New York City is tremendous. While I’ve made many efforts to wander around the five boroughs, the truth is that it would take an incredibly long time to cover every inch of road, park, beach, and sidewalk in the city. For those who want to experience just how large New York City is, the Queens Museum Panorama gives you the chance, without the need for day or two spent on the subway.
Located in the Queens Museum, the “Panorama of the City of New York” was originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair, and was to be used as an urban planning tool. The Panorama celebrates New York City’s mesmerizing infrastructure. It is designed at a scale of 1 inch = 1 foot (1:1200 for those who understand these things), and encompasses a tremendous room on the first floor of the Museum. No, really – these pictures aren’t a big table. It’s an entire room. I was a little unprepared for just how large this exhibit is.
The Queens Panorama features ongoing updates to keep it accurate with the current look of New York City. It features every building constructed before 1992, with new structures added over time as part of the Museum’s “adopt a building” program. This means Citi Field has replaced Shea Stadium, and other little buildings have gone up as the city grows. As of now, the Twin Towers are still there, but they will eventually be removed when construction downtown is complete.
During the ’64 World’s Fair, visitors paid 10 cents to take an “indoor helicopter tour” of New York City. The tour was narrated through “The City of Opportunity,” read by broadcast legend Lowell Thomas. Those helicopters were removed during a renovation in the early 1990s, and you can now view the exhibit on ramps and an elevated walkway. The narration is still available for exhibit visitors.
The detail of this exhibit is mind blowing. The Panorama was built by a team of more than 100 people, who used aerial photographs, fire insurance maps, and a bunch of other materials to ensure that the scale was perfect. During your visit, you’ll see each of the city’s 895,000 buildings (all constructed prior to 1992), plus every single street, park, and bridge in the 320 square miles of New York City.
As you observe the Panorama, you’ll notice the lights starting to dim, as the exhibit goes from day to night, and then back again. This is a cool feature, but it makes it really difficult to see anything, and I actually thought the exhibit was closed when I first walked past the room. Those glowing white buildings are part of the Museum’s Never Built New York exhibit, which can be confusing if you didn't view that exhibit first.
Seeing the Panorama was pretty cool, but I think there are many missed opportunities here. There is so much detail in the exhibit, and that detail can be really difficult to see. I think there was a viewfinder (if there was, someone was using it), but I ended up using my phone to zoom in on the buildings. This makes sense when you think about how the Panorama is supposed to give a full aerial view of the city, but I really think all the hard work that went into creating the buildings (complete with windows and other features) goes to waste when you’re forced to view the exhibit from so far away. For people like me, who appreciate those little design details, this is a major bummer.
The Panorama is the crown jewel of the Queens Museum, but after my initial feeling of “oh this is awesome!” (quickly) wore off, I was pretty bored. Don’t get me wrong, I liked being able to pick out the different spots I’ve explored, and (while squinting) I definitely got a kick out of seeing all the little neighborhoods. I tried (successfully) to pick out my office building, and tried (unsuccessfully) to find my house. I understand not allowing up-close access (this would end in disaster for the exhibit in about 5 minutes), but the ramps are just too high up to give a clear view of how intricate the Panorama really is. I think the Museum would benefit from adding more viewfinders, since at this point lowering the ramps is probably not an option.
The Panorama of the City of New York is an exhibit that celebrates the unique construction of the concrete jungle that is New York City. It’s a cool piece of history that is worth a look, but I don’t know that I would put it at the top of my bucket list. If you find yourself in Queens, make your way over to the Museum and take a peek. Maybe you’ll even find your house!