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New Documentary Will Introduce 1964 World's Fair to Younger Generations

By DNAinfo Staff on February 13, 2012 11:55am

Fountains shoot water around the Unisphere during the 1964 World's Fair in Queens.
Fountains shoot water around the Unisphere during the 1964 World's Fair in Queens.
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FLUSHING MEADOWS — John Piro has watched children over the years gaze up curiously at the three towers and elliptical rotunda of the New York State Pavilion, the historic yet crumbling landmark that was once the centerpiece of the 1964 World's Fair.

"The kids all ask me, 'What was this here?'" said Piro, 63, who worked at the fair and often visits the pavilion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. "I explain it to them and they go, 'Wow, you're kidding me.'"

Piro's passion for sharing the fair with younger generations made him the perfect interviewee for "After the Fair," a documentary set to come out next year with the goal of introducing the historic expo to those born after it profoundly affected American culture.

Preservationists hope the movie will also inspire a movement to save the few fair remnants still left in Flushing Meadows.

"If we don't capture it now, we'll look back in 25 years or 50 years and then try to capture it, and we'll only have historical documents," said the film's director, Ryan Ritchey. "Time is of the essence."

Ritchey, who has traveled across the country to shoot footage of fair exhibits that have since been relocated, is now seeking archival footage of everyday excursions to the fair that he hopes still exist in dusty New York storage spaces. Anyone willing to share footage can email Ritchey at ryan@worldfairsmovie.com.

Ritchey has also launched a campaign to raise $7,000 to cover production costs on the website Kickstarter, which bills itself as the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. If the documentary does not reach the $7,000 goal by 9:39 p.m. on March 9, Ritchey will lose all cash pledged on the site. But he vowed to see the project through no matter what.

Ritchey has already trekked to the Wisconsin Pavilion in Neillsville, Wis., which became a radio station after the fair; SC Johnson's Golden Rondelle theater in Racine, Wis.; and some of the many Sinclair dinosaur statues scattered throughout the Midwest.

He also went to the former Austrian Pavilion, which was reassembled in western New York as a ski lodge about 50 miles south of Buffalo. Ten days after Ritchey filmed there, the lodge burned down.

Author Bill Young, who co-wrote a popular photo history book on the 1964 fair and runs a website dedicated to its memory, said he hopes the documentary will increase appreciation for fair relics like the New York State Pavilion.

"The more people know about it," he said, "the more people will take an interest in preserving it."

In New York, Ritchey has interviewed officials from the New York Hall of Science and the Queens Musuem of Art, which both operate in former pavilions from the fair.

He also shot the fair's symbol, the Unisphere, which has appeared in numerous commercials, the opening credits of the TV show "King of Queens" and, perhaps most famously, in the 1997 movie "Men in Black."

"It feels like it's permeated subconsciously and gotten into pop culture," said Ritchey, 34.

Another Ritchey interviewee, Mitch Silverstein, who fondly recalled visiting the fair as a child, said Ritchey's project will find a rapt audience among nostalgic Baby Boomers.

"We just love this stuff. We eat it up," said Silverstein, 53, of Nyack in Rockland County.

"We always look for that connection back and I don’t know if it's nostalgia, if it's mortality as we get older, but it's certainly a time that people want to remember."