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Neglected Fountain of the Planets Has Few Friends in Queens Park

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | December 17, 2012 8:00am

QUEENS — A once-grand fountain in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park that enchanted thousands with its towering water streams and accompanying firework displays may soon be demolished — and some park goers say it would not be missed.

If Major League Soccer has its way, the massive, crescent-shaped structure that was built for the 1964 World's Fair but has fallen into neglect and become filled with algae and trash will be replaced with a 25,000-seat stadium.

For many who live nearby, it would be a welcome change.

“There is nothing here," said Victor Bravo, 47, a welder from Corona, of the fountain. "It’s a wasted space and this water stinks.”

Bravo added that a new MLS stadium would be a much better fit for the surrounding community.

“A lot of people in this area love soccer,” said Bravo, an immigrant from Ecuador who said he often plays soccer in the park.

Every day, even as the second most-used park in the city fills with crowds, including immigrant families and hundreds of soccer players, most of them do not come anywhere near the gloomy fountain. The pond has become an eyesore, many park regulars said.

“It’s not very pretty,” said Wendy Deng, 70, a retired Rego Park resident who often walks to the park’s Aquatic Center. “Once trash falls into the fountain, no one picks it up.”

The current feelings about the fountain are a far cry from nearly a half century ago, when it wooed crowds of fair-goers with water rising to a height of 150 feet, mixed in with dazzling light shows and music.

Richard Hourahan, collections manager at the Queens Historical Society, said the massive design reflected the era of the New Frontier and the Space Age, but also the personality of Robert Moses, the city's legendary urban planner.

“Moses didn’t want abstract structures,” Hourahan said. “He wanted something people would understand.”

The 6.5-acre fountain sat at the entrance to the fair’s “Pool of Industry”  exhibition, which aimed to “show off the might of American manufacturing,” Hourahan said. The biggest pavilion there, located right behind the fountain, was the Bell Telephone Company's “Floating Wing,” which was also futuristic in its design.

According to a brochure about the fountain, water spouted from it throughout the length of the fair, with the highlight reserved for evenings.

“When color and pyrotechnics reach a peak, water rising to a height of 150 feet, and capped by a fireworks display that promises to be more beautiful than loud,” the brochure, which was provided by the Queens Historical Society, read.

But the fountain took a turn for the worse, in part because of financing. Jean Silva, president of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, said the maintenance of a complex plumbing system for the fountain would have been costly.

“There was no money to maintain [the fountain], so for the last 45 years or so, it’s been sitting there doing absolutely nothing and accumulating trash,” she said.

According to the Parks Department, workers clean the area about once a week.

Despite falling into disrepair, the fountain has its defenders.

Poovanart Pholpituke, 53, a hospital worker who comes to the park from Woodside to walk his dog, Bella, said he would like to see the fountain working again.

“I haven’t seen it being used, but I think it should be restored so that people could enjoy it,” he said.

Pholpituke pointed out that the area has enough stadiums and sport centers, including Citi Field, the aquatic center, and the National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open tournament is held.

“We need more open space here, not more stadiums,” he said. “This park looks like a dump. They should...invest in planting grass and more trees."

Sydney Pratt, the marketing and communications manager at the Queens Theatre, which is also located in the park, said there are many beautiful objects dating from the World’s Fair that “no one really cares about anymore.”

“It’s sad,” she said. “They just need to be refurbished, just like the towers of the New York State Pavilion.”

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, whose district includes the park, said that “the fountain obviously has historic value.” It has fallen into disrepair because Flushing Meadows-Corona Park had not received adequate funding for decades, unlike other major parks in the city, she added.

“If Flushing Meadows-Corona Park had the dedicated revenue that Central Park or Prospect Park had, the fountain would have the resources necessary to be magnificent,” she said.

One way to accomplish that, she said, would be “to make sure that the sports facilities inside the park pay their fair share to maintain the park.”

Ferreras said that it would be a mistake to remove the fountain “because the city has failed to maintain [it].”

“As a community, we need to decide what is the best way to enhance the park and we obviously need funding to do it,” she said.