The World’s Capitol in Flushing

In October 2014, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz declared a slogan for her jurisdiction: The World’s Borough. The phrase catches several global things about Queens, its diversity of cultures, the site of two World’s Fairs, and the famous Unisphere globe. In 1946, the site of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair was a candidate for the permanent headquarters of the United Nations.

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Had the plan succeeded, it would have left quite an impact on the development of Queens.

Gilmore Clarke, the same architect who designed the grounds of the World’s Fair, envisioned the World’s Capitol complex in the heart of Flushing Meadows. Had this plan succeeded, it would have transformed the public green space into a fenced off compound for diplomats, robbing Queens residents of indispensable parkland. A New York Times article from October 19, 1946 outlines the proposal:

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But it would have also meant consulates in Corona and Flushing and perhaps the transformation of these low-scale neighborhoods into the city’s new center, an alternative to Manhattan.

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At the time, the United Nations was already located in the park, using the New York City Building (present-day Queens Museum) for its conventions. Where the Trylon and Perisphere stood was a circle of flagpoles representing the 51 member states stood around the circle.

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At the time, other locations competed for the honor of permanently hosting the United Nations, including San Francisco, Niagara Falls, and Philadelphia, among others. Prior to promoting the Turtle Bay location in Manhattan, Mayor William O’Dwyer published a report in December 1946 outlining the benefits of Flushing Meadows as the “World’s Capitol.”

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As the above map shows, it’s close to where the diplomats lived and the city’s two airports, not to mention the symbolism of the site as a world’s fairground. For Flushing Creek, it meant the transformation of the Lagoon of Nations into a pool within an axis connecting the headquarters to a horseshoe-shaped amphitheater.

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The monument and amphitheater inside a horseshoe appeared strikingly similar to the Soviet Pavilion in the 1939 World’s Fair. As a rising superpower with an obedient cluster of satellite states, the Soviet vote was vital in deciding the location of the United Nations. Initially, the Russians were on board with the plan, as reported in New York Times on December 4, 1946.

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So far so good, but in this city, Manhattan is the reigning leader among boroughs. In December 1947, John D. Rockefeller Jr. offered seventeen acres of land to the United Nations on the East Side of Manhattan, effectively killing the World Capitol proposal for Flushing Meadows. The Turtle Bay location passed in the General Assembly by a vote of 46 to 7. This ended Flushing Creek’s brief moment in international news.

The UN continued to meet at its temporary Flushing Meadows home until 1950. Among the historic votes that took place there was the November 28, 1947 vote to partition British Palestine into two states for two peoples, which is still the policy of the UN to this day.

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A plaque at the Queens Museum honors this moment in history. I am always happy to support a fellow author.

In all Fairness…

To learn more about Flushing Meadows’ failed bid to host the UN, check out Charlene Mires’ 2013 book Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations. Additionally, there are many good books that illustrate the transformation of the Corona Ash Dump into a fairground followed by a park. Click on the titles for more details.

In the news: Seattle Times documents the natural revival of the Elwha River following the removal of its dam.

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