What Went Wrong in Wondeland?

Fair is Faring Fairly Well -
It Should Show a Profit
...NEW YORK, July 22 (AP) -- The New York World's Fair, with financial success already assured, has reached the half-way point of its first season and fair officials are sure attendance will pick up.
...The original estimate was for a total of 70 million visitors this year and next, with 40 million this year. So far less than 14 million have clicked through the turnstiles.
...However, fair officials are not unduly concerned.They feel that the vacation season is just getting underway.
...They are also expecting New Yorkers themselves to turn out in far greater numbers in September when the weather is cooler and when the seashore and mountain week-end season is over.
Big Shows Faring Poorly
...Officials announced more than a
month ago that -- unlike most big fairs in the past -- this one will not only break even but actually will come out with a profit.
...Some of the concessons, however, haven't fared well. The water and stage show on the site of the Billy Rose Aquacade of the 1939-40 World's Fair and a big musical production of Mike Todd at the Louisiana Pavilion have closed.
...The giant Texas Pavilion, featuring a number of shows and entertainment features, has just filed a bankruptcy petition and the Dick Button "Ice-Travaganza" has been skating on financially thin ice.
Wait in Line for Hours
...The fair's amusement area has been particularly hard hit. Visitors have been ducking it, apparently
not wanting to foot the bill for children to take in the numerous rides and shows.
...Another reason is the competition from the giants of American industry, such as General Motors, Ford, General Electric, Bell Telephone, etc.
...They put on spectacular shows free of charge. People wait in line for hours to see them.
...There have been complaints about the food situation as to prices and availability of eating places. Fair officials say there are more than 100 restaurants, featuring everything from 25-cent hot dogs to high-priced gourmet items.
SOURCE: Newsclipping, July 22, 1964, Unknown source. Presented courtesy Bob Granata Collection

SOURCE: Photography by Max Mordecai

Unisphere - Day to Night sequence

"What Went Wrong in Wonderland?"
from: Look Magazine, April 20, 1965 (excerpted)

THIS IS CERTAIN: At 9 a.m., Wednesday, April 21, the New York World's Fair will throw open the eight gates that guard the 646-acre enclave. The 1965 season will begin. This 180-day run will conclude the controversial extravaganza that shoves together carnival, education, religion, international amity, Madison Avenue merchandising, some art, band music, popcorn, beer and hot dogs. For the public, it is a "last-chance saloon." Once the exhibition closes, faint hope lives that such will be duplicated for generations -- at least not in New York City.

When the gates closed on October 18, the piped music was stilled, the pavilions got cocoons of plastic and plywood. The exhibitors began to plot their moves for the 1965 edition. Some sponsors had good reason, for Flushing Meadow Park was, last year, a ground that seemed not hallowed, but jinxed. On opening day, CORE pickets threatened highway stall-ins to dramatize their school integration demands. Poetically, it rained; thousands stood in the splatter to hear President Lyndon B. Johnson officially open the fair. Many pavilions were not completed for the start -- one, the Belgian Village, didn't open until August.

What dominated winter brooding was the head count at the gate. Average daily attendance was 170,000. The best single day was October 11, when 264,552 showed up. Before the Fair opened, the management announced that over 28 million tickets had been sold. Early estimates put the total two-season attendance at 70 to 80 million. So 40 million seemed reasonable for 1964.Caroline Hadley with WF Balloons

What went wrong in wonderland? First, the Harlem riots undoubtedly affected would-be visitors to New York. Next, throughout the season, almost every intramural bicker was publicized. The Olympics of Progress -- the title is from World's Fair President Robert Moses -- came up like a daily Donnybrook. For example, there was bickering between the representatives of Jordan and the adherents of the American-Israel Pavilion, who differed about the intent of a Jordanian mural. Some exhibitors complained, seemingly with bullhorns, about the high cost of services required to maintain pavilions. One item: When an eighty-pound, 3x4-foot wooden sign blew down, it cost the British Lion Pub $92 to have it put back; the workman's lunch was in the bill. Other international exhibitors used their own staffs to clean their pavilions because of the prices charged by the Allied Maintenance Corporation, which had a monopoly. (This year, the showmen will have nine firms to choose from.)

Shows like Dick Button's Ice-Travaganza, Wonderworld (in the Amphitheater) and To Broadway with Love went begging, and broke. The last two were located in the Lake Amusement Area and all were paid-admission shows. The Texas Pavilion folded like a campstool. Other exhibitors, isolated from heavy pedestrian flow, realized too late that they were dealing in an all-or-nothing business that allows for no tryouts. Without fail, everyone's beef wound up in a fishbowl.

Moses announced that the Fair had no surplus and needed $3.5 million to reopen. The reasons given for the $17.5 million deficit were low attendance, loans to sinking pavilions, high maintenance and security costs. He stated that New York City would not be repaid the $24 million advanced to the Fair Corporation for the permanent improvements at Flushing Meadow Park, and he refused to open the books for detailed audits. Whereupon five bankers on the advisory financial committee quit. Thomas J. Deegan, Jr., chairman of the executive committee, who was instrumental in getting Moses to be the Fair's boss, joined the financiers' dissent. Deegan, whose firm had handled the Fair's public relations for five years, dropped the $300,000-a-year account. From City Hall, cries for a detailed audit of the closed books rose from Controller Abraham D. Beame.

