The 1964-65 World’s Fair opened 50 years ago today. But the Hall of Science did not.
The Hall of Science was not in the original plan for the World’s Fair. It’s inclusion at the Fair came after a prolonged political struggle between a group of planners trying to build a museum of science in Manhattan on one side and Mayor Robert Wagner and World’s Fair Corporation President Robert Moses on the other. Ultimately, the City endorsed a plan to use City dollars to build a Hall of Science pavilion for the World’s Fair and then convert and expand it into a proper museum after the Fair’s completion.
Because of this delay, the Hall of Science did not open at the start of the 1964 season. Groundbreaking occurred on June 19, 1963, but construction took place throughout the first summer of the Fair, and the Hall of Science finally opened on September 9, 1964. Following the Fair, months of renovation and exhibit relocation took place before the Hall re-opened as a permanent museum on September 21, 1966.
As early as October of 1963, reports surfaced that the Hall’s opening would be delayed. The New York Times reported that “opposition to the use of the hall as the core of a major, permanent science museum has caused concern over the future of such a museum. The opponents believe that the location and auspices are not propitious for creation of the great institution that they believe New York should have.”
Not only was the design of the Hall of Science seen as not appropriate for a permanent museum, but there was also opposition to the location of the museum being Flushing Meadow. Despite being at nearly the geographic center of the five boroughs, the site was feared by many to be remote. The Times said the site was a 23-minute subway ride from Grand Central Terminal (which is at least ten minutes faster than can be said of the commute today.) The Times also noted that the less than half-mile walk from the train station to the Hall is roughly the same distance from mass transit as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, before concluding that the aversion to the perceived distance of Flushing Meadow was apparently “psychological.”
Still, Moses and the Fair planners were undeterred. Two months before the Fair opened, plans were unveiled for the expanded permanent museum that would include a “glass-domed Great Hall where exhibits will depict the past and forecast future developments in all vital fields of science.”
The photo at top of this post shows the Hall of Science, in background at left, under construction during the first season of the World’s Fair. Photo courtesy of Bill Cotter.