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The Queens Museum –
New York City Building
The New York World’s Fair 1939-1940
The New York City Building was built to house the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, where it featured displays about municipal agencies. The building was centrally located, being directly adjacent to the great icons of the Fair, the Trylon and Perisphere, and it was one of the few buildings created for the Fair that were intended to be permanent. It is now the only surviving building from the 1939 Fair. After the World’s Fair, the building became a recreation center for the newly created Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The north side of the building, housed a roller rink and the south side, an ice rink.
The building’s architect, Aymar Embury III, was one of Robert Moses’ favorite designers and his other work includes the Central Park Zoo and the Triborough Bridge. He designed the building in a modern classical style, which was perhaps a little ironic given that the theme of the 1939 Fair was the “World of Tomorrow.” The exterior of the building featured colonnades behind which were vast expanses of glass brick punctuated by limestone pilasters trimmed in dark polished granite. The solid corner blocks were also constructed from limestone.
One of the proudest periods in the history of the New York City Building was from 1946 to 1950 when it housed the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations. Until the site of the UN’s current home in Manhattan became available, Flushing Meadows Corona Park was being considered as the organization’s future permanent headquarters site. During the early post-war years, almost every world leader spent time in the New York City Building and many important decisions, including the partition of Palestine and the creation of UNICEF, were made here.
The presence of the United Nations General Assembly in the building required substantial interior renovation and the addition of a sizable annex on the north side of the building housing the delegates’ dining room, the public cafeteria and an exhibition hall. In the interior, the skating and roller rinks were covered and, in the space now occupied by the Queens Museum’s sky-lit galleries, the General Assembly was laid out. Offices, meeting rooms, translation, press, radio and television facilities, and other services were located through the rest of the building. When the United Nations left, the addition was removed and the New York City Building again became a recreation site for the Park and the skating and roller rinks were restored to the old use.
The New York World’s Fair 1964-1965
In preparation for the 1964 World’s Fair, the New York City Building was again renovated. Under the architect Daniel Chait, a scalloped entry awning was added to the east façade with concrete brise-soleil used to screen all of the areas of glass brick. The building once again housed the New York City Pavilion and the most dramatic display there was the Panorama of the City of New York. Built by Robert Moses for the 1964 Fair, in part as a celebration of the City’s municipal infrastructure, this 9,335 square foot architectural model includes every single building in all five boroughs. The Panorama remains in the building and open to the public as part of the Museum’s collection.
As in 1939, the New York City Building was at the center of the 1964 World’s Fair. It was (and still is) adjacent to the 140 foot high, 900,000 lb. steel Unisphere—that great symbol of the Fair’s theme of “Peace through Understanding.” After the Fair the Panorama remained open to the public and the south side of the building returned to being an ice rink.
In 1972, the north side of the New York City Building was handed to the Queens Museum (or as it was then known, the Queens Center for Art and Culture). Almost twenty years after it opened, the Museum undertook its first major renovation. In 1994, Rafael Viñoly significantly redesigned the existing exhibition spaces and the Panorama’s gallery. Adding a ramp with glass landing platforms, visitors could now experience the Panorama in it’s open air.
The south side of the Museum remained an ice skating rink until 2008, when the Museum was closed for an even larger renovation. It was expanded and redesigned by Grimshaw Architects in collaboration with Ammann & Whitney, who created the open and soaring design you now can see today. In 2013, the Museum reopened with more than double the amount of exhibition space, as well as new entrances, an atrium, and a massive skylight.