Court of the States, Queens

In the transformation of Flushing Meadows from a salt mash and ash dump to the site of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, the meandering Flushing Creek was diverted into a straightened channel on the park’s eastern side. In contrast to the 1964 World’s Fair, where it was partially buried and hidden from view, the first World’s Fair relied on the creek as a visual feature, incorporating it into the exhibits.

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One example is the Court of the States, where a section of the creek was transformed into a rectangular pool flanked by flags representing the 48 states. At the north end of this section, a replica of Independence Hall represented Pennsylvania.

Where it was

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In this aerial survey of the fair grounds the Court of the States is circled in blue while the future path of the Van Wyck Expressway is highlighted. Designed by architects Gilmore Clarke and Michel Rapuano, the layout of Flushing Meadows was inspired by the gardens at Versailles, where boulevard-like paths radiated out from the royal palace.

Beyond the outer ring, the plan is less symmetrical. Nevertheless as a self-contained zone, the Court of the States offered symmetry in its layout and positioning of the exhibits. This zone also stood out for its imitations of famous stateside buildings in contrast to the Art Deco theme of the overall fairgrounds. 23 states had exhibits at the fair, plus Puerto Rico. The exhibits of New York and Florida were at Meadow Lake, outside this zone. The photo below is from Richard Wurts’ book The New York World’s Fair, 1939/1940: in 155 Photographs.

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Facing the Pennsylvania exhibit was Virginia. As one state was where independence was declared, the other was the birthplace of our first President and seven others. The Virginia exhibit looked to Thomas Jefferson’s custom designed Monticello plantation as an inspiration.

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Although Flushing Creek was forced to flow beneath the exhibits of Pennsylvania and Virginia, following their demolition, the creek was restored to the surface. The section of the stream at the Court of the States was partially overshadowed by the Van Wyck Expressway in 1961 and buried to make room for the industrial exhibits of the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair.

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Today, a soccer field occupies the site.

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As I’ve mentioned before, in 2008 the Parks Department’s Strategic Framework Plan proposed daylighting this section of Flushing Creek. Had this proposal advanced, it would have meant eliminating three heavily used soccer fields and so for now, goals are scored where the court of the States once stood.

One more thing

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At the southern end of the Court of the States was The Celestial Sphere, an elaborate globe sculpture by classically inspired Art Deco designer Paul Manship. This work was a copy of a more famous Celestial Sphere that was commissioned by the League of Nations for its Geneva headquarters. That sphere was installed in August 1939, less than a month before the Nazi invasion of Poland made the peace organization irrelevant.

As for Independence Hall, it is one of the most copied historical buildings in the country and includes a replica in Kew Gardens Hills.

Hidden Waters on Tour: This Sunday May 8 at 11 a. m., I will be giving a tour of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as part of the volunteer docent program.

In the news:

WKAR reports on the effort to clean up Flint River in Michigan.

New York Times reported on the city’s newest marina at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

National Geographic reported on the wildlife found in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

WKBN reported on the history of Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio.

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