Saturday, June 16, 2018

Brussels World's Fair, 1958

A few years ago I acquired a nice group of slides from the 1958 World's Fair ("Expo 58") in Brussels. Belgium, that is! It was the first true World's Fair after World War II. Amazingly, the '58 Fair was the 11th World's Fair hosted by Belgium, and the fifth in Brussels (the others being 1888, 1897, 1910, and 1935).

Oh boy, the Atomium! That striking structure represented "a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times". The spheres are clad in stainless steel and are connected by tubes 3 meters in diameter - big enough to walk through. Look at the topmost sphere, with windows to peek out of! I'll bet the view was amazing. Happily, the Atomium is still with us 60 years later.


Pivoting to our right a tiny bit, we can see the Von Roll Sky Ride; at the time there were only four or five of these rides in the world! This one eventually wound up in Memphis, Tennessee (of all places)  at a park called Lakeland. It closed in 1976. 


I know, I know... this one is blurry. But I figured I might as well include it, since you can get a sense of how the beautiful Grand Palace at night.  I believe that this building was repurposed (with a new, striking fa├žade) from the 1935 World's Fair. You can see the dove of peace and the asymmetrical five-pointed star (the Fair's logo).


32 comments:

Nanook said...

Major-

I think every city with a population greater than 50,000 folks should be required to have an Atomium-! The mere name alone, makes one feel so futuristic. Please sign me up. (I wonder if the Atomium was responsible for the ill-fitting nature of that sport coat the scowling gentleman is wearing-?...)

Thanks, Major.

K. Martinez said...

Oh, man! This is so awesome! I love the Atomium and wish they'd build a replica of it in Tomorrowland. It's my favorite futuristic icon. I believe this is also the Fair where Walt Disney's "America the Beautiful" debuted in the American Pavilion.

Extra special set today. I love the low hanging Von Roll Sky Ride with the unusual support towers too. Thanks, Major.

Melissa said...

Belgian babushka!

Now I've got Bruxelles stuck in my head.

MIKE COZART said...

I the name "Atomium" is cool, but I think it was a structure that probably looked better on paper and concepts. To me it seems overly heavy and clunky - like some kind of Communist structure. It's cool it still exists. I'm more of a UNISPHERE kind of person and less ATOMIUM.

upon reflection now I think maybe the name "Atomium" sounds like something ominous or dangerous rare energy source a evil planet will use to destroy Earth.

I do like the Brussels Fair however and feel guilty that I seem to be bashing it.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ha, ha, Mike! I was going to say that the word "Atomium" sounds futuristic, but it also sounds radioactive! I love the Atomium and the Unisphere, but I think if I had to choose my favorite iconic structure from a World's Fair, it would be the Seattle Space Needle.

TokyoMagic! said...

I agree with Ken, though. They should build a replica of the Atomium in Disneyland's Tomorrowland and get rid of that junky spinning satellite dish thingy.

MIKE COZART said...

BTW one of my favorite restaurants in Laguna Beach is BRUSSELS BISTRO .... one of the walls is a mural of the Brussels World Fair - many a time friends and I have drank too much Gulden Drach beer while images of the ATOMIUM loomed above us!

MIKE COZART said...

TOKYOMAGIC: the SPACE NEEDLE is a beautiful structure indeed!

Chuck said...

Seriously, guys? The Atomium? The Space Needle? The Unisphere? Really? Everyone knows the most iconic World's Fair structure ever was the USSR pavilion from Expo '74. Nekulturny swine...

I know my mom went up in the Atomium on a European trip in the '50s, but I think it was in '59, right after she graduated from high school. No surviving photos of the event have been found to date.

I think Frontierland would benefit from an Atomium replica. It would do wonders to update that sad relic of America's shameful, imperialistic past.

Note that the Skyride's round buckets are the same design as Disneyland's originals but are painted in bright colors similar to the later square buckets.

Ken, you are correct about the Brussels Fair being the debut of the Circarama version of America the Beautiful's.

Thanks again, Major.

Patrick Devlin said...

