What New Yorkers know today as Flushing Meadows — the massive park that houses the Mets, the New York Hall of Science, and the Queens Museum of Art — was once a tidal marsh from whose dark waters rose the imposing Mount Corona, a pile of soot and trash and manure immortalized in The Great Gatsby as the “Valley of Ashes.” It was on this unlikely site, in 1930, that Parks Commissioner Robert Moses envisioned an urban oasis.
Over the course of three decades, Moses moved mountains and rivers, powerful banks and labor unions, politicians and the press, to remake the park (and the city) in his image. Transforming the Meadows from gray to green involved the reclamation of 1200 acres of marsh and refuse, the eviction of residents and squatters, the diversion of waterways and building of new highways. The 1939 World’s Fair (and another at the same location in 1964) paved the way for a grand public park.
Back in Manhattan, a small staff in a temporary office at 176 Broadway moved the mountains of files and forms that effected the similarly grand plans of the World’s Fair Corporation. Like the dirt and detritus of Corona, that paperwork would be resorted, re-indexed, and relocated several times throughout the planning and execution of the Fair, and in its afterlife. Curiously, the mechanisms and systems that processed those records were prominently displayed at the Fair — a spectacle in their own right. […]