This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

50 years ago today: The World's Fair

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture Updated: April 22, 2014 - 12:30 PM

The 1964 World’s Fair opened on this day fifty years ago. Roadside America:

As a sequel to the successful 1939 New York World's Fair, the second World's Fair opened on April 22, 1964, and sold itself as "A Millennium of Progress." It operated for only two years. When the Fair closed for good in October 1965 it had been a commercial flop, but that's been forgotten with the passage of time. Instead, it's remembered for its sense of Space Age style and its optimism.

Children of the time, 50 years later, still fondly recall the Tower of Light, GE's atomic fusion sun, the giant car, robot Lincoln, "It's a Small World" boat ride, the first Ford Mustang, dinosaurs, space rockets, supersonic jets, and satellites. Cheery visions of the future were intermixed with product placement and feel-good-about-our-brand messages.

Optimistic, yes - but in retrospect it was the apex of the era’s confidence. You could get away with a Disney pavilion that insisted there was a bright new beautiful tomorrow waiting around the corner; such sincerity and confidence would make eyes roll ten years later. Yeah, right.

The architecture of the ’64 Fair isn’t as good as ’39. This is my opinion, yes. But I’m right. The ’39 Fair had a remarkable consistency - streamlined, clean, white, cerebral. The most glorious collection of Moderne buildings in history. Perhaps it would have had the same effect on American cities as the 1893 Fair, which inspired the lowliest hamlet to add a touch of shining classicism to main street. But the war drove that architectural style out of public favor, somehow; by the time WW2 was done the style stood for a bygone era and discontinued ideas.

The ’64 Fair architecture was a mixed bag, with some wonderful ideas - the Unisphere was a worthy descendant of the ’39 Perisphere, and the New York pavilion looked like a docking bay for incoming shuttlecraft. But overall the architecture was fussy, or heavy, or spindly, or blunt and dull. I have a collection of cards released before the Fair was finished. Let’s take a look at a few.

Gas, Incorporated:

This sums it up: flat. Buildings press down rather than soar up.

Example #2:

The mothership has landed, and we await news to learn if the aliens are friendly.

You expect this one to start walking:

Those non-structural buttresses were part of the stripped-down "Gothic" elements that started to creep into modernism around this time, and had the effect of making sure the window-view was either blocked or in deep shade.

Abstract meaningless metal agglomeration in the windswept vacant plaza? Check!

This I like . . .

 . . . even if the astronaut is a bit Soviet. Finally:

Apparently that was not a matter of taste. It was a fact. (Just like my opinion on the architecture.)

Here's Sinclair Oil's promotional film on the Fair.

How much will remain in centuries to come? Not much. You could say that's the fate of all momuments, but one of the things left behind from the 1964 Fair is the Whispering Column of Jerash. 

The delicate column, with its modified Corinthian capital, was originally erected in 120 AD by Romans in the ancient Jordanian city of Jerash. It was part of the Temple of Artemis, named for the “principle deity” of the city, then known as Gerasa. Once a small village under the rule of Greek General Antiochus IV (175-163 BCE), Gerasa grew over the next three centuries into a major metropolis under Greek and later Roman occupation. When Roman Syria was reorganized in 63 AD, Gerasa became a free city, and was at its height when the Column of Jerash was built. Portions of the ruined temple remain on view in Jordan.

Hadrian's Arch still stands in that city as well. Stone endures.

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