In the 1960s, the Cuban Missile Crisis posed a real and present danger. In response, the New York City World’s Fair of 1964-65 rolled out a Soviet-free solution: the simply-named “Underground Home,” a subterranean dwelling complete with night-and-day light dials, a pipe organ, and candelabras. Now, 50 years later, the question remains: is the Underground Home still there?
Built 15 feet underneath what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, the Underground Home was the dream of builder Jay Swayze, who lived in his own subaltern abode in Texas. Swayze and his team constructed a huge concrete shell beneath a marsh in the park, completing the home itself with gypsum board ceilings.
The Underground Home was designed to give the owner complete authority over his environment, and included temperature controls, city views (the model on a pamphlet depicted the New York skyline on one side, the Golden Gate bridge on the other), and choice of climate. It even included a terrace and flower garden.
By most accounts, the home—and the subsequent underground home building projects the model was supposed to spur—were flops. Unlike snazzier, free exhibits the fair boasted, the Underground Home charged a dollar admission. Additionally, Swayze sold the homes themselves for a pricey $80,000—nearly $500,000 by today’s standards. The New York Times said that by the end of the fair, no homes had been sold.
Perhaps because of its fair failure, some people believe that Swayze never fully removed the home in order to save the contract-mandated demolition fees the removal would run him. Although the home’s furnishings were certainly removed from the house after the fair, Dr. Lori Walters, a historian from the University of Central Florida, is lobbying the New York Parks department for permission to excavate to see if the shell of the home is still underground. A dig may be the only way to end the debate.
Visit Queens with Atlas Obscura Trips
Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cachet, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.