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Unisphere fountain turns on waterworks

The Unisphere and its magnificent fountains have been returned to their full glory at last, city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said at the ribbon-cutting of the newly restored fountains last Thursday.

Dozens of streams of water shot high into the air around the iconic landmark in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, delighting the community leaders, politicians and parkgoers who gathered there to see the fountains spray once again.

“I feel like I’m in a Fellini movie,” Benepe said, summing up the mood of the attendees who oohed and aahed as the impressive display burst to life before them.

Many of the gathered luminaries had attended the 1964 World’s Fair, for which the Unisphere was built, and Borough President Helen Marshall said she had even attended the 1939 World’s Fair as a young girl.

For Marshall and Benepe, the event was the culmination of a diligent effort to get $1.9 million designated for the fountain work. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also instrumental in securing that funding. The Parks Departments said the fountain will be activated in warmer months, running daily for the first time in more than 20 years.

The 140-foot-tall Unisphere was built by U.S. Steel using steel as the exclusive construction material. Featured in tourism documents and prominently displayed in the 1997 film “Men in Black,” it is recognized throughout the world.

Marshall said she was proud to see the beloved construction, which was designated a New York City Landmark in 1995, brought back to life for the first time in years, a testament to the diversity of Queens and a shining beacon to immigrants looking to move to the borough.

“At the center of this park is a symbol of the shrinking world,” she said. “It’s a symbol of world peace.”

Benepe, too, has memories of the 1964 World’s Fair, particularly of the “It’s a Small World Ride,” which was moved to Disneyland in California after the two-year-long event.

“It’s really a small world in Queens and you can see almost every country represented playing soccer on its many fields, visiting the Queens Museum, attending a show at the Queens Theatre in the Park, practicing their backhands at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center or strolling through the Queens Zoo and the park’s many other cultural institutions,” he said. “Now they can do this against the backdrop of a spectacular aquatic display, fully restored and operational for the first time in more than 15 years.”

The fountains are powered by two pumps that recycle the water in the basin from which the tripod on which the Unisphere sits rises. The fountains were created to obscure the tripod and give the illusion that the globe is floating on the water.

That moment came after a countdown from ten, and those in attendance could not keep their eyes off the most famous structure in Queens, which is no longer a dry shell of its former self.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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