Constructed for the 1964 World’s Fair, the Panorama of the City of New York exhibit at the Queens Museum shows the entire sprawling city in miniature.
The panorama was built by a team of more than 100 people working for the great architectural model makers Raymond Lester & Associates over the course of three years. These prolific artisans built an incredibly realistic model of all five boroughs in New York City at a scale of one inch to 100 feet. (To get a sense of the scale, the model’s version of the 1,454-foot Empire State Building measures just shy of 15 inches tall.) The entire panorama covers an area of 9,335 square feet.
When introduced in 1964, the panorama’s features included lighting that cycled from dawn to dusk to night. Phosphorescent paint was added to windows on many of the model buildings, so that they would cast a realistic glow during the nighttime portion of the cycle. Thousands of colored lights highlighted municipal buildings like schools, courthouses, libraries, firehouses, police precincts, and more. Every few minutes, model airplanes took off and landed at a miniature LaGuardia Airport.
Over time, slight changes to this miniature city have been made in order to preserve its architectural integrity. In 1992 the model was removed from the museum and brought up to date over the course of two years. Each of the 273 sections that make up the model was painstakingly updated using maps aerial photos, and in-person visits to ensure accuracy. More than 60,000 buildings were replaced over the course of this update. Though the original buildings were made and painted by hand, newer additions have been crafted from plastic or plexiglass.
The model now contains 895,000 individual structures, including every building in the city as of 1992.