the Fair Corporation] by the Better Living Pavilion on December 31, 1965 was ... $516,299.33. Furthermore, it appeared ... that the group in control of the concession would also abandon its building and leave the demolition to the Fair Corporation. The early estimates were that this would necessitate an additional expenditure of $600,000.00 by the Fair for demolition. On January 14, 1966, however, the Fair Corporation concluded an agreement with Better Living Associates in which the latter agreed to demolish its own structure and, in addition, to pay the sum of $200,000.00 as settlement in full of its debt. The $200,000.00 was thus received by the Fair and the difference written off to the reserve for bad debts.

Epilogue by Eric Paddon

While the Better Living Center ultimately performed better than similar exhibition-style halls like the Pavilion of American Interiors, it was still a financial failure. By the close of the Fair losses were reported in excess of $500,000 and the Fair was only able to recoup $200,000 of that from the Better Living Center's investors while absorbing the balance (which only added to the debt problems the Fair Corporation already faced). There had been some speculation prior to the start of the 1965 season that the pavilion might be among those retained after the Fair as a place to store records for the city. Those plans never came to serious fruition as the city was not about to budget the necessary costs to make such a post-Fair use possible.

It is likely that the Better Living Center's restrictive traffic flow was a major contributor to its failure. Like it or not, the Fairgoer who wished to see the American Masterpieces exhibit on the third floor was not going to escape a look at demonstrations of massage chairs and Schick's History of Shaving, and youngsters who would have found the model train exhibit on the lobby level fascinating had to filter their way through the women's fashion exhibits on the upper floors before getting to see it. The Better Living Center's promoters had designed their pavilion to the benefit of their tenants -- to the detriment of their visitors. It "trapped" the Fairgoer denying them a choice in what they would or would not see. More often-than-not, this resulted in negative word-of-mouth about the pavilion making potential visitors more inclined to shy away from the Better Living Center and its exhibits than to spend two hours forced to endure exhibits they really weren't interested in seeing.

The failure of these kinds of pavilions was perhaps something that should have been better foreseen given the Fair's vast scope and the popularity of so many other larger-than-life attractions in the Industrial and Transportation sections. While the Better Living Center certainly offered more variety than simple department store-like exhibits and pitches, even its more diverse elements were not unique to the pavilion. The General locomotive, which quite possibly qualified as the most unique exhibit the Better Living Center had to offer, was situated on the ground level outside the building. A typical Fair visitor, especially male visitors who would not have a natural interest in something like the Crystal Palace Fashion Show, might think that he'd seen all he needed to once he'd seen the Civil War locomotive and then would move on to nearby General Electric or Kodak. "All About Elsie," despite the novelty of having a live animal fixed on-stage the whole time, was really no different than similar puppet show revues one could find in popular pavilions like those of Chrysler and IBM. The Arnold Palmer Putting Course on the third floor could by itself hardly measure up to the kind of game offerings to be found in the Fair's Amusement Area.

What the Better Living Center could have used most was a larger-than-life "grabber" situated on its upper levels; something truly unique from a Fairgoing perspective that would make its enforced traffic flow through the rest of the building worthwhile. Perhaps if the American Masterpieces exhibit had featured a very well-known, specific American painting that the typical Fairgoer would find a "must" to see, just as the Pieta was a "must" to see at the Vatican Pavilion or if the "All About Elsie" show was done with a Disney style Audio-Animatronic approach, more visitors would have included the Better Living Center on their "must see" list. In hindsight, the Better Living Center seems more like a case of a pavilion that was geared too much toward the style of a County Fair and, given the larger-than-life scope that had been planned for the New York World's Fair from the beginning, this was an approach that could never have succeeded without injecting some new forward thinking into the mix.

Demolition of the Better Living Center, 1966

SOURCE: Photos presented courtesy Bill Cotter collection © 2010 Bill Cotter, All Rights Reserved. See more images from Bill's fabulous collection of World's Fair photographs at his website WorldsFairPhotos.com.

Demolition of the BLC
Demolition of the BLC

The failure of pavilions like the Better Living Center should by no means make us lessen their importance to the overall history of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Even if the exhibits inside were not especially unique when one tallied up the things to be found over the rest of the Fairgrounds, the Better Living Center did manage to serve as a microcosm of how this was a World's Fair that tried to be "Something for Everyone." New products from American business and industry, appreciation for history, musical and artistic creativity and simple amusement were things that could be found in many corners of the Fair. The Better Living Center was certainly the only place at the Fair that attempted to provide a taste of all of that under one roof.

* * *

Webmaster's note... Once again, historian Eric Paddon provides us with a fascinating look into one of the major exhibits of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. What Eric doesn't tell you in any of his insights on the various exhibits presented here is that he has a very personal connection to the Better Living Center. As you read through the commemorative Groundbreaking Brochure you might catch the name of one of the participants in the Groundbreaking Ceremony -- Mr. W. W. Paddon, President of the Sunshine Biscuit Corporation, a major exhibitor in the Better Living Center. Mr. Paddon was Eric's Grandfather! Sadly, Eric could not find any memorabilia related to Sunshine's participation in the Fair so if any visitors to this website have anything related to Sunshine's participation, please let me know and I will forward it to Eric and will include it in the Feature. Thank you, Eric, for this wonderful addition to nywf64.com. and to the preservation of the memories of the Fair. My thanks also go out to Bill Cotter for once again donating his beautiful photographs of the Better Living Center - both inside and outside - and for the contribution of his Better Living Center memoralia to enhance this Feature. And, also to Craig Bavaro for his great Publicity Shots from his collection of World's Fair Corporation materials and to Mr. Bob Sivilic for his up-close photo of the Lifesavers Tower!

Eric, thank you for your patience with me to get this feature online. Eric put this material together for me several years ago and he's waited a long, long time to see it in public. Thank you again, Eric, for your research and hard work on this presentation. It is much appreciated!

Bill Young
February, 2010