I remember the first time I saw a picture of the Atomium and wondering how they thought that was a model of an atom?! Everyone knew that an atom was a little central point with a bunch of whizzy things going all around it! Didn't figure that one out for years...

JC Shannon said...

No work today, no work for me, it's Saturday morning at GDB! I was fortunate enough to visit Belgium while stationed in Germany in 1980. The Belgian people are great, and the country is beautiful. Most Belgians are trilingual speaking French, German and English. Amazing. I am so sad to say I missed the Atomium, but I love the pics of it. Thanks to you Major, you made my day.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, maybe each city could choose a different atom, so that each structure is unique? And yeah, I couldn’t help noticing that guy’s sport coat. He needs to go to Zachary All.

K. Martinez, Tomorrowland needed more atomic stuff, period. I am nostalgic for the days when the atom was “our friend”. Yes, “America the Beautiful” did debut at the ’58 Fair.

Melissa, I know you love your Jacques Brel!

Mike Cozart, I suspect that, like the Tower of the Four Winds, the Atomium had to be made much chunkier to withstand wind foreces, plus the connector tubes had to be large enough to accommodate people. It’s pretty daring for 1958, partly for its sheer size. If it was built by Commies, they would have used concrete, not shiny steel! It’s hard not to have the word “atom” in anything and not think of radioactivity, although Atomium does sound a little like cesium or polonium.

TokyoMagic!, I love many World’s Fair theme buildings, but my heart belongs to 1939’s Trylon and Perisphere.

TokyoMagic!, yeesh, I truly dislike that very lame satellite dish thing!

Mike Cozart, is there a large colony of Belgian ex-pats in Long Beach??

Mike Cozart, the Space Needle is right up there with the best of them.

Chuck, I had to look up the Expo ’74 pavilion for the USSR. It looks like a car wreck was applied to the side of the building. The one at Expo ’70 in Osaka is pretty neat though! I have a few slides of that, guess I need to scan them. I think that the Skyride gondolas are a tiny bit different from the ones at Disneyland, though they are very similar. I wouldn’t bet large sums of money on that, though!

Patrick Devlin, I do love the classic “electrons surrounding a nucleus” kind of atom; it really would have been cool if they could have somehow made the Atomium like that!

Jonathan, you mean there are other things to do in Belgium? I wish I was trilingual. Or even bilingual. I've forgotten all the elvish that I ever learned.

Chuck said...

The Soviet pavilion for Expo '67 was pretty sweet looking, too. After the Fair, they packed it up, added three stories to it, and rebuilt it in Moscaow, where it still stands today.

I think we'd all like to see your Expo '70 slides.

K. Martinez said...

Major, I agree. The 1939 Trylon and Perisphere is the most iconic and timeless of the World's Fair buildings. There's even a nod to it in Walt Disney's "Pinocchio". On Pleasure Island there's a giant eight ball and cue that forms the entrance to the pool hall which I believe is a reference to the 1939 Worlds Fair icon. Of course I'm sure you already know that.

steve2wdw said...

Love the Von Roll's (there's a twin on the left side too!). Anyone familiar with the Von Roll Facebook group? They'd love these pictures. I'm going to have to direct them over here! Wouldn't it be awesome to take a time machine back to the day's of these World's Fairs? I'd love to visit them all.

JC Shannon said...

After much ponderance and thought, I guess I am a Space Needle kinda guy. Although the Unisphere was pretty darn cool too.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, Ha! Zachary All! But was the guy a portly short, a portly regular, or a portly tall? It's hard to tell from the photo.

Ken and Major, I also love the Trylon and Perisphere. I wish they had left those structures standing. But I guess if they had, we might not have gotten the Unisphere 25 years later. And I never realized that the pool hall on Pleasure Island was a nod to those 1939 structures. I can totally see it now.

Steven Wilson said...

I have some additional info about the Expo 58 Von Roll skyrides. I didn't go to the fair, but I'm familiar with the skyrides from studying lots of photos as well as maps of the expo. There were three Von Roll skyrides at the fair. The two appearing in the slides in this post actually shared a common station on the opposite side of the Atomium. The two rides diverged and passed by the Atomium on each side as seen here.

