1939 World’s Fair
A Glimpse Of Tomorrow
A poster welcoming visitors to the 1939 NY World’s Fair.
A physical metaphor for America emerging from the Depression, the 1939 World’s Fair literally was built from a heap of ashes, a testament to the capitalistic drive embodied in the spirit of the nation.
Dubbed the “World of Tomorrow,” visitors were treated to a glimpse at America’s future, or at least corporate culture’s take on it (most exhibits were sponsored by GM, Kodak, AT & T and the like). One ride carried spectators over a large model of an idealistic conception of the United States. Another exhibit used a state of the art measuring device to tell people the width of their hair.
The fair put forward a romantic, almost quixotic vision for the future, symbolized in the Democracity, a huge model inside a dome that showed typical families living happily in suburban environments. There were also more than 200 idealized buildings called “The Town of Tomorrow,” which showed what architecture might look like in the years to come.
It wasn’t all fancy modernism, however. A number of amusement-style rides and stage shows did nothing but entertain the visitors. Some believe the fair served as an inspiration to the modern amusement park environments such as Disneyland.
Sadly, Americans soon lost their passion for merriment in the face of WW II, and the fair became a famous financial bust with investors losing two-thirds of their money. In that way, the fair served as a reminder of the Depression’s past as well as a lens into its future.
Creation of Israel
The U.N. In Flushing
The U.N. General Assembly meets in Flushing Meadows.
On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations passed a partition plan for the British-controlled Palestinian state that included the creation of a Jewish state – later declared Israel.
Acting from their headquarters at the New York Building in Flushing Meadows Park, the United Nations General Assembly had the support of the United States, though the U.S. backed the entire plan, which included the creation of a Palestinian state and the international sharing of Jerusalem.
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence for the State of Israel from Tel-Aviv, and the U.S. recognized the de facto authority of the provisional government – what was viewed as many nations to be a breach of a treaty. Member nations were concerned that the U.S. would soon start allowing Israel to import arms, and many Arab states immediately invaded the new country.
To many Jews in the U.S. in general, and Queens in particular, this was a declaration of support that touched the very soul of Judaism, forever linking it with the U.S.
The Year Of Miracles
Tom Seaver’s 1969 Topps card.
1969 was the year that Queens’ professional baseball team had its first dance with stardom. Managed by Gil Hodges, this collection of heavy bats and ace pitchers brought the New York Mets their first World Series Championship.
The Series win came seven years after the Mets’ inaugural season, and the team had never placed higher than ninth in the National League in those years. The team was driven by a strong pitching staff, with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Tug Mcgraw piling up the strikeouts and wins. Tommie Agee, Ed Kranepool, and Cleon Jones led on the offensive side. In fact, Agee hit the only home run in Shea Stadium history that reached the upper level of the stadium on April 10 of that magical year.
The Mets, who were at 62-51 and near the bottom of the National League in July, went on a 38-11 tear, ending the season with a record of 100-62, their first-ever winning season, sweeping Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves, then defeating the Baltimore Orioles in five games to claim the title.
Beatles At Shea
Fab Four In Flushing
The Beatles take the field.
When the helicopter took off from Wall Street in the early evening of Aug. 15, 1965, four young men from Liverpool circled the city, getting a sightseeing tour, before flying over the World’s Fair and landing at what is now Terrace On The Park.
From there they were shuttled downstairs and into a windowless armored car that drove them the short distance to the rear entrance of Shea Stadium. The biggest concert in history was about to happen.
More than 55,000 screaming fans packed Shea Stadium to see the biggest band in the world – the most people that had ever attended a rock concert at the time. The band also set a record for the most money made at a concert - $340,000 – with just under half going to the band.
To those in Queens who were a part of the experience, the event itself was much more important than the music, which few of the fans actually heard.
The Collapse Of A Titan
Even to this day, Donald Manes remains a man of conflicting personas. Headlines and perhaps even history will remember him as a political figure devastated by scandal, a powerful man who used his influence to extort dirty money from city businesses. But those who knew him say he was a kind and generous man, who, despite anything else, always had the best interests of Queens in his heart.
Regardless, Manes undoubtedly was a giant of city politics whose impact still reverberates in the borough today. A party leader when such men were titans of the city, he turned the office from a symbolic seat into a position of great importance.
Manes was Borough President from 1971 until 1986, when he resigned when news of his kickback schemes were becoming public. He also headed the Queens Democratic Committee during much of that time, part of a triumvirate of bosses from the outer boroughs – Brooklyn and the Bronx being the others – that controlled much of the city’s inner workings.
Manes was extremely popular in Queens, some say on the road to Gracie Mansion, but he also experienced several high profile debacles, including failures to build both a racetrack and football stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
As the stink of scandal grew stronger, and the possibility of indictment grew nearer, Manes sunk into seclusion. Ultimately, he ended his life by plunging a kitchen knife through his chest and into his heart.
First TV Broadcast
Roosevelt At The Fair
FDR’s speech was the first TV broadcast.
Television in the United States made its first broadcast on April 30, 1939, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially opened the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park.
The president was well-known for his fireside chats, where he spoke to the nation on radio every week. The advent of television afforded him the opportunity to put a face to his voice – even though the signal was only picked up by a few hundred receivers in the New York area.
Public broadcasting began to take off, though most innovation and growth of the medium was put on hold until the end of World War II, by which time the picture tube had advanced beyond a mere two or three inches.
Jon Lester, one of the Howard Beach attackers.
In the springtime of 1986, racial tensions boiled over in the residential village of Howard Beach. Cross Bay Boulevard, the community’s haven for shopping and dining, was the site where a black man named Michael Griffith was killed after being chased by a white mob and struck by a car.
Griffith had been in the area with two other black men when their car broke down. After a quick bite at New Park Pizza, the three were then met by the mob as they walked out of the pizza parlor. The mob beat up the other two men with baseball bats and Griffith was killed when he tried to flee.
After the incident, a number of notable black leaders converged on Howard Beach, where the community came out in droves to defend the racist actions of the teens. As the young Rev. Al Sharpton walked Crossbay in protest with hundreds of others, the residents threw watermelons and yelled racial epithets.
The memory of the incident still haunts the 98 percent white neighborhood to this day.
The Great Gatsby
Queens’ ‘Valley Of Ashes’
The Valley Of Ashes before it became Flushing Meadows.
“Between the grassy greens of East Egg and the electric lights of the Great White Way, the motor-road hastily joined the railroad and ran beside it for a quarter of a mile so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land.”
“From their elegant mansions Daisy, Tom and Gatsby looked on at a valley of ashes, a fantastic farm where ashes grew like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes took the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and with a transcendent effort of men who moved dimly and crumbled through the powdery air.”
Sure, Queens might not have been the most beautiful sweeping land in New York City during the 1920s, but just who did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictional characters think they were, sitting in their what is now Great Neck homes judging a borough of hard working immigrants?
Well little did they know that a decade later when the first World’s Fair was to come around, the soot-laden land would be transformed into what is now Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a legacy more prominent than their old money, though documented well and preserved forever.
The Maspeth Mapmaker
Hagstrom’s first map of Queens.
When a small map making company in Maspeth started designing maps of Queens and the metropolitan area over half a century ago, it had no idea the marks it was going to make across New York City, let alone the tri-state area.
Hagstrom’s designs have done more than keep visitors and residents of Queens from driving in circles around the largest borough. The designs have guided the city’s school children to a better understanding of their neighborhood’s geography.
Walking into many public schools in Queens the legacy of Hagstrom can be seen in enormous laminated maps hanging from classroom walls, as children point out police and fire departments and emergency services on a street-level detailed green and white grid system.
As publisher of more than 150 New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York maps including county and regional atlases (even New Jersey), the Maspeth mapmaker – whose name is synonymous with the word map – has been a friend to tourists and Schoolkids alike.
Queens’ Dapper Don
John Gotti captured the heart and scorn of a nation.
One of the most notorious mobsters in American history, John Gotti was the most feared “wise guy” of his time. The Gambino crime family Don set up shop in his hometown of Howard Beach, leaving a bloody legacy and building a reputation soiled in infamy.
After taking control of the Gambino family in the mid-1980’s, Gotti was eyed as a suspect in numerous murder cases. He developed an ability to evade the law, frequently bribing and threatening jurors in many trials. Though he did serve prison time on a few occasions, he was nicknamed the “Teflon Don” because of the many convictions he avoided.
Gotti was actually somewhat of a hero to the Queens community. He had a strong reputation for keeping crime low, organizing street parties and festivals, and held an annual Fourth of July party in Ozone Park.
Eventually the FBI caught Gotti on tape discussing various crimes and murders. In 2002, nearly 10 years after he was given a life prison sentence, Gotti died of cancer at the age of 61 while serving his prison sentence.
A Super Beginning
The first supermarket was in Jamaica.
On Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica stands a supermarket legend. An institution that put in to place the very concept of a greater variety of foods at a lower cost. And to think Michael Cullen’s idea for a one stop-shopping destination was scoffed at by his former boss president of the Kroger Grocery and Baking Company in 1929.
As the depression loomed overhead and Cullen saw his neighbors struggling to make ends meet, the veteran of some 27 years in the grocery business put his novel idea into motion opening the first King Kullen in 1930.
Cullen was undercutting all the other grocery stores in town, attracting customers from up to 100 miles away to his stores with their spacious parking lots and wide selections, something the smaller mom and pop operations couldn’t offer.
By 1936, the supermarket innovator opened 17 stores with a $6 million of revenue a year, enabling Cullen to give back to his neighbors he had seen struggling a few years earlier through a raise, at least a week’s vacation, and insurance.
Staying true to its roots, unlike other supermarkets that replicated Cullen’s idea, the chain is still owned by the Cullen family.
A World Leader
The Flushing Library is considered a jewel of the Queens Library system.
Sure, the New York Public Library may have those cool lions outside its main branch, but the Queens Library system, with its 63 locations and 6.8 million items in its collection (three for each Queens resident), boasts one of the biggest systems in the world.
The first library in Queens was established in 1858, incorporated in 1869 and went public in 1884. With a total of seven by the 1890s , the city started to get flustered funding separate institutions, and by 1901 the libraries united to form the Queens Library system.
The system got a boost shortly thereafter by Andrew Carnegie, who donated $240,000 to construct seven new libraries (five of which are still in use.).
In 2005, the library circulated 18.9 million items and had a total of 14.3 million visitors from the 811,000 cardholders. They also know their members, providing books in dozens of languages, translation services – even the Web site is offered in six languages.
A Black Mark In Queens’ Past
On March 15, 1964, Queens suffered a huge black eye in the national spotlight when more than three dozen residents watched from their homes as Winton Mosley repeatedly stabbed Kitty Genovese to death, walking away at least once while she lay moaning for aid, only to return to finish the job.
Mosley attacked Genovese as she walked home from her parked car to her apartment in a building at 82-70 Austin St. at about 3:20 a.m.
The knife-wielding Mosley hunted-down and murdered Genovese, 28, stabbing her repeatedly – in front of 38 residents who witnessed the bloody scene from their apartment windows in a building just across the street from the attack.
Mosley was sentenced to die in the electric chair for Kitty’s murder, a decision later overturned by a state appeals court. He confessed to the Genovese murder, as well as the murders of a 15-year-old girl and a Queens housewife, court records state.
The perceived indifference of the neighbors caused a national uproar and served to reinforce the feeling that many outside of the city had of New York and its residents – as being a cold-hearted place where people can be left to die without anybody stepping in to help.
The shock of Kitty’s brutal death and a community’s lack of aid is a stain that may never wash off the fabric of Queens life.
New York City Building
Plans are afoot to prepare the New York City Building for its next redesign.
There is not a single building in Queens that has had as many prominent uses and has been visited by as many people as the New York City Building in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Built by Aymer Embury III for the 1939 NY World’s Fair, the building housed the New York Pavilion for the duration of the fair. Though almost every other site was demolished after the fair, the building remained, and played host to the United Nations from 1946 to 1950.
After the U.N. moved on, that part of the building was restored to its original skating rink, which still exists today. The building was used again for the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair, and was handed over to the Queens Museum of Art in 1972, which is currently raising funds for a major overhaul.
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Queens Is Worth 15
This intersection bears unique Scrabble markings. Photo By Ira Cohen
When you’re sitting around the Scrabble board with a bunch of your friends it’s almost impossible to avoid that fated argument over whether or not the word spelled out on the board is really a word. Today that argument can be fixed by simply flipping through a dictionary. But it wasn’t that easy 75 years earlier for Alfred Moshe Butts, though, when he was masterminding the legendary game in Jackson Heights.
On the corner of 35th Avenue and 81st Street Butts perfected Scrabble, which was then known as Lexicon, at the Community Methodist Church, where Scrabble fanatics still meet to show their ability and vocabulary skills.
Unfortunately, Butts never benefited financially from what would become the second all-time favorite U.S. board game, it was Mr. and Mrs. James Burnot, who took the rights to the game and renamed it Scrabble. What Butts did get though was the City’s attention and a street sign with some unusual numbers in front of the Community Methodist Church. If you look closely and take out your scoring pencil you’ll realize the numbers don’t exactly add up to 35 or 81, but instead 14 points.
Simon & Garfunkel
The Pride Of Forest Hills
Simon & Garfunkel changed Rock N Roll.
For a pair of kids from Forest Hills High School, fame was to be written in verse and rhyme. When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released “Hey School Girl” as the duo “Tom & Jerry,” it saw some success, but a follow-up never came.
Instead, the pair decided to use their real names, and the first Simon & Garfunkel single, “Sound of Silence” was released. There was no response.
But when a producer tweaked it, adding that haunting guitar backdrop, the world changed. These guys became the most stunning – and most successful – rock duo of all time, with their soundtrack to “The Graduate” launching them into the stratosphere.
Though they broke up a few years later, and have since played together on occasion, the impact these kids from Queens had on a genre and a generation is incalculable.
The Sound Of Queens
Steinway is synonymous with Astoria.
The piano is an old instrument, but it was completely reborn in the late 1800s when a German immigrant named Henry Steinway and his sons revamped and modernized it. By the turn of the century, the Steinway & Sons Company would be responsible for 77 patents to improve the piano, and their craftsmanship had won acclaim worldwide.
But the piano is not all they would change. After bringing their business to Astoria in 1866, the family built Steinway Village, an almost self-sufficient neighborhood for the German workers that would craft the instruments. To this day, Steinway remains synonymous with Astoria, even owning the name of its most famous street.
Now based in Long Island City, Steinway continues to make perhaps the most renowned pianos in the music business. Venture into nearly any concert hall, and the virtuosos will be tickling the ivories of a Steinway Grand. Some only hear the notes, but if one listens closely, you can also hear the history of a Queens.
From Bread To Box Office
Silvercup’s sign will be featured in its newly announced design.Photo By Ira Cohen
Sure, Los Angles has the famous Hollywood sign, but Queens also has a symbol that landmarks the home of its film industry – only ours glows. Driving up the FDR or across the Queensboro Bridge at night, it’s hard to miss the electric neon red that reflects across the East River, coming from a sign spelling out the word, “Silvercup.”
The sign was actually constructed for the Silvercup Bakery, but in the early 1980s, two brothers took the remnants of the flour silo room and created a sound stage. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time: All the major film production was being done on the West Coast. But 20 years later, television and movie sets are flocking back to the Big Apple – where the industry began – and business couldn’t be better.
Home to TV shows “The Sopranos,” and “Hope and Faith,” and movies such as “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Highlander,” Silvercup has played a major role in the rebirth of New York film business. After acquiring additional facilities in 1999, this week the studio announced it would build a $1 billion development to further expand productions. If they keep expanding, one day they’ll need to build a bigger sign.
Forest Hills Web-Slinger
Spider-Man is our kind of hero.
Leaping and swinging along the tops of New York City’s skyscrapers and bringing justice to the streets, Marvel Comics superhero Spiderman got his start in Queens. In the beloved comic books, Peter Parker was raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in Forest Hills before he went on to become the slippery red superhero that has captured the hearts of millions of readers all over the world.
After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Parker was given the ability to climb walls, spin webs, and leap amazing distances. Using his superhuman strength and knowledge of science, Spider-Man fights crime and battles a slew of dangerous villains.
Spider-Man, created by New York native Stan Lee, debuted in 1962 and set a number of milestones. The comic is unique because of its focus on a younger main character and the blending of the character’s real-world adolescent struggles with those of his alter ego.
The comic was made into a television show and spawned two very successful films starring Tobey Maguire as the Forest Hills hero. In fact, many scenes from the movie were filmed in Queens.
Trylon & Perisphere
A Classic Queens Icon
The Trylon & Perisphere
Though the two of them can be seen – from the outside – as two separate pieces, the Trylon and Perisphere, symbolic centerpieces of the 1939 World’s Fair, have lived on as a single icon, a memento of a time gone by.
The Perisphere was a 180-foot sphere, and it was accompanied by the Trylon, a 610-foot, three-sided tower. Inside, was the Democracity, a vision of the world 100 years into the future, when people who worked in the city no longer had to live there – they could be in garden apartments and rural areas just outside the city limits.
Visitors took a custom made escalator from the base of the Trylon to the center of the Perisphere. Form there the stood on two circular, rotating platforms that moved around the central display.
Though the pieces were demolished after the fair, the legacy lives on in the Unisphere, constructed on the exact site.
The Borough’s Other Sport
Crowds fill the stadium for the U. s open.
Each summer, the world’s top tennis players gather at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens to compete for glory in the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open serves as the fourth and final event of the Grand Slam tennis tournaments held throughout the summer.
The tournament has deep roots in Queens as it began in 1968 at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. Prior to that, men and women’s single and double tournaments were all held as separate events, and were not open to the pros. In 1978 the tournament moved to Flushing Meadows, where it has remained ever since.
In 2005, it was current tennis stud Roger Federer capturing the men’s honors and Kim Clijsters taking the women’s tournament. The current record for consecutive U.S. Open men’s tournament wins is held by Douglaston-raised John McEnroe, who won three titles from 1979-1981. He added his fourth in 1984.
Wendy’s killer John Taylor.
It was one of the most brutal and horrific murders the borough has ever seen.
On May 24, 2000, two gunmen held up the Wendy’s restaurant at 42-12 Main St. in Flushing, killing five employees and severely wounded two others.
Those charged with the crimes, Craig Godineaux and former employee John Taylor, gained entrance to the store and herded workers to the basement freezer, wrapped plastic bags around their heads – and shot them in the heads at point-blank range. It was a crime so ruthless and grisly that it shocked seasoned homicide detectives and left crime scene cops and city morgue workers sickened.
Godineaux was arrested a short while after Taylor “gave him up” and told police where his accomplice could be found. Godineaux received five life sentences, while Taylor became the first person sentenced to death in Queens since Governor George Pataki reinstated the penalty in February 1995. Though nine years later almost all the death penalty cases were overturned, Taylor continues to sit on Death Row.
Twas The Night…
A Queens Christmas Classic
Clement C. Moore
The identity of the author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” more commonly known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas” remains as much as mystery as the whereabouts of Santa Claus himself.
The piece was anonymously published in a Troy newspaper in 1822, and many historians believe the probable author is Clement Clarke Moore, a descendent of the Queens forefather Rev. John Moore. Although Clement Clarke Moore lived in Chelsea, he had grown up in Newtown, and some speculate that the poem is a rumination on his childhood Christmas experiences. Another popular theory claims that Moore actually wrote the poem while taking a carriage ride between Manhattan and Queens.
Relatives of another man, Henry Livingston Jr., argue he is the true author, but Moore actually reproduced several copies by hand before passing away.
In any event, the poem has become as much as part of Christmas as the candy cane and evergreen trees. Often spoken in hushed voices to children tucked into bed, this Christmas classic is a Queens favorite.
Made To Help Lawyers
Charles Carson and his machine with the first copy ever made.
Charles Carlson, a patent attorney living in Astoria, was tired of using carbon paper – or worse, rewriting contracts by hand.
A tinker in his spare time, Carlson figured out a way to use static electricity and heat to make a photocopy – a process he called xerography.
His first copy was made in his Astoria home in 1938, and read, plainly, “10-22-38 Astoria.”
He sold his idea some years later to the Haloid Company, a photo supplier from Rochester that was trying to compete with Kodak. An independent lab developed the process, and by 1959 the Xerox-Haloid company introduced its first copy machine for the commercial market.
Though there have been many copies of the process, no business had a great an impact on the business world until the advent of the personal computer.