World’s Fair fountains in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to get $5 million makeover

The derelict fountains, left, leading to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park will get a $5 million makeover, right.
The derelict fountains, left, leading to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park will get a $5 million makeover, right. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

Decorative fountains built more than 50 years ago for the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park are getting a new life — and new purpose — as part of a $5 million renovation next year.

The Fountain of the Fairs, part of the majestic water displays constructed for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, will be transformed into playful spray showers and mists where kids can cool off during the summer.

It will be a return to glory for the empty fountains, which Robert Moses designed to cascade from the Unisphere to the Rocket Thrower statue. The fountains were up and running after an extensive renovation in 2000, but broke within a few years and were later damaged in flooding from superstorm Sandy.

The city Department of Parks and Recreation decided to find a way to revamp them, setting up community meetings and listening sessions in 2015 and 2016 to figure out the best use of the space.

The community overwhelmingly asked for more water options, according to Janice Melnick, the administrator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“There will be a [new] fun, safe place to cool down,” she said.

The design includes a walkway with misting fountains; at the other end, there will be a more formalized children’s water park, Melnick said.

It adds new landscaping and seating, along with a plaza that can be used for events and shows. It’s designed with the park’s history in mind, including Art Deco details of the first World’s Fair held in the park in 1939.

Parks department officials hope this will also keep people from wading into the fountain surrounding the Unisphere on hot days.

“It’s a decorative fountain, it’s not supposed to be used for water play,” said Melnick. “People try to climb up on the Unisphere base; the jets are powerful.”

They’ve tried to keep people out by installing barricades, opening up hydrants and utilizing Parks Enforcement Patrol officers.

None of those methods have worked.

City Councilman Francisco Moya, who grew up in Corona, said he was one of those kids playing in the Unisphere fountains during hot weather — but he’s happy for an alternative.

“It’s always great when we’re able to really put in thoughtful renovations that care for the kids and the community that actually utilize the park,” he said.

The project is the first phase in a larger renovation plan for the park, which in the last few years has introduced the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance to spur fundraising and improvements.

The promenade at Meadow Lake is currently under construction, and the asphalt field at the World’s Fair Playground will also be renovated.

The World’s Fair Marina, which was damaged during Sandy, will also have a major overhaul.

And after the city previously announced plans to renovate and stabilize parts of the New York State Pavilion, a request for bids went out earlier this month for the project — which could cost up to $10 million.

Moya said he hopes for continued improvements, especially to the large fields that are filled with people throughout the year.

“We want to make sure we can provide the proper funding of the maintenance of the fields so the kids and families that come to utilize Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can have a real state of the art facility that’s really giving [a park] to this community that desperately needs all the resources they can [get],” he said.