The 1982 World’s Fair had a lot to see, from new and repurposed buildings to ground-level artwork installations.
With input from Visit Knoxville’s Kim Bumpas and historian Jack Neely, here’s a very incomplete list of what wound up where.
• The Ferris wheel: No one is certain where the fair rides went, but let it be known that former mayor Randy Tyree wants the Ferris wheel back.
• The Tennessee Amphitheater. When its support structure appeared to be corroding, Neely says, “about 20 years after the fair, the city proposed demolishing it. However, several architects rose up to defend it as a daring and perhaps historic early work of German engineer Horst Berger, who pioneered the modernist tensile-fabric design, which has since been used in several more famous structures around the world, including Denver International Airport and SeaWorld in San Diego. It’s been fixed up and is still used for concerts like, recently, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and occasionally an opera.”
• Historic Buildings: One thing that made the fair unusual, Neely says, “is the degree to which it used existing historic building on the site. I’d claim that it was the most preservationist world’s fair in American history. I’m happy that all of the 11-odd historic buildings are intact today and all well used.
“The 1905 L&N train station, a restaurant complex during the fair, is now a public high school, a STEM academy. The Candy Factory, kind of a department store of arts and edibles during the fair, is now a residential condo building. The old ca. 1870 iron foundry, the Strohaus German-style beer hall during the fair, is now a popular event space, best known for banquets.”
• The Fairgrounds: The rectangular site had much stuffed into it during the fair, and since then has seen several redesigns and relandscapings. Its southern tip, which housed the China Pavilion, is now parking for the University of Tennessee. The Court of Flags, which held flags of the 22 participating countries and was where President Reagan’s address was made, is now an interactive fountain.
• The U.S. Pavilion: The building was meant to be permanent and turned out to be anything but. It, along with its adjacent IMAX theater, were brought down in a controlled explosion in 1991. “It was a big modernist six-story wedge-shaped concrete building that contained a lot of technological marvels,’’ Neely recounts. “In the years just after the fair, there were a lot of different proposals for it, to make it an energy-research center, or a museum of some sort, and it was occasionally used for chili cook-offs and things.
“But ironically, though it allegedly had solar capability, it was found to be energy inefficient.’’
• Other Pavilions. They weren’t built to be permanent, and they came down soon after the fair ended. What replaced them, however, had more staying power: The Knoxville Museum of Art, which opened in 1990 and sits on the site of the Japan Pavilion, has taken root and become a focal point of East Tennessee art and artists.
• The Rubik’s Cube: Lurking on the Fort Sanders side of the fair, near the Candy Factory and other food and beverage stands, was a large, powered Rubik’s Cube that spun and sorted itself. It remained after the fair, fell into disrepair and was almost trashed before intervention from Visit Knoxville, which rescued it from a nearby hotel. It now lives in the Knoxville Convention Center, where it is a stop on some walking tours.