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Call for Reminiscences! The Chrysler Autofare

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Salutations! 

I'm a graduate student of design history in New York and am currently writing my thesis about the Chrysler pavilion (the Autofare) at the 1964/65 NYWF. I've conducted research at the New York Public Library and at Herman Miller, where the pavilion's design director Irving Harper's papers are held, but the photos, ephemera, and recollections shared here have been tremendously helpful as I suss out both the pavilion's built environment and its popular and critical reception.

I'm posting today in the hope that some of the "VIPs" who visited the Autofare might be willing to share some specific memories with me. In particular, I'm curious about the following:

  • What did you think about the Autofare's architecture/design? 
    • What were the main themes you felt it encapsulated? 
    • How did you interpret the exaggerated proportions, bright colors, and cartoonish elements?
    • How did you interpret the Chrysler pavilion relative to Ford and GM's exhibits? 
    • What did you perceive to be the pavilion's visual style?
  • Did you know much or anything about pop art, design, or architecture when you visited the fair? After the fair? 
  • Did you or your family drive a Chrysler? Did the pavilion foster any brand loyalty? 
  • Did you love the Autofare? Hate it? Why?
    • What were the best parts? The worst?
  • How did your age impact your experience at the Autofare? 

I'd love to hear any and all thoughts on the Chrysler pavilion, and am excited to share some of the things I've learned, too.

Looking forward to discussing--thanks for your insight! 

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If I went back to the Fair today, I’m sure it would be with a much more intent analytical frame of mind; but that certainly wasn’t the case as a 21-year-old visitor on my first big solo trip anywhere, let alone NYC and the World’s Fair. So, the following is mostly the feelings I recall about Chrysler and its place in the Fair, rather than a precise recall of details.

First, I want to say that looking at photos and documentation on this site, I now realize there were things at Chrysler that I would have wanted to see if I was clearly aware of them: the turbo car and maybe a chance to ride in one, for example. Unlike the Ford or GM monoliths where you entered and were away from the outside Fair environment, and were led through a main ride and subsidiary experiences, the Chrysler exhibit with its separate parts, walkways and lagoons left me wondering if there was anything worthwhile in one part or another, so it was tempting to leave and go to adjacent pavilions without a complete tour. You mentioned “cartoony,” well, the giant engine seemed to me like a waste of time suitable only for little kids. (The crankshaft as a giant dragon? What were they thinking?} The rocket struck me as a failed try to invoke the space age compared to the real rockets over in Space Park. It really didn’t connect to any space age work Chrysler might be involved with. I did enjoy the whimsical auto part zoo, but never saw the puppet show (wish I had). I never rode on the overhead assembly line; it struck me at the time as probably another low-content thing for kids (was it?).

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Thanks for your response!  

The pavilion was designed for "the whole family" but specifically for kids. I see this as partially a response to Disneyland and new multi-generation amusement spaces but also the increased attention paid to children as a demographic in the middle of the twentieth century. In 2012 MoMA staged the show "Century of the Child, 1900-2000," which touched on a lot of the themes present at the Autofare (and the fair as a whole). The increasing importance of children and also the idea of play were two influences at Chrysler, I think. Its design director Irving Harper (of George Nelson's office) also belonged to a generation of designers that included the Eameses, Alexander Girard, Isamu Noguchi, Paul Rand and others who emphasized play as part of their design process and output (and are also the subject of the Milkwaukee Art Museum/Denver Art Museum's current show "Serious Play," coincidentally!). Harper left Nelson's office in 1963 and it's unclear to what extent he was involved with the content of the pavilion, but looking at his blueprints and drawings, it seems like the structures were built mostly as he and his associates designed them. 

I appreciate your point about exploring the pavilion. The choose-your-own path idea seems to me to have presented visitors with a bit more control over their visit than single-structure pavilions that guided folks through exhibits at a set pace and in a set order. Maybe also part of the Disneyland thing? But it sounds like you might have been more interested in a sort of total-package tour that presented a more cohesive experience.

The assembly line ride, I agree, seems like a watered-down version of the conventional factory tour, and the workmen definitely have a child-like quality to them. I'd be curious to know what riders saw from their little Simca cars, I feel like I've only seen photos of the mounting/dismounting platform and workmen figures (maybe that's all there was to it?). 

The rocket was indeed meant to symbolize Chrysler's involvement in US space and missile programs so point about real rockets being on display elsewhere/the display failing to connect with the corporation's activities is an interesting one. 

On the forum I've been able to put some of the pieces of the puppet show together and have even found a few of the Bil Baird marionettes for sale on the net, but am hoping someday to find video/audio of the performances. Jim Henson was asked to submit concepts for the show but they ultimately went with Baird; Henson ended up making characters for SKF, not too far from Chrysler.

Very grateful for your thoughts, thanks again! 

 

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I went to the fair in '65 when I was six years old. I have vague memories of  the Autofair.  In this horribly damaged slide that's me on the left with my mother and my brother

in front of a vehicle I believe was part of the Chrysler area.  

Wrds-Fair-6-65.jpg

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Wow after reading Wayne’s post I suddenly remembered a huge aspect of Chrysler that hasn’t been mentioned. Your perceptions of the pavilion being designed for kids is accurate. That is a good distinction from the other auto makers.

There was a quiz arena, well documented on this site, where kids would fill little desk stations of some kind and respond to questions. The prize for winning was a model turbine car. Details elude me. I bet they’re here somewhere  

I vividly recall being the only contestant one evening and the quizmaster giving me several cars! I was born in 1957 so this was one of the greatest things that happened in my life.

