The lights dim. Somewhere, an obviously faked New York accent booms through the cavernous rotunda, originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair and used as the U.N.’s first General Assembly Hall until 1951. “Once upon a time, in the year 1626, in a land not too far removed from where you all stand, there was an island. It was long and skinny and had many hills and it was called Manahatta. And yea, it was good. And the Dutch settlers arrived, and they slaughtered the natives, and feasted upon their bounty. And then the year was 1898. and there was a tall proud man, a hero to many, who thought the unthinkable – the consolidation of the greatest city in the world into the Greater New York City of Five Boroughs. And yea, it was great.” Some geographical geek hollers out “Get to the game!” And our host, Freddy Five-Boroughs, complies. “Welcome contestants, to THE PANORAMA CHALLENGE!” Cheers and merrymarking ensue.
In order to understand the Panorama Challenge!, one must first understand the Panorama of the City of New York, the largest architectural scale model in the world. In order to grasp this, one must get a glimpse of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows Park, Queens. We could get into Robert Moses and his crumbling empire circa the late 60s, but that was touched upon, oh so briefly, in LIH vol. 24. Let’s start with the World’s Fair. Held on the same site as the 1939-40 World’s Fair, this modern fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, although Moses forged ahead in order for NYC to host it anyway. The fair was utilized as a blank check in order for Moses to widen the Grand Central & Whitestone roadways, and extend the Van Wyck, not mention build Shea Stadium as well as a number of still-standing buildings and structures. The Unisphere stood in the center of the Fair, and symbolized its theme – “Peace Through Understanding.” Inside the GM pavilion, titled Futurama II, dioramas and sets depicted the city in 2064. The Belgian waffle was introduced to the world at the World’s Fair! But one of the most visited attractions was the Panorama of the City of New York.
The Panorama was and still is a 9,335-foot scale model of every single building in the five boroughs, in a ratio of 1:100. It exists in a massive rotunda, with a cantilevered walkway that descends from a third-story platform to ground level, as it circles the boroughs clockwise, from the Bronx to Manhattan. The sheer immensity of it astounds. There are 895,000 handmade structures, and 60,000 of them are unique; the whole thing is flash-frozen in 1992. There are the Twin Towers, as if nothing went wrong. There is the despised Coliseum, currently the site of the Time Warner Center. We can see the house in Flatbush where we grew up, as well as the loft in East Bushwick where we currently reside. The Panorama recently underwent a year-long renovation to repair busted buildings, bring the lighting and sound systems up to date, as well as draw more visitors to the often overlooked and absolutely delightful Queens Museum of Art, where it resides.
Which brings us to the Panorama Challenge! In tandem with celebrating the reopening of the Panorama, and with the goal of raising some direly needed operating cash for the City Reliquary, a community museum and civic organization (full disclosure: we sit on the Board of Directors as the Events Coordinator), it was time for the World Premier of the Panorama Challenge!, a geographical trivia-based game night developed by Mark Levy of the Levys’ Unique New York (further disclosure: our business partner and, um, father).
Here’s how the Panorama Challenge! worked: individuals and teams congregated at the QMA this past Saturday, April 7th and formed teams of ten. Each team of ten split off into three small squads of three and four, and, armed with a clipboard and spreadsheet, they scattered themselves about the Panorama at the East, South and West quadrants. Freddy Five Boroughs (brother Gideon Levy) and celebrity judges (including Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione) resided up North. In addition, three game controllers (the aforementioned Mark Levy, IMDB Ultimate Film Fanatic 2005 and independent filmmaker Jordan Hoffman, and yours truly) were stationed at the E, S and W portions, and were armed with laser pointers. Freddy then commenced to read off 85 different clues and geographical regions, and each appropriate Game Controller highlighted a park, neighborhood, waterway, landmark or structure. It was then up to the teams to identify the various structures for prizes and prestige. Some were easy, some were moderate, and a couple were for the hardcore geographical geeks. “This park in Eastern Queens was a former industrial site!” (Alley Pond Park, duh!) Did we mention there was suggested/mandatory beer consumption? IE, with the purchase of the $25 fundraising ticket, two complimentary brews, courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery, were pressed into each Challenger’s hand. Have you ever been in a scale model of every single building in New York City with 100 drunken, rowdy geographical geeks? No? Well, it was glorious, and you’ll get another chance come September, where the Panorama Challenge! will return to eastern Queens with a new round of inquiries and even more beer to guzzle. Congrats to the two winning teams, with 83 of 85 questions correct: Kevin Walsh’s (of Forgotten-NY fame) The Destroyers, and the Dead Rabbits, a motley crew of Challengers from near and far (but including members of NY’s Parks Department.) And huzzah for geography!