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Bill Cotter

Here's a VERY early construction shot of the Fair

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beam-test.jpg

The Fair Corporation was setting standards for the materials that could be used in the buildings and this was a test of how much weight the beams could hold without deforming.

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That's an amazing photo, Bill, and it's in color.  How did you know the background of this photograph?

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Those photos must be quite rare.   They make me wonder a bit about those enormous wooden pilings that were used to support the Perisphere in 1939.  I cannot recall if they were huge Douglas Fir trunks or some other wood, but wood they were and they were pounded into Flushing Meadow to support the 1939 Theme Center.

 Keeping in mind that the 1939 Theme Center was only meant to last for a year or two, and using wooden support pilings had to be the lest expensive way to go, they were tested for viability prior to the construction of the Unisphere  (in 1962 or 1963) for the second Fair and found to be in excellent shape and in Mr. Moses eternal quest to keep costs low, the pilings 

They were deemed appropriate to support a fifteen story stainless steel globe .

But here's the thing.  They had been in that wet soil for twenty-five years at that point.  Now they have been in that soil for over seventy five years (almost eighty) and supporting that gigantic Unisphere for over fifty years.  How viable would they be today?  At some point, no matter what, wooden pilings in damp Northeastern soil are going to rot no matter how much creosote was slapped onto them in 1938.  

And if they have finally begun to decay, what becomes of the Unisphere?

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My understanding is that wood pilings are extremely durable if submerged in fresh water (the portion below the water table) - like, hundreds of years. A brief online search seems to confirm this.

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Wayne, I typed in the phrase "wooden pilings supporting the Unisphere" and it actually took me to a September 2001 World's Fair Community forum on this very topic.  Hoodlock began the discussion by asking if we ever wondered why the Unisphere was left in place but the massive lighting towers were removed.  He tells us that engineers determined, during Fair demolition, that the wooden pilings supporting those towers were already rotting and the towers had to be removed.  

The discussion turned to wooden pilings supporting the NYS Pavilion.  The lighting towers and NYS pavilion pilings had to have been pounded into the ground in 1962 or 1963 and some were no longer viable by early 1966 according to comments on that particular discussion thread.

I know virtually nothing about such engineering but wooden pilings suggest, I think, the structure they would support would be temporary as was the 1939 Perisphere.  Those 1938 engineers had no way of knowing the pilings would be called upon to support another theme structure 25 years later.  They were happy they would support the 1939 Theme Center for at least one year.

One poster, Ruthless, who was working for an engineering consulting firm in 2001, offered engineering expertise and compared Flushing Meadow Park to the Marina District site of the 1915 San Francisco fair.  Both were built on reclaimed ground created with tons of landfill.  Ruthless states:  "both [fairs] were built atop unconsolidated rubble in marshy conditions."  As a result, Ruthless states there are higher levels of oxygen in that debris and ash filled soil.  That leads to instability and decay.

I wonder why, believing the Unipshere would be permanent, engineers for the second fair relied on 25 year old wooden pilings rather than adding something more substantial.  You may be absolutely correct.  But what went wrong with the pilings supporting the lighting towers?  

Jim

PS:  It's strange to consider today, but that entire 2001 exchange of ideas on those wooden pilings was recorded on September 10, 2001, twenty-four hours before the attacks on the World trade Center.

 

 

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The Florida Pavilion dug up the wooden pilings from the '39 Florida Pavilion (they built on the exact same site), stacked and inspected them, and reused those that passed inspection.  But they were re-driven into the ground in a pattern to support the new pavilion design.

We have photos of the extraction & reuse of those Florida Pavilion pilings.

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I know from my own research in the Fair Corporation records, that it was never part of the plan to retain the Unisphere lighting towers for the following reasons:

1) The Parks Department didn't want the responsibility or cost associated with maintaining such an elaborate lighting setup. In fact, the Parks Department specified that all special lighting effects were to be removed from the post fair parks roadways and fountains/pools. To that end, there was a specific demolition contract let for fountain and pool conversion/removal that took into account the salvage value of all lighting units, timers, pumps, nozzles and where appropriate replacement with equipment that complied with the Parks Departments requirements.

2) The risk of vandalism to the lighting fixtures.

3) The salvage value of the fixtures and steel towers helped to offset the costs of preparing the Unisphere and its surrounding fountains for the post fair park above the $100,000 that U.S. Steel agreed to contribute for this work.

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According to that 2001 exchange of ideas about wooden pilings and the Unisphere, Hoodlock pointed out that the lighting towers were removed by the Shamrock Wrecking Company.

He never indicated, one way or another, whether there was a post Fair discussion about retaining the towers or removing them.  His point, as I re-read his entry, was to emphasize that the pilings supporting the towers were in "an advanced stage of rotting and would need to be recapped."  He added that "this was too costly" and the wrecking company was hired.  

Craig, it must be that the towers were already scheduled for demolition and, at that time, it was discovered how rotten the pilings had become.  

It is remarkable to consider the Fair Corporation was concerned about potential vandalism to the lighting towers but left two enormous pavilions, which had never been planned to be permanent, as sitting ducks.

Hoodlock's first entry about those pilings was recorded on this site on September 8, 2001.

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Given that the only purpose of the towers was to provide an illuminated simulation of the rotation of the earth to the millions of Fairgoers who were there after dark every day for two years.... and park planners didn't expect too many park visitors after dark once they reopened in 1967..... to say nothing of the cost of maintaining and securing all that projection equipment....

I'm sure the demise of the towers was preplanned and had nothing to do with foundation stability concerns.

 

I'm also skeptical that pilings which were good-to-go in 1963 were suddenly rotten just three years later.  Today- 50 years later- such a discovery wouldn't be surprising.

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Jim, its not that the Fair Corporation had any plans to retain the US Pavilion or the NYS Pavilion. The decision to retain both of those buildings was decided by a committee that was headed by city officials reporting to Mayor Wagner. Federal and State officials pushed for their retention respectively against Moses wishes.

In the case of the US Pavilion, the Federal government never paid for the utility services it consumed during the fair despite the Fair Corporations many attempts to collect the balance due up to the time the fair closed. Once the fair agreed to accept a reduced amount on that account, then the government told the Fair Corp. that if they paid the utility bill balance there would be no money left for demolition.

In the case of the NYS Pavilion, Governor Rockefeller basically told the City that the pavilion was originally planned as a permanent structure and was to be a gift to the people of New York. Done deal.

In effect, politicians that had more political capital at the time made those decisions. Of course once the park was returned to Parks Department control on June 3, 1967, it was up to the city to maintain and preserve these structures.

This is what I wrote about these two buildings (as well as 8 others) in an article titled "An Almost Fond Farewell Before the Show Even Started" back in 2005, which can be found on Bill Young's nywf64.com website.

New York State – Surprising enough the fair records indicate that in 1966 the State of New York and the City of New York “told” fair officials that this building was to be a gift to the people of New York. The files contain no structural evaluations and there was very little discussion amongst fair officials about this decision. This obviously was a very political issue and even Robert Moses himself did not feel compelled to dispute this decision and as such it was accepted as fact by the fairs officials. At this point the fair corporation proceeded with the small amount of work necessary to convert the building for some kind of park use after they received assurances from the state government that the necessary funds would be made available to pay for the work.