The skyride on the right continued on to a station that was shared with a third skyride that traveled across the expo in another direction. That third Von Roll skyride was one of the rare versions with the wide skyride towers, like those that were at Pacific Ocean Park (and I never visited there, either!). The Expo 58 skyride with the wide towers was the one that was relocated to Lakeland near Memphis, Tennessee (I never went there either, but have seen photos and video).

The skyride cabins (aka gondolas, or buckets) used at Expo 58 had a similar appearance to the originals at Disneyland but were not the same. The ones at Expo 58 are much more similar to the skyride cabins still in use today at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, Washington and the Minnesota State Fair in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The cabins in use on the skyrides at those two fairs have the optional plexiglass windows installed.

MIKE COZART said...

After the Disneyland SKYWAY opened in 1956 Disneyland wanted to increase the capacity of the attraction from 2 to a four capacity cabin - Von Roll offered a 4 cabin model and Disneyland even tested four of the cabins in the early sixties . All the Von Roll cabins at the time were aluminum and Disney still wanted a lighter cabin so they decided to design there own which was introduced in 1965. Through-out the rest of the 1960’s the Disneyland Skyway cabins were adjusted and restrofitted as the 1965 cabin doors had a tendency to swing open and crash against the cabin body causing splitting and cracking . Part of this also had to with the balance of weight being thrown off when the cabin was being unloaded.

In the early 1990’s a third generation SKYWAY cabin was designed able to accolade 6 passengers and several cabins that could accomadate wheelchairs - a “receiving” clamp like system that would “catch” the cabins and keep them balanced automatically for unloading / loading . Also the new Skyway system would not have gone through the Matterhorn any longer but dogleg via a directional tower build near the old Motorboat Cruise.
However because the new SKYWAY would have an elevator for wheelchairs in Tomorrowland only - wheelchair guests would have to ride round trip. A ADA group reviewing the new plans demanded that if regular guests could load and unload at both FANTASYLAND and TOMORROWLAND cable stations so should wheelchair guests! Disneyland explained because of the hills side location and unility area and theater backstage area , they could not have an elevator system or guests backstage. The ADA group threatened Disneyland with a future fine of several thousand dollars each day the wheelchair guests could not use the Fantasyland cable station . So Disney said no way and out came the Disneyland Skyway FOREVER.

Nanook said...

@ TM!-

I always wondered how it was possible for someone to be a "portly tall". But I guess in the world of fashion - and especially at Zachary All it IS possible-!

♬ Eddie, are you kidding? Eddie, are you teasing about your 60 tailors? ♫

MIKE COZART said...

MAJOR: I don’t know about Long Beach, but Laguna Beach is known as “The Brussels of the West” ....

Ok I made that up - we just have one Belgian restaurant and up until last year a Scandinavian bakery - but it closed after 45 years.

K. Martinez said...

Steve Wilson, good to see you commenting here. Love your site and the two Great America books you've done. Thanks for all that information on the Brussell's Worlds Fair sky rides. As you know we still the Eagle's Flight/Delta Flyer up here in NorCal along with a different type of Skyride "Sky Glider" at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Mike Cozart, Isn't there a grandfather clause that says older pre-existing attractions aren't affected by the ADA rules? Or was it that they HAD to close the ORIGINAL Skyway for other reasons like structural integrity of the system. I just don't see the connection between the original Skyway and the ADA compliance. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage still operates without wheelchair access as does Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, so why was the Skyway different?

I guess if you said that The original Skyway was going to have to be closed regardless if a new Skyway was built or not and that because the NEW Skyway wasn't compliant then it meant there would be no Skyway at Disneyland at all (new or old) then I guess I understand. I'm just trying to get clarification on your story.

I always thought the OLD Skyway was closed because of structural issues and that the NEW Skyway was canned because it wasn't ADA compliant. I hope it makes sense what I'm asking.

