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New Orleans World's Fair Wonderwall

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Quick List Info

New Orleans World's Fair 1984  Official Souvenir Guide

Dates Open - May 12, 1984 to November 11, 1984.

Attendance - 7,334,328 (paid). 7,925,755 (total, including estimated 4,500 exhibitors/staff per day).

International Participants - 17 nations and international organizations.

Total Cost - $207,651,000 with estimated total expenditure of $442.5 million for exhibitors, concessionaires, and construction of the New Orleans Convention Center. Final deficit $98,761,000.

Site Acreage - 84 acres along the Mississippi River in the warehouse section of New Orleans.

Sanction and Type - Sanctioned by the Bureau of International Exhibitions as a Special Category Expo. Would be considered a Special theme, Recognized Expo today like on the 2-3 or 7-8 years of the decade.

Ticket Cost - Adult $15 one day, $28 two days. 4-11 and 55 and over, $14 one day, $26 two days. Per Capita ticket price - $7.55. Season tickets sold for $120 adults, $90 children from January 1 to May 12, 1983, then $150 and $120 after May 12 through close of the fair.

Photo top center: Wonderwall at the New Orleans World's Fair in 1984, 1984, Original Source unknown. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Official Souvenir Guidebook for the New Orleans World's Fair, 1984, Expo Authority. Column Below: Official mascot, Seymour D. Fair, 1984, Expo Authority via Pinterest.

Louisiana World Exposition mascot

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History of the Event

Overview of Expo '84 Site

It's hard not to be frank about the outcome of the New Orleans World's Fair in 1984. It was poorly run, with organizers unprepared for negative press, or finishing the site by opening day, by keeping their mouths shut about whether the fair would go bankrupt before closing day (it did), or whether it would stay open through the official closing day. That's not way to run an expo. Besides that, and almost despite it, the Louisiana World Exposition was a bright, fun, and engaging exposition. If only the Expo Authority had known what it was doing on the financial side or publicity side. The bankruptcy and bad publicity would lead to a three decade pull back of the United States from the World's Fair landscape, with subsequent withdrawal from the Bureau of International Expositions. Yes, there were circumstances somewhat beyond their control. Epcot had just opened. The Knoxville World's Fair had only been two years before and close by. The 1984 Olympics was competition. However, none of those, in our opinion, were the reasons why the fair, which touted an estimated attendance two to three times bigger than what would come, failed to draw people at the rate it did. The organizers just got about everything wrong on the preparation and publicity side, except for the wonderful fair itself.

Okay, now on to the fair. It was bright and whimsical, in a location along the Mississippi River that harkened back to riverboat days, and would revitalize the warehouse section of the city. It would also open up the river along Riverwalk, where the International pavilions were, for generations to come. You'd think that would denote a success story. In some ways it did. For those that made their way to the fair, they were immediately hit with a visual cacophony of well endowed mermaids and Neptune riding an Alligator, with a wonderwall of various shapes, sizes, and figurines that shouted water and New Orleans. What else would you expect. The international pavilions were along that famous river, with nightly fireworks set to music. The Convention Center for New Orleans, fifteen acres in size, would be built and used for the fair, known as the Great Hall and house the Louisiana Pavilion. It would remain as a legacy. There was food and fun and international flare. Outside the foreign participants, there were three state exhibits, forty-five corporate exhibitors, and twelve entertainment venues.

Above photo. Overview of the New Orleans World's Fair along the Mississippi River, 1984, Expo Authority. Middle: One of the many water sculptures at the fair, 1984, Official Photography Book of the World's Fair, Michael L. Osborne.

New Orleans 1984 water sculpture

So, New Orleans was a success from an exhibit and fun standpoint, as experts point out, but there's no denying that the financial footing of the fair, in trouble from the start due to unrealistic attendance estimates, dampened the spirits and enthusiasm of potential guests. And that's why New Orleans, a much more spectacular location to host a fair than Knoxville, drew seven million visitors to their eleven. It doesn't help that when potential visitors called the info hotline in the second half of the world's fair, the customer service representatives couldn't guarantee the fair would remain open until the end.

Historian/Participant Perspective

Paul F. Stahls - "Unique that it marked the centennial of another significant fair in the same city. The rivers/waters theme, in the ecology-conscious '80s was internationally significant, not contrived, and perfectly suited to the fair's Mississippi River-side location. U.S. and most international pavilions did a good job of playing to the theme. We knew, but didn't mind that some banks would lose investments. Media picked up on that "news peg" and scared some folks away, but attendance was still fair to middlin'. There was an intial scramble for investment and support, and later defaulting on debts to construction entities and the like, but the fair was assembled and constructed on schedule and initial publicity about such things was not a negative factor. Please do no confuse the financial aspect of the fair with the question of its "success" from the standpoint of the pavilions and the visitors. 1984 offered all the pleasures and rewards that world's fairs are intended to provide."

Leonard Levitan, Levitan Design - "The worst story of all demonstrating the dichotomy of attitudes between government and the general citizenry was the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. The city and state foreclosed on their own loans to the exposition half way through its operations, thus bankrupting their own event! I guess it is possible to cut off your own head."

Pierre Kenyon - "Potential greater pride shot in the foot by organizational/financial problems, the limited ambition and scale of the project and the resulting bad publicity. Negative media publicity quite damaging, probably beyond what was deserved. Bankruptcy added to mountain of bad publicity and wounded pride."

Sources: Official Guidebook of the New Orleans World's Fair 1984, Expo Authority Final Report/Bankruptcy Report; An Economic Planning Study for the Louisiana World Exposition (Preliminary Study for year 1980, completed 1976), by Gulf South Research Institute and Economic Research Associates; Economic Report of the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition-Supplemental Report, Harrison-Price; Official World's Fair Preview and Vacation Planner; World's Fair New Orleans-Photograph book by Mitchel L. Osborne; The Evolving Cityscape: Socio-Economic Impacts of the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition by Mary-Kate Lorenz Tews; Final Report, