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50 Years Later, World’s Fair Lampposts are a Bright Light for Collectors

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5:02 pm

Feb 6, 2014 50 Years Later, World’s Fair Lampposts are a Bright Light for Collectors

By Nicholas Hirshon

BN-BK214_NYLAMP_G_20140206155030.jpg A luminaire is shown with the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere in the background at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Queens. Bill Cotter

Along Route 447 in the Pocono Mountains is a ribbon of retro lampposts topped by squares of ivory, orange, blue, and turquoise, fading away like panels of a Rubik’s Cube that was left out in the sun. They are bulky and heavy, rusty and dirty.

No matter to Mitch Silverstein.

“I would make space now if I could get a hold of one,” said Mr. Silverstein, 55 years old, of Nyack, N.Y. “It reflects our mortality. You’re grabbing something that reminds you of your youth and preserving it.”

Half a century ago, these lampposts dotted the grounds of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Queens, an array of whimsical exhibits and rides spread across 646 acres that would become Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. After the fair, a set of the luminaires, as they are known, was shipped 100 miles to Analomink, Pa., to welcome honeymooners to the Penn Hills Resort.

With the 50th anniversary of the fair’s opening this spring, online retailers are peddling books and trinkets from the fair for baby boomers high on nostalgia. But ardent collectors such as Mr. Silverstein have their eyes set on the luminaires at Penn Hills, which closed several years ago and recently transferred into new hands.

BN-BK213_NYLAMP_G_20140206155029.jpg Many of the luminaires at the 1964 World’s Fair were themed to match their surroundings. This row along Avenue of New York shone blue and gold to match the state’s official colors. Bill Cotter

“They were just totally different from any other streetlight at the time,” said Bill Cotter, co-author of the new book “Images of Modern America: The 1964-1965 New York’s World’s Fair.”

The group that owns the property, Penn Resort Investments LLC, would prefer to keep the landmark lampposts at the 61.7-acre resort and sell the place as a whole, said one of the company’s principals, David Keller. But Mr. Keller, who said the group turned down an offer of $10,000 for the 10 luminaires on the grounds, said he and his partners could be convinced to sell the lampposts for the right price.

A spokesman for the Queens Museum, which is housed in the former New York City pavilion from the 1964-1965 fair, said the museum isn’t interested in buying the lights but would be open to accepting them as a donation.

Built by Westinghouse, the luminaires came in 76 modular configurations, from only four cubes per post to as many as 16, in vibrant colors like red, yellow, violet, coral, olive green, and chartreuse, according to renderings and fair brochures. Each translucent panel fit into a metal framework, and below them was a sound speaker.

BN-BK215_NYLAMP_G_20140206155030.jpg Detached luminaires were lined up waiting for buyers after the fair ended. Bill Cotter

After the fair closed, the luminaires could be found at salvage yards outside the fairgrounds, Mr. Cotter said. They resurfaced at the Villa Vosilla resort in Tannersville, N.Y.; the Orange County Fairgrounds in Middletown, N.Y., and as far away as the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds.

A 1978 TV commercial for Penn Hills played a romantic jingle—“If you’re in love, you’ll love Penn Hills”—over scenes of biking, dancing, tennis, horseback riding, and a large swimming pool with two luminaires nearby.

But the ranks of luminaires, which numbered about 1,800 at the world’s fair, have dwindled to no more than 200 today, by Mr. Cotter’s estimate.

The lamps’ 16-inch plexiglass cubes make them fragile and clunky to collect. Still, graphic designer Doug Seed, 62, managed to save four when Canobie Lake Park in Salem, N.H., scrapped most of them in 2009.

“You can’t not remember the lampposts,” said Mr. Seed, who went to the fair in each of its two summer seasons. “Where else were you going to see these things?”

Mr. Seed eventually gave away two lamps to friends he met on a world’s fair message board, furniture shop owner Gary Holmes, 60, of Wurtsboro, N.Y., and Long Island contractor John Piro, 64.

BN-BK212_NYLAMP_G_20140206155029.jpg Luminaires now dot the grounds of the abandoned Penn Hills Resort in Analomink, Pa., pictured in December. Nicholas Hirshon for the Wall Street Journal

That made three luminaires for Mr. Holmes, who previously salvaged one from a shuttered restaurant in Liberty, N.Y., and another from a bungalow community near Wurtsboro.

“I’m still kind of a world’s fair nut,” Mr. Holmes said. “I’m interested in just making sure these things don’t get lost or totally destroyed. Even though there are hundreds of these around, you should try to save a few because you never know what will happen to them.”

