The Panorama of the City of New York was commissioned for 1964 World’s Fair by Robert Moses, considered the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland and Westchester Counties. It took 100 people over three years to create some 35,000 buildings individually crafted and painted by hand. New York City covers 469 square miles and at a scale of one inch to 100 feet, the panorama’s Empire State Buildingstands 15 inches tall and the Statue of Liberty is less than two. In Manhattan, the windows of skyscrapers were painted with phosphorescent paint so they cast a glow in the twilight hours. As it is in real life, structures in the outer boroughs didn’t receive as much attention. The panorama has 256 ten-by-four-foot panels and updates to it have been sparring over the past 50 years. The more recent buildings are not made by hand but of laser-etched plastics or plexiglass which stand out on the over 10,000 square foot expanse of wood, brass and model shrubbery. The Queens Museum Archives Manager Louise Weinberg when asked about whether the museum will account for the city’s changing skyline in the panorama over time, she said:

“It’s a philosophical question. I want it to be frozen in time. The real question is, is this an artifact? It’s already been altered, but when’s the cutoff point?” 

The city’s composition has changed since 1964 but it was last updated over 20 years ago in 1992. In the museum’s “Adopt-a-Building” initiative, people can pay to have their buildings erected. The Yankees paid to have their new stadium added, likewise the Mets with Citi Field. Other than that, things have largely remained the same the past 50 years. Upkeep of the panorama is actually quite pricey to add new buildings. At one time, a single new building could cost up to $3,000. The Twin Towers still stand tall at the tip of Manhattan and Weinberg says she hasn’t yet made a decision about how to treat the panorama; whether it should be an artifact, a memorial or a sculpture that reflects the ever-changing city: 

“Museums are repositories of artifacts and dreams and aspirations. It would be great if a ‘Donald Trump figure’ could reach into his pocket and say, ‘Here’s $100,000 a year for upkeep.”

Meanwhile, school buses filled with wide-eyed kids continue to roll up to the museum every day of the week… 

(via NY Curbed)