The terrazzo map in 1964; for a more contemporary image, cf. inf.
When this 130 by 166 foot plot of polished terrazzo tiling was inaugurated at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair, it was the largest map in the world. A facsimile extrapolation of a New York State road map by Rand McNally, the half-acre-sized piece of cartography today would still be the world’s largest map - if it had actually survived. But decades of human neglect and hard work by the elements have left their mark on the plywood tiles.
The Texaco-sponsored map was one of the eyecatchers at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, serving as the floor of the Tent of Tomorrow, which was later turned into a concert venue but fell into disuse by the late Sixties. By the early Seventies, the plywood tiles were covered with a layer of polyurethane and the area was used as a skating rink. It now is part of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. With Ozymandias-like predictability, the Tent of Tomorrow’s 16 concrete pillars now support little more than sky. The only part of the New York State contribution to the Fair to survive unscathed is the Queens Theater in the Park, once the pavilion’s Theaterama.
As the driving irony of heritage conservation dictates, the map wasn’t deemed of value until it was nearly gone. By early 2008, the New York Times in this article called it “an exuberantly overstated mix of small-town parochialism, space-age optimism and Pop Art irony” in the course of reporting on a rescue attempt of this “valuable artifact”.
As reported by the Times, a team of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate programme in historic preservation has been trialing the preservation of four of the 567 4×4-foot panels that make up the map. They were replacing missing letters, numerals and symbols on the original map. It was estimated that conservation would cost about $1,100 per panel, bringing the total cost up to $623,700. However, no plans were made beyond the trial conservation, and I have no update on the current status of the project.
In any case, the conservation process apparently would leave the map in dubious condition, rendering the purpose of a restored map rather unclear: the surface is so fragile and uneven that walking it, as back in the mid-Sixties, would be impractical at best, and probably quite dangerous.