– a creepy reminder of yesterday’s attraction –
Walking around the Tent of Tomorrow you would never think that this structure once embodied a stubborn optimism in the future.
Although it looks like a futuristic construction, it’s clear it has had better days. Could it be the set for a science fiction movie where Mr Spock and Scotty have been beamed to an unknown planet where the humanlike inhabitants have been wiped out by some toxic meteor gas, leaving behind the remnants of a highly advanced civilization?
It’s not a far off future. It’s pure twentieth century.
The Tent of Tomorrow was built for the 1964 World Fair in Queens, New York City, better known today for its US Open tennis courts. I am sure that most of the Serena and Venus fans – I’m talking stars here, not planets – don’t know what this strange building is. I didn’t know. The policeman I asked didn’t have a clue neither.
The mere existence of the World Fair was questioned by other nations and it’s not clear if its organization was rightfully granted to New York. But New York was the leading force back in those days and had quite a dime to spare.
In spite of this fact, the two year fair was not a success and got entangled in economic brawls and organizational complications already before the opening.
Fairs and their tales speak to the imagination, and the Tent of Tomorrow was one of the biggest attractions. Also known as the New York State Pavilion, it was a showcase of what technology of the sixties was capable of. The exhibitions and shows transported the visitors into the future.
Designed by Philip Johnson (see previous post THE GLASS HOUSE), the main rotunda was covered with thousands of colorful translucent fiberglass panels. Elevators took the fairgoers up to the towers and offered a stunning view of the complete grounds.
Those days are gone.
The nearby Unisphere fountain, another of the few World Fair survivors, has been completely restored. The Tent of Tomorrow though, in spite of its national landmark status, finds itself in a horrible and harrowing state of decay. Since the seventies crisis it has been abandoned. Where nature and the elements have not yet taken over, vandals have destroyed everything within reach.
And still, the Tent of Tomorrow keeps speaking to the imagination, even today. The hordes have long gone, but the park hasn’t lost its attraction. A little browsing on the internet will get you to testimonies of anonymous daredevils who, like thieves in the night, cut their way through the chained up fences. Their stories are creepy and filled with night creatures. They tell how they use ropes and hooks to climb to the holes in the base of the towers. How their hands burn on the rope, how ankles get sprained. On what is left of the rusty and precarious staircases, they crawl all the way up to the top. The light and noise of the bustling fair are gone. But from up here, during these long winter nights, you can see Manhattan, like a long and glowing snake, in the distance.