After a long ride from Manhattan, most get off the 7 train to go to Shea Stadium, but you could just as well walk in the other direction. Shea Stadium, former home of the New York Mets, is only one part of Flushing Meadows, a large park built for the 1939 World’s Fair.
Robert Moses oversaw the 1,255 square acre park on dumping grounds — labeled by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby as the “valley of ashes” — in Queens. The park now has a world-class aquatic center, many sports fields, the Queens Museum, the New York Hall of Science, and, the latest addition, CitiField.
In preparation for the 1939 World Fair, the city built a hall, a number of sculptures, and a scale model of the city of New York. After a refurbishing, the Panorama of the City of New York, as it’s called, contains every building in all five boroughs through 1992. The 9,335 square foot architecture model was designed to be used by urban planners, but the public interest helped transform it into a permanent part of the museum. It can still be seen at the Queens’ Museum in Flushing Meadows.
In 1964, the park hosted another World’s Fair. Most of the structures for this fair have been dismantled, but the New York State Pavilion still sits there, unused, a symbol to the dead Fair it participated in. The Pavilion is one of the most iconic images of the park, as if a flying saucer landed in this huge Meadow.
Another famously iconic part of the park is the Unisphere, “a 12-story high, spherical stainless steel representation of the Earth,” the world’s largest globe structure. Three metal loops circle the giant globe representing the paths of “Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and Telstar, the first active communications satellite.” It was designated a New York city landmark in 1995.
The park has many claims to fame: for five years, the United Nations had their headquarters there. Each year, it hosts the US Open. But it is most used by the local community. In 2008, the city opened its largest recreational facility, with an Olympic-size pool and a NHL-regulation football stadium. The unique sculptures and museum of art keep strangers coming, too.