This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, a once-in-a-lifetime East Tennessee event that countless Chattanoogans attended and enjoyed.
Many people have not forgotten riding up to the top of the Sunsphere, watching a show at the State of Tennessee Amphitheatre, seeing the artifacts and interesting video production in the China exhibit, or riding the Ferris wheel and other amusement rides near Neyland Stadium.
Or how about seeing the giant Rubik’s Cube that was on display in front of the Hungary exhibit?
The fair also featured several innovations, including a solar home and home of the future, a touch-screen display screen, boxed milk, and a car with a built-in phone system.
Coca-Cola’s Cherry Coke also made its debut at the fair, and the Budweiser Clydesdales served as four-legged ambassadors of goodwill.
Now that I am living in Knoxville and remember coming up to the fair from Chattanooga with a college friend shortly before heading off to my last year at the University of Georgia, I decided to try to locate where some of well-known sites were using old fair maps found online.
I also wanted to put together a slide show of how the old fairgrounds look today.
Most of the footprints of the fair site are easy to see today, as the majority of the area north of Cumberland Avenue is part of World’s Fair Park.
And near the center of the old fairgrounds are some familiar landmarks, such as the Sunsphere, the amphitheater, the former Technology and Lifestyle Center that became part of the convention center, and the Candy Factory building, which was converted into condominiums with the help of Kinsey Probasco Hays of Chattanooga. Just west of the Candy Factory are the Victorian houses that have also been preserved.
But while the basic boundaries and a few fair landmarks remain, much has also changed.
For example, a lake and such attractions as Today’s Solar Home and the Home of the Future sat between the lifestyle center and the Candy Factory in 1982, but today that area is a giant lawn with some Coolidge Park-like fountains that are perfect for cooling off in the summer.
A new veterans’ monument area is also just north of the fountains.
Just north and west of the Candy Factory were the Japan pavilion, the Elm Tree Theatre, and pavilions of the Philippines and a number of European countries, including the Rubik’s Cube-adorned Hungarian building. Today, the Knoxville Museum of Art sits where the Japan pavilion was, a courtyard is where the now-gone elm tree and theater were, while the other area is used for parking.
On the north end of the park site – and a little east of the art museum area -- are the old L&N train station (where a science-oriented Knox County school is today), the Foundry (which was the Strohaus) and an old railway building, which housed the Butcher Shop restaurant from 1983-2010.
Moving back south on the other side of the Clinch Avenue viaduct, a small lake still sits between the amphitheatre and the Sunsphere. But it has been reconfigured and extended south after the U.S. Pavilion near Cumberland Avenue was demolished in 1991 and the new part of the Knoxville Convention Center was later built on the northeast side.
A pretty water-and-rock area sits just south of the lake and a new pedestrian bridge – although the aesthetic feature has been a little dry in recent days.
West of the lake, a giant lawn sits where the Korean and Saudi Arabian pavilions were. A July 4th Knoxville Symphony and Orchestra concert is held on that lawn every year.
Moving across Cumberland Avenue to a narrow strip of land just east and across Second Creek from the Hill section of the University of Tennessee campus was the site of the Australian and Canadian pavilions. It is now a parking lot with a greenway walking trail.
Just east and up the hill from that area is now a parking lot, but in 1982 it housed a building manned by a fairly new Tennessee company – Memphis-based Federal Express.
Farther south from the Australian and Canadian pavilions -- near Neyland Drive and the Tennessee River/Fort Loudoun Lake -- were the China, Egypt and Peru pavilions. That area is also a parking lot.
Going west along Neyland Drive and around Neyland Stadium were the amusement park rides. A parking garage and the under-construction Tickle Engineering Building now cover much of that area.
In some places one has to use his or her imagination a little, but the Knoxville World’s Fair of 1982 can still come back to life for a visitor to the area today!
That is because it left behind positive impressions both on the Knoxville landscape and on the minds and hearts of East Tennesseans and many others.