As far as brand loyalty, I was devoted to GM due to their Futurama ride, and the prototype futuristic cars in the lobby following the ride. 

We lived in Manhattan and dad worked in Flushing so we went to the fair many times. Chrysler was one of my mandatory stops, scarfing a handful of those 1/24 scale cars over the two years.  

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On 2/28/2019 at 9:54 AM, Ragaje said:

I went to the fair in '65 when I was six years old. I have vague memories of  the Autofair.  In this horribly damaged slide that's me on the left with my mother and my brother

in front of a vehicle I believe was part of the Chrysler area.  

 

Thanks for sharing! I believe that was the "Dragonaut"--it was green in '64 then repainted red and pink for the '65 season.

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17 hours ago, xl5er said:

Wow after reading Wayne’s post I suddenly remembered a huge aspect of Chrysler that hasn’t been mentioned. Your perceptions of the pavilion being designed for kids is accurate. That is a good distinction from the other auto makers.

There was a quiz arena, well documented on this site, where kids would fill little desk stations of some kind and respond to questions. The prize for winning was a model turbine car. Details elude me. I bet they’re here somewhere  

I vividly recall being the only contestant one evening and the quizmaster giving me several cars! I was born in 1957 so this was one of the greatest things that happened in my life.

As far as brand loyalty, I was devoted to GM due to their Futurama ride, and the prototype futuristic cars in the lobby following the ride. 

We lived in Manhattan and dad worked in Flushing so we went to the fair many times. Chrysler was one of my mandatory stops, scarfing a handful of those 1/24 scale cars over the two years.  

I get the sense looking through folks' commentary here as well as Chrysler's own marketing materials that perhaps the company and the pavilion's designers realized they couldn't compete directly with Ford or GM in terms of exhibition design alone; that's likely why they geared the show specifically towards kids, as a way to break into that "market." Futurama still won out, though, for many visitors. Critically, GM and Ford garnered more praise than Chrysler with the exception of Vincent Scully's article "If This is Architecture, God Help Us" for LIFE. He praised the Autofare as "the surprise of the Fair. It is pop art at its best, and presents Detroit with welcome wit and irony.” I've been thinking a lot about the pavilion relative to "pop" design and postmodernism, and how it fits into Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown's "duck versus decorative shed" binary, as well as American vernacular and roadside architecture more broadly (not to mention past examples of oversized-object architecture at the fairs (Underwood's giant typewriter in 1915; Radio Flyer's "Coaster Boy," the Havoline motor oil thermometer, and the Time and Fortune buildings in 1933; and National Cash Register and Coty Cosmetics in 1939).

I'm glad you mentioned the quiz game--details have been elusive! Based on my research here, it seems like it was more of a true informational display during the '64 season, then in '65 became a hybrid of trivia and musical chairs. Everybody seems to remember the model turbine car, though--sounds like you scored big. 

Was the turbine car (along with its miniature version) the biggest draw for you as a repeat visitor? 

image.png

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Having font problem.

 

Actual turbine car was minor draw. In fact I don’t remember anything about its daily drive or if they had a static display. It was not futuristic enough for me. 

The whole fair was often devoid of people. I have a vivid memory of mom and I talking to the quizmaster the evening he blew off the quiz and just handed me multiple cars because the place was deserted. It was a peek behind the curtain of adulthood as well as a windfall. But mostly on those empty days I took advantage of no waiting lines, riding Futurama over and over til parent said time to go.

You mentioned loyalty. I wrote a letter to GM saying their ride went too fast, can they send me pictures?

Came home from school and saw a big blue envelope in mailbox. Through view hole I spied the Futurama logo building silhouette. Couldn’t wait for parents to come home and open box. 

Huge corporate GM had sent me two B&W, 8X10, glossies, moon rover and undersea resort, and typed narration script of Futurama. When I say GM, I mean some human being recognized a letter scrawled by a little kid and could have easily thrown it out. But did not. 

The significance of that act of kindness grew and evolved in my mind as my perspective on life matured. As I entered workforce, I understood my actions reflected on my employer. I always tried to remember that instance and what I would do for a little kid writing such a letter. 

So inspired, I once wrote a thank you note to a boss who gave me a bonus. He paraded around the lab holding it above his head like Neville Chamberlin waving the Munich Agreement, but instead of saying “Peace for our time,” he declared, “Sixteen years! Sixteen years I’ve been Director of this Division and I’ve never gotten anything like this!”

Do I have those quotes reversed? No, I think I was right the first time. 

Anyway when I was old enough to sink big bucks into a car, a constellation of practical concerns dwarfed the emotional gravitas of a letter and the bossness of multiple turbine car toys. 

Clearly though, I have never forgotten that blue envelope. My, “Rosebud.” Ha! Just now I wonder in a, “The Lives of Others,” way, what became of the individual who answered my letter.

Is it coincidence I am probably soon buying a Chrysler Pacifica?

*

I thought GM was superior in design both inside and out. Ford was interesting architecturally but I found the ride hokey...I mean at the time!...and their vision of the future... what, a buncha lights?... was pathetic. 

At that age I wanted to see grown up tech stuff. Chrysler was a nice outdoor seating area with fountains.

(Seriously, have you seen Futurama? It was orders of magnitude more interesting for me. Of course the other thing that amazed me was the model train layout in Better Living Center.) 

 

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