Exhibitors, who have poured hundred of millions into the Fair, are split on Moses's stewardship. Many offer a Moses reply -- "No comment" -- on his record. One calls him "A genius. He is brilliant, a doer. Of course, you can argue about his tactics." Another says, "If only he'd bend a little."

Jeno Paulucci, the president of the Chun King Corporation says, "The criticisms of the Fair's management are stupid. Our restaurant served 5 million people, and we came within 2 percent of our estimates. Going into the Fair is like going into a TV show. You might wind up with 10 million -- or 20 million in the audience. What are they out there for? Advertising. I'm just a country boy, and the idea of 30 million people seeing our products is fine with me. It's a perfect extravaganza. We're going to serve another 5 million this season."

"I am emotionally involved in the Fair," says Ralph Bugli of the Swedish Pavilion. "It is a tremendous show, and it is the show that counts, and not what goes on in the box office."

The show is the thing ... while the aesthetic eyes are bloodshot from scanning the commercial aspects of this Fair (all Fairs have had sales as their motives), the same eyes are cleared by the Romanesque collection in the Spanish Pavilion, the pop-art photographic visions by Robert Rauschenberg at the New York State Pavilion, the chalky imagery of Parable, a movie in the Protestant and Orthodox Center. The skill of the glassblower in the West Virginia Pavilion may reassure some highbrows that automation has not swept away everything. Actually, the Fair spans so many opposites that in July of last year, the two "hits" were the Pieta (by Michelangelo) and the Mustang (by the Ford Motor Company). This disparity is the main reason for seeing the Fair. Here is the mid-century spread over a one-square-mile stage under an improbable proscenium. The millions thronging to the Fair are making this age and maybe changing it. Most fair goers don't care whether or not "Robert Moses can play his own town" -- a tough act for anyone, even in Kenosha. They want to see a show. At the 1965 World's Fair, they are probably seeing the last epic of its kind.

Come opening day, the trumpet blasts of high-school bands, the hawking of vendors and the popping of fireworks will drown out the squeals from the box office. And as to the question, "Will the Fair really open?" the answer is Yes. As one industrial exhibitor put it, "Our exhibit will open on April 21, even if we have to buy the joint. And it will stay open for the entire season."


  Farewell to the Fair

Click HERE

After years of planning and construction and two seasons of operation, the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair came to a close on October 17th, 1965. The world had beaten a path to its door and now it was time to return the land it had occupied to the natives. Learn of the Fair's final days, its demolition and the post-Fair restoration of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Webmaster's note...
the story the Fair's financial difficulties, final days and demolition, and Flushing Meadow Park's restoration, is documented at nywf64.com in the Feature, "Farewell to the Fair." You are invited to continue exploring the fascinating story of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair there . . . 

A sea of Glide-a-Rides await the auction block (above) shortly after the Fair closed in 1965. A family watches the traffic glide by the the Long Island Expressway (below) as demolition of the Fair begins.
Glide-a-Rides await auction

Bridge to Amusement Area

(above) The Kodak Pavilion, abandoned and debris strewn, waiting for the wreckers. A Fairground street devoid of Fairgoers shortly after the close of the Fair in 1965 (below) -- a sad and lonely sight after six years of monumental effort to bring the Fair to the World.
Kodak debris field

SOURCE: Photographs by Max Mordecai

Vacant Fairgrounds

Webmaster's note... As always, there are so many people to thank when a Feature goes up on nywf64.com. I am always grateful when people are kind enough to contribute to a presentation. First of all, a very big Thank You to Bradd Schiffman who took the time and patience last year to scan in the Fair's Newsletter (FAIR NEWS) and Progress Reports. They have been an invaluable resource in putting together this feature. There's so much more that could have gone online and, at the risk of being a shameless self-promoter, anyone can purchase a CD-Rom of the complete set of these fascinating documents from the Souvenir Stand here at nywf64.com to continue their exploration of the Building of the Fair. Many thanks to the major contributors of photographs for the feature, namely Karl Baker, Glen Mordacai and Ray Dashner. It's always the picture more than the written word that captures the imagination and these fellows have contributed some "dandies." A big Thank You to John Loughead for answering my call at the "PTU" Forum for pictures relating to the Fair Construction. His contribution of "phantom" shots of pavilions that "never were" is invaluable. Thank you to Shopia Dekel Caspi of the Genia Schreiber University Gallery in Tel Aviv for the Reznik Exhibition Catalogue from which the Israel Pavilion material was gleaned. Thanks go to Fred Stern for the WNYC videotape from which the "Five Men" section was composed. And to Gary Holmes and Bob Granata for their contributions to the story.

This presentation is one that I've wanted to do for a very long time. It had been my goal to complete this along with the Feature done back in 2001 on the demolition of the Fair and the restoration of Flushing Meadow Park. With the Building the Fair Feature now complete, I feel the whole story is documented as best as I can do within the limitiations of a website. I hope I've done the topic justice.

Bill Young
March 28, 2005

Have you enjoyed the photography of Max Mordecai? I was so taken by the quality of his photographs, a contribution of his son, Glen, who told me, "My memory of the Worlds Fair all belongs to my feelings in my heart which my dad put there for me 'cause of all the trips we made to the Fair as a family." Thank you for the memories, Mr. Mordecai. We all appreciate the Fair that you've captured for us.

Max Mordecai
Max Mordecai

SOURCE: Photographs presented courtesy Glen Mordecai collection (unless otherwise indicated) and are
© Copyright 2005 Glen Mordecai, All Rights Reserved