The Queens Museum of Art

by Tom Finkelpearl

© Tom Finkelpearl 2012

The New York City Building was built to house the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, where it exhibited displays about municipal agencies. Centrally located, directly adjacent to the great icons of the Fair, the Trylon and Perisphere, it was one of the few buildings created for the Fair that were intended to be permanent. It is now the only surviving building from the 1939/40 Fair. After the Fair, the building became a recreation center for the newly created Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The north side of the building, now the Queens Museum of Art, housed a roller rink and the south side offered an ice rink.

The building’s architect, Aymer Embury III, was one of Robert Moses’ favorite designers and his other work includes the Central Park Zoo and the Tri-Borough Bridge. He designed the building in a modern classical style with the exterior of the building featuring colonnades behind which were vast expanses of glass brick punctuated by limestone pilasters trimmed in dark polished granite; the solid corner blocks were also constructed from limestone.

One of the proudest periods in the history of the New York City Building was that from 1946 to 1950 when it housed the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations. Until the site of the UN’s current home in Manhattan became available, Flushing Meadows Corona Park was being considered as the organization’s future permanent Headquarters site. During the early post-war years almost every world leader spent time in the New York City Building and many important decisions, including the partition of Palestine and the creation of UNICEF, were made here.

In preparation for the 1964 World’s Fair the New York City Building was again renovated. Under the architect Daniel Chait, a scalloped entry awning was added to east façade and concrete brise-soleil used to cover all of the areas of glass brick. The building once again housed the New York City Pavilion and the most dramatic display there was the Panorama of the City of New York, which remains in the building and open to the public as part of the Museum’s collection.

As in 1939, the New York City Building was at the center of the 1964/5 World’s Fair. It was (and still is) adjacent to the 140 foot high, 900,000 lb steel Unisphere; that great symbol of the Fair’s theme of “Peace through Understanding”. After the Fair the Panorama remained open to the public and the south side of the building returned to being an ice rink.

In 1972 the north side of the New York City Building became the Queens Museum of Art. Twenty years after it opened, the Museum undertook its first major renovation. In 1994, Rafael Viñoly redesigned the existing space, creating some of the most dramatic exhibition galleries in New York. In 2009 the Museum began a second renovation to double its size –expanding into the south side of the New York City Building. The architects for this new expansion are Grimshaw/Ammann and Whitney.

The $65 million project, expected to be completed by the end of 2013, includes a new 220 foot long illuminated glass façade and entry plaza on the Grand Central Parkways side of the building, a new entrance and expanded outdoor space on the Flushing Meadows Corona Park side of the building, and a generous skylit atrium in between.