Wednesday, August 29, 2018

New Orleans Memories – The 1984 World’s Fair

Every once in a while, some government or corporate excess make someone bring up George Orwell’s classic, ‘1984.’ Thirty-four years after we actually lived that year, we’re recalling the book more than ever. More on that later.

Fear not, my on-the-fence, “Please, not another rant” readers. Today’s story only happened in 1984. I was pausing for effect. Today, on the 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I recall one of the good times.

Louisiana World Expo Under Construction (February 1984)

Expo pavilions and the new Mississippi
River Bridge going up at the same time

The 1984 Louisiana World Exposition was staged on the Mississippi River waterfront in New Orleans. It ran from May to November that year. Ninety-five nations participated. It was the last World Exposition held in the United States. Sixteen of these mega-fairs have occurred since…the most recent in Kazakhstan in 2017.

1984 was a busy year for the city. A second bridge over the mighty Mississippi was under construction. A huge new convention center was going to be part of the fair site and remain as the city’s new draw for larger convention business.

Louisiana World Expo (May 1984)

When the Age of Industrialization cranked up in the mid-nineteenth century, the tycoons and their governments wanted to showcase their accomplishments. Nations came together and built grand pavilions and exhibition halls to display new inventions and advances. Here’s what we can do now. Buy our stuff.”

With the 1939 New York Worlds Fair, the theme shifted to one of cultural exchange. New technologies were displayed but in support of a better future of peace and understanding.  Here’s who we are. Here’s what we can do together. Buy our stuff.”

The Louisiana World Expo fell into this era. The theme was “The World of Rivers – Fresh Waters as a Source of Life.” Situated on the Mississippi River, the fair included a monorail, gondola rides over the grounds and MART…Mississippi Aerial River Transit, a really high cable car that took you across the river. The hope was to have it remain as a viable commuter option from downtown to the West Bank but ultimately, it flopped.

Louisiana World Expo Fireworks (29 October 1984)

Nightly fireworks were spectacular. Either that or this is a scene from ‘War of the Worlds’ and the alien death machine is raining hellfire on the city. Visible here is the East Bank tower of MART. My guess is that the cable cars were NOT running at this time.

The current era of expos has been one of nation branding. The fairs since 1988 have brought together countries that try to improve their national images. “Check us out. We’re stable and advanced. Build your next factory here. Buy our stuff.”

Lights and water were primary features of the fair. With the fountains and reflections, the grounds looked better at night. We enjoyed it and had season passes so we could return frequently.

Despite the seven million visitors who came, this fair was the only world expo event that declared bankruptcy before it closed. 

Cyclone, Louisiana World Expo (29 October 1984)

I chose a pleasant, autumn week night to bring the tripod and take shots with longer exposures to capture the lights. To broaden the appeal of the Expo, they included amusement park rides. This ride spun you up to the top of the tower and spun you back down again. Leave the shutter open long enough and you get a giant, glowing flower.

One Hundred Years Later (29 October 1984)

The 1984 Fair had a pavilion that recalled the grandeur
of the main building in the Cotton Centennial.
 It had eye-catching water and light features.

The Expo came to New Orleans a century after another World’s Fair was held here. The World Cotton Centennial was held in 1884 on land that is now Audubon Park and Zoo. It included the largest roofed structure built up to that time (it enclosed 33 acres). Even back then, Louisiana had to give its own special imprint on the affair when the State Treasurer decided to escape to Honduras with a pile of cash, including the Fair’s budget..

Light the Way to the Beer Garden
Louisiana World Expo (29 October 1984)

I remember the attention paid to the lighting aspects of the production. There were some special installations to appreciate. They built the fair in a rather undesirable part of the city. Little-used, old warehouses and a railroad yard near the river were transformed into a special attraction.

Federal Mills After the Party is Over (May 1985)

When the Fair closed, development continued and those old, empty warehouses became trendy apartments. This is close to the same view shown above at night during the Fair. The light fixtures were the first things to go. It took a few years but the Warehouse district became a place to be with restaurants, galleries and cool, urban lodging. We lived in a building right behind this one for half a year before relocating to Maryland.

The End
Louisiana World Expo (May 1984)


At 10:58 AM, Blogger Jack Vest said...

Interesting history, intriguing shots. Thanks for sharing.

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Ted Ringger said...

Thanks, Jack. Let's hope all the shots impressed you equally.


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