 

United States Pavilion – This is where the records really get interesting. By far there was more discussion and documentation about the retention of this structure after the fair than any other building noted in the files. As early as 1963 fair officials were adamant about their desire not to see this building retained in the park after the fair. Though at some point during 1964 it seemed that the New York Board of Education expressed a serious interest in the building even though Moses once again expressed his view that a city park was no place for a school. Once again proposals were made and opinions voiced. The records clearly document that through much of 1964 and well into 1965 many meetings were held where various state and federal officials weighed in on this subject with no clear decision as to the buildings fate being made. At various times in mid 1965 the idea of using the building for a presidential library was proposed as well as a federal office building! It doesn’t seem that Moses objected to the library idea but he positively had a fit over the office building idea! But looming as a bigger issue now was the fact that the U.S. government had neglected to pay for any of the electric and water service to the building from the date the utilities were turned on back in 1963. By the time the fair corporation began in earnest to pursue the government for payment of the bill it totaled almost $215,000.00! Bearing in mind that the fair was working to put its financial affairs in order due to the fact that it desperately needed as much money as it could lay its hands on fair officials spent a considerable amount of time corresponding back and forth with various government officials about the validity of the bill and the need for it to be paid. Each time pressing a little with one official and then another as they worked their way up the government food chain. At one point the government flat out told the fair that they thought the bill was excessive where as Moses countered with a press release slamming the government for failing to pay its bills in a timely fashion and throwing in for good measure that the government had also not allotted any money in its budget for demolition of the building. Behind the scenes though fair officials countered with numerous meter readings and various contract verbiage in a desperate attempt to collect on this large bill. Finally, fair officials relented and reduced the bill to approximately $197,000.00 which the government finally paid in October 1965 just as the fair was preparing to close its gates! The government’s correspondence during this period indicate that $125,000.00 was budgeted for utilities and that $72,000.00 would need to be transferred from the demolition reserve fund to pay the agreed amount. While this dispute was being worked out it seems that the Board of Education lost interest in the building once again due to the high cost of upgrading the structure to then current building codes. An earlier study had estimated the total cost of conversion at $3,761,000.00. By this time though it seems that miraculously whatever remaining demolition funds the U.S. government had set aside for this purpose were no longer available. I speculate that this was due in large part to under budgeting and the belief on the government’s part that maybe, somehow water and electric were free for them at the fair! As such (as would be the case with the New York State pavilion) in January 1966 the people of New York got another unexpected gift this time courtesy of our government with control of the building being turned over to the parks department in September 1966. It is at this point that the fair corporation simply washed their hands of any responsibility or involvement with the building even though at the time they were still very actively involved and in control of the rest of the park as they proceeded with the final phases of the restoration work. As a side note to this issue as late as mid 1967 Sam Lefrak, the developer of Lefrak city in Queens proposed creating an art museum in the building and was aggressively pursuing this plan of action in hopes of having the museum ready for the rededication of the park in June of that same year. Obviously nothing ever came of his idea and as such the building was to sit empty until the city finally put this once magnificent structure out of its misery and demolished it in the late 1970’s.

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Craig, from your notes, for what President were they considering a Presidential Library?

All that comes to mind in that time frame is Kennedy.

Can't be Hoover or Truman or Eisenhower since all three had already presided over the opening of their libraries at that point (Hoover in 1962).

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The JFK Library site (the Back Bay in Boston) had already been selected by Mrs. Kennedy and the family by early in 1964. The idea of a presidential library in Flushing Meadow Park really makes no sense at all.  I do remember that NYC, when discussions about the building's future were held, proposed a public library for that area of Queens using the Federal Pavilion.  There were also suggestions about using it for a vocational school as well.  None of these ideas materialized.  Retrofitting the building was just too complicated and costly.

As far as the wooden pilings supporting the light towers are concerned, I was simply quoting the information Hoodlock, who was a most enthusiastic member and a source of much interesting information, offered to members of this site nearly seventeen years ago.

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Randy, the documents did not mention a presidents name.

Jim, I'm certainly not disputing what Hoodlock said back then or the accuracy of his statements. The source of my information is the actual Fair Corporation records that I either reviewed at the New York Public Library or that I have in my own personal collection.

 

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Oh, I understand that, Craig. No problem!!  I am guessing you've done your research in the years since Hoodlock made his original post in 2001.  That's the nature of history research.  There's bound to be new information when a researcher does some digging.

And Bill, that's one impressive factoid.  Does that mean that just the lights were used or were the towers used as well?  Allow me to add, holy crap, that's interesting information.

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