Mr. Piro, meanwhile, worked his luminaire into the deck in his backyard in Westbury, rewiring the lights to illuminate his barbecues on summer nights and connecting the speaker to a radio.

“People come over and they’re mesmerized by it,” Mr. Piro said proudly. “It’s transcending—the lights and the shape. It’s absolutely beautiful. Every night I go out and turn it on.”

Mr. Cotter, the author, admitted that he would be in the market for a Penn Hills luminaire himself if not for the long haul from his home in Los Angeles to the Poconos, and the inevitable fight that would ensue with his wife over cluttering the house.

“Probably going to be a hard sell,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s awful tempting.”

Corrections & amplifications: David Keller is a principal with Penn Resort Investments LLC. In an earlier version of this article, he was misidentified as David Kelly.

http://blogs.wsj.com/metropolis/2014/02/06/50-years-later-worlds-fair-lampposts-steal-spotlight/?mod=New_York_newsreel_3&mod=wsj_valettop_email

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It's a great article and the photos are interesting as well. I did stumble over the statement made by the Queens Museum that they are not interested in purchasing any lights but would be open to a donation. That's as pathetic a statement as I have ever heard any museum organization make. That museum owes its very existence to two world's fairs held on the site. For a brief period in the 1970's and 1980's, the museum actually accepted and displayed world's fair memorabilia. By the 1990's, the museum decided to "de-accession" (their word) their world's fair collection and become some sort of art destination. Maybe it's just me, but there is no way I would spend one red cent visiting that museum or contributing to it. If I want world's fair history I'll look at the outside of the building and if I want to visit a great art museum I'll hit Manhattan or the Smithsonian in DC or virtually any other art museum in any city. I won't tramp to Queens to see whatever it is they have to display. The QMA turned its back on both fairs and it is doing nothing of significance to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the first fair nor the 50th of the second fair. That statement about the luminaires says it all. It actually makes me angry to read it.

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I did stumble over the statement made by the Queens Museum that they are not interested in purchasing any lights but would be open to a donation.

Me too. About 20 years ago, they turned down donations of some pre-Fair contact prints and some other stuff!

I would retell my tales of supplying the gift shop but suffice it to say - save your money. I agree with what Bill has said 100%. Maybe more ;)

Eric

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Eric, I offered to donate an official 1964 NYWF flag--one of those huge flags that were displayed on the poles near the Fountain of The Planets. The QMA was not interested. As I recall, their nod to the 50th anniversary has something to do with an inspired recreation of the NYC model that will then be demolished by the artist with a sledge hammer.

Jim

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Just to let you all know The lamps at the Oklahoma state fair grounds were all taken out and replace with LED type lighting. Part of the fair grounds remodel the city did ..What sad is I bet the fair ground workers <<<ALL YOUNG WORKERS>>> That removed them had no thinking of the history of them. And they were just sent to the city dump.... Sure wish I could of got one...

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Hi Tom,

Oklahoma State Fairgrounds auctioned some of the WF lamps. One of our PTU members drove out there and bought two lamps at the auction a few years ago.

BTW, I have a client/friend named Tom Blais.

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There's still hope for you, Tom. There are something like 138 of them in the Orange County Fairgrounds in New York. Sooner or later they'll close or replace them. You have no idea how big or heavy these things are. Easy to romanticize about but monsters when up close. We just barely squeezed an 8-cube lamp into a Chevy Astro van. One sheet of paper would have made it not fit, right Johnny?

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Plus the 25" cone sticking out of the bottom . Very unassuming in the corner of your living room.

Here are the dimensions of the 8-cube lamps I had. Makes a nice ceiling lamp in your dining room. Almost 7 feet long!

post-86-0-41572300-1393976167_thumb.jpg

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I think those templates for cube luminaire margarita stirrers are still out there, aren't they? I had some fun trying to make one of those a few years ago.

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I spend all day, every day in Adobe Indesign, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. I probably did that in Indesign, Mike. Indesign is the world standard now for publishing and page layout, but Adobe has incorporated a lot of Illustrator's and Photoshop's features into it so Indesign is amazingly versatile.

Mitch, your cut 'n' fold items are so cool! Did you use software to create those or did you figure them out in your head?

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I drew that in MS Paint, yes, old school pixel by pixel and sorted out with a sketch!

Cut, fold and glue, a pencil makes a good pole wrapped in gray paper...

sorry, heres the page, old news for most but still fun!

http://64nywf65.20m....PaperModels.htm

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