K. Martinez said...

Mike Cozart, A thought just occurred to me. Did the Skyway have to be ADA compliant because it was considered a transportation system rather than a ride? I've always been curious as to the reason for the removal of The Skyway because it is the one Disneyland attraction I miss more than any other.

Chuck said...

With all of today"s commentary on the Trylon and Perisphere, it reminded me of something I stumbled on a few days ago: http://2719hyperion.blogspot.com/search/label/EPCOT%201939. It a whole series of articles showing the 1939 NYWF's design influences on the original 1982 version of EPCOT Center.

Thanks for the additional commentary, Ken, Steven, and Mike. Looking forward to looking at your site, Steven.

MIKE COZART said...

K Martinez: correct - the existing skyway was good by to be removed and the new 6 passengers cabins would use new drive houses and pillars - I don’t think any of the original 1956/1965 SKYWAY system could still be used ( except the Fantasyland Skyway chalet building “shell”. Besides a whole new Tomorrowland station ( actually the drive wheel side ) the Fantasyland Challet was going to get a small animated clock show - similar to the one at EPCOTS Germany Pavilion - in fact I think the figure castings were to be the same . I’m also sure there were more nuisances to the cancelation of the “SKYWAY II” . Also grandfather laws are not everlasting- hence why there can be no return of the PeopleMover at Disneyland .

JC Shannon said...

@Nanook Don't tell me you are old enough to remember Eddie are you kidding. What do you think of the new doubleknits? I haven't heard that in 40 years!

K. Martinez said...

Mike Cozart, I appreciate the clarification and further explanation on the Skyway story. And I can understand how the grandfather laws would no longer apply in regards to the situation with the PeopleMover.

I learn quite a bit from what you post here on GDB and highly value that. Thank you again!

Steven Wilson said...

K. Martinez, thanks for the nice welcome and kind words! I was directed over here to this post by steve2wdw's notice on the Von Roll skyride group.

Yes, I know and appreciate Delta Flyer / Eagle's Flight at California's Great America, too. And I enjoy the Sky Glider at Santa Cruz.

Something I forgot to mention about the Expo 58 skyride relocated to Lakeland in Tennessee was that it did not run the same cabins (gondolas) that were used in Belgium. It was equipped with two-bench gondolas, seating four adults, in Tennessee to increase the ride's capacity at its new home.

Melissa said...

I dunno, "Atomium" just kinda sounds like a made-up element in a superhero comic, like Feminum or Vibranium.

I also have a soft spot for the 1939 USSR pavilion, and the statue of Joe the Worker. But I also love clunky Communist architecture, so I guess I'm just a weirdo.

Thanks for the 2719 Hyperion link, @Chuck - the original EPCOT Center architecture is dear to my heart.

Nanook said...

@ JC Shannon-
Yes - sadly so - or not so sadly. It's just how things are. I vividly remember how the camera would dolly up and down the aisles of the (seemingly) endless clothing in the store, all the while Eddie would be 'supered' inside a tiny bubble in the upper left [or right] corner of the frame, describing all the "nice pieces of goods" to be had at so-called 'bargain basement prices'. So imagine my surprise when in 1969, our brave Apollo 11 astronauts returned from the first Moon landing, and [the then] President Richard Nixon was on-board the USS Hornet to welcome them back. So as not to spoil the main goings-on, the television feed had the head of President Nixon discreetly floating in a tiny bubble in one of the upper corners of the frame, reacting to the hoopla and excitement.

All I could think of at the time was Zachary All, and Eddie Nalbandian floating in his little bubble and all those suits, going on and on, seemingly forever. I'd like to think Eddie was the inspiration for that [unintentionally] hilarious 'cinematic choice' made in the control room to quarantine Tricky Dick in that same little bubble floating along with the USS Hornet. Good stuff, when it's least expected-!

@ Melissa-
"Atomium" does sound as if it was lifted from a superhero comic that takes place in the country of "Franistan", or the like.

TokyoMagic! said...

Nanook, I wonder if the Maharincess of Franistan visited the World's Fair in 1958? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Fascinating thread.

thanks all.

JG