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World’s Fair Leftovers

Written by  Professor Barry Goldsmith

Here’s a confession. I love leftovers. Not food, buildings - World’s Fair leftovers. The most famous examples of World’s Fair leftovers aren’t really “buildings” but monuments that have become symbols of their cities: Paris’ Eiffel Tower (1889), Brussels’ Atomium (1958), Seattle’s Space Needle (1962) and the New York’s Unisphere (1964). The less famous leftovers are entire pavilions leftover from other World’s Fairs.

In the 21st century, “green” travel is widely touted. Recycling towels in hotels (saving water) and eTickets (saving paper) are merely drops in the bucket (list). The greenest trend is recycling entire buildings. While over 95% of World’s Fair pavilions were temporary, there are many surviving World’s Fair pavilions all over the world - unknown to most tourists and even many natives.

Since this is a travel column, let’s first look at world’s fair buildings that did a little traveling themselves. Prague’s elegant Art Nouveau Hanava Restaurant traveled from Prague’s 1891 Jubilee Exposition grounds to Letna Park. That 1891 expo gave Prague its current exhibition hall, Petrin Tower (Prague’s Eiffel Tower), and the newly-restored Krizikova’s dancing-waters fountains, (inspiring the 1929 Barcelona’s Exposition’s Magic Fountains). On a much longer journey - straight from winning the award for Best Pavilion (architecture) at Brussels’ 1958 World’s Fair -- the Czechoslovakia Pavilion settled down in Prague as an award-winning restaurant.  Prague, which claims the world’s only Cubist Architecture, should be proud of another World’s Fair “leftover” - Moshe Safdie’s startling “cubist” apartment building, Habitat 67 (from Montreal’s Expo ‘67) - interlocking cubes piled on one another like building blocks. Expo 67’s other major leftover building is its futuristic American Pavilion - a gigantic geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller - the prototype for 21st century biospheres.

World’s Fairs are built to show off the latest science inventions and to exhibit world-class art. Therefore when World’s Fair buildings are leftover, their logical reincarnation is museums.

The leftover Memorial Hall from Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exposition became the “Please Touch” children’s museum.  Once again architecture ahead of its time --Memorial Hall was built in a style that – a generation later at the end of the 19th century -- was known as “Beaux Arts.”  (New York’s Fifth Avenue Public Library being a prime example).  The main pavilions of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and St. Louis’ 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition were full-blown Beaux Arts.

The main building of (what was to become) the Art Institute of Chicago was built as the Columbian Exposition’s World Congress Auxiliary.  The fair’s other leftover building, its Palace of Fine Arts, became Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  Another Palace of Fine Arts – this one from San Francisco’s 1915 Pacific-Panama Exposition -- became yet another science museum -- today’s Exploratorium.   An overlooked leftover from the Pacific-Panama Exposition is the Exposition Auditorium becoming San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium (where 1920’s Democratic Convention nominated FDR for vice president).

For a change a world’s fair Palace of Fine Arts – stayed in the arts.  The Palace of Fine Arts from St. Louis’ 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (celebrating the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase) -- became today’s St. Louis Museum of Art -- its classical design (like New York’s contemporary Pennsylvania Station) was inspired by Rome’s ancient Baths of Caracalla. 

While Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair Palace of the Arts didn’t survive -- its American Pavilion transitioned into the Pacific Science Center with eight buildings and two Imax Theaters.

Another world’s fair building type is the purpose-built gigantic exhibition hall occupying several city blocks.  Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building hosted two world expositions.  It was built for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition and reused for the 1888 European Settlement in Australian Centenary Exposition. 

The Brussels International Exposition of 1935 – celebrating the centenary of Belgium – created one of my favorite Art Deco buildings – the Exposition Palace of Heysel.   While many Brussels tourists stop at the nearby Atomium – very few take notice of this huge building which looks like a Mayan Pyramid with an a classical Art Deco entrance superimposed on it.  (New York’s Chanin Building also used Mayan Art Deco.) It was reused for the 1958 Brussels Exposition. With Art Deco out of favor by the 1950s, the entire front façade was hidden behind a kitsch modernist façade since removed. 

Milan’s 1906 Exposition has a building still serving its original capacity – an aquarium – one of Europe’s first.  And one of the newest aquariums in Europe was created for Lisbon’s 1998 World’s Fair – and is a must-see attraction.

Like the 1935 Brussels Exposition center serving its city’s two world’s fairs in the same capacity -- let’s look at the New York City Pavilion from 1939 New York World’s Fair – also serving as 1964’s New York City Pavilion.  With its sedate Neoclassical style – it was out of sync with the very Art Deco 1939 World’s Fair – looking like it should have been a Berlin Pavilion designed by Albert Speer – albeit on a much smaller scale.  (After WWII it became the United Nations headquarters until its permanent Manhattan building was finished.)  Today it’s still a New York City museum reduced to just one borough – Queens.

Flushing Meadows Queens – also the site of the 1964 New York World’s Fair -- has yet another leftover serving the same function it was built for -- 1964’s Hall of Science, which became today’s New York Hall of Science.  Architecturally, it was also out of sync with its time – this time, before its time.  Instead of the 1964 World’s Fair very kitschy architecture -- the Hall of Science’s undulating façade (before computer design) is more akin to the best 21st-century architecture – with many elements of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia Cathedral and Jean Nouvel’s Paris Arab World Institute.  Like Paris’ Sainte Chapelle, its interior becomes a stained-glass cage.

Since we’re already in Paris – the Paris we see today is usually accredited to Baron Hausmann’s re-planning of the mid-19th century.   However, many of the buildings enhancing Paris’s beauty are world’s fair leftovers built after Hausmann’s plan was completed.  The Grand Palace and the Petit Palace are both leftover from the Paris’ 1900 Universal Exposition.  Almost mirror images in Beaux Arts style (with some Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau elements), they face each other on opposite sides of the Avenue Winston Churchill.

Like New York’s leftovers, both buildings serve the same function they were designed for.  The huge Grand Palais, like its Brussels counterpart, has always functioned as a venue for changing exhibitions.  (It’s interior has an exquisite Art Nouveau staircase.)  The Petit Palais was the expo’s Museum of French Art and today’s City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts – which is a great overlooked museum.

Just as Seville’s 1929 Ibero-American Exposition’s most dramatic leftover was a plaza -- its Plaza de Espana (in stunning Moorish and Renaissance Revival styles) -- the largest and most memorable leftover of the 1937 Paris International Exposition was the reconstructed Place de Trocadero’s Palais de Chaillot in magnificent Art Deco. Today its bookend pavilions still provide the perfect frame for long-distance photos of the Eiffel Tower.  The Museum of Man was (and still is today) part of the 1937 Trocadero complex along with two more museums the Naval Museum of the Museum of Architecture and a theater.  The nearby 1937 Museum of Modern Art, in restrained Art Deco, is now the Paris Museum of Modern Art.

Let’s start where we began – with “traveling” world’s fair buildings.  The 1964 New York World’s Fair Pepsi Pavilion and the GE Pavilion  -- both with their Disney-musical presentations still encased within their actual pavilions  -- traveled South (buildings and all) to Disney World – still entertaining audiences today.

While the 1964 World’s Fair Illinois pavilion no longer exists, its exhibit, Disney’s animatronic talking Lincoln, was also sent to Florida – where Lincoln at 208 years old --considerably raises the median age of Florida’s retirement community.

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