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895,000 buildings and Robert Moses: the New York Panorama and the 6th Annual Panorama Challenge

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In 1964, New York City hosted its second World’s Fair in 25 years –

and the fair had companies like US Steel contributing iconic structures, some of which became part of NY’s Outer Borough Skyline – like the 120 foot high stainless steel Unisphere. If you’ve ever traveled to or from Laguardia Airport or been to a US Open Tennis game, you’ve seen the famous sculpture.

New York Panorama

So, if New York City was going BIG at the World’s Fair ’64,

they’d need to bring it big time or go home (well, they were home, but you get the drift…)  Robert Moses, nearing the end of his career, was the man who fought to bring the fair back to NY. Perhaps he wanted a (not so) subtle way, to highlight all the ways he had changed the city.

Robert Moses –

was the city’s de facto master planner, involved in everything from building 13 bridges to laying down 416 miles of highways and planning over 2.5 million acres of parks.  Moses is an intensely polarizing figure whom New Yorkers love AND hate in the same breath.  His reach was all-encompassing even to this day and, no matter the tour group — private tour or high school band trip —  LUNY! guides utter his name at least once.

So when Moses wanted to use the Fair to celebrate his accomplishments, he was definitely thinking big. Moses took the New York City Pavilion — the last building remaining from the 1939 Fair (and the temporary home of the United Nations from 1946-50) — and created a tribute to his accomplishments. It’s the size of half a football field. It included a simulated helicopter ride over a miniaturized New York City. It’s the largest architectural scale model… in the World. It’s the New York Panorama.

New York Panorama Advertisement

The Panorama was built by 100 craftsmen and included every single building in NYC – 895,000 of them, built to a scale of 1:100!

It not only celebrated Moses’ bridges and highways, but each and every home, factory, store, street and park in this fine metropolis. The New York Panorama shrunk the 300+ square miles of city to fit 9,335 square feet, reducing the Empire State Building to a 15 inch spire. Best of all, you can still see this amazing project today!

New York Quotes New York Panorama

I consider it to be one of the city’s great hidden treasures.  Nowadays, the New York Panorama is part of the wonderful Queens Museum of Art and accessible during museum hours (and sometimes after hours, but more on that later!).

My eight-year-old son loves it and I’ve brought private tours there. It’s a jaw-dropping experience.  There’s plenty of room on the elevated ramps that surround it so you can even bring a entire class through.  It’s (almost!) like taking a tour of the whole city in 20 minutes.  In just a few steps you can walk from Yankee Stadium to Central Park and the Empire State Building.

New York Panorama Central Park

The whole Panorama was updated in 1992 when many old buildings were removed and new structures were added.  But, notably, the Twin Towers still stand. If you want to add a building, the QMA’s Adopt-a-Building program will happily let you fund an addition of a new skyscraper to the Panorama.

Back in 2007, something happened at the Panorama that would eventually lead to my frequent visits to that wonderful hall.  The New York Times covered it in a piece called “Night of the Know-it-Alls.”  Thus began the Panorama Challenge, inviting New York City history fans (aka GEEKS!) to the Panorama after hours for a geographical trivia based quiz night.  Such Geo-Geeks would answer NYC questions assisted by laser pointers and audio clues.

New York Panorama Challenge

This year is the 6th Panorama Challenge and I’m proud to say I’m the Head Quiz Writer this year (again!) and thought I’d end this story with a couple of challenges that you can answer without the benefit of a massive model of our metropolis. Answer in the comments, and if you do really well, come on by the Panorama on March 1, 2013 for the real Challenge. Maybe you can win your team name on the Panorama Challenge trophy!

New York Panorama Challenge

By Jonathan Turer.

(photos 2-4 courtesy of Queens Museum of Art)

1) What ‘presidential’ island is home to a long-planned but newly-opened memorial designed by the late Louis I Kahn?

2) Head to Brooklyn’s Cumberland Street if you want to get the ‘low’ down on what ‘sweet’ package?

3) One of Laguardia Airport’s oldest buildings is decorated with images of flying fish.  Why?

4) Which ‘slice’ of  Breezy Point was devastated by fire during Superstorm Sandy?

5) Before hipsters and before the bridge, this neighborhood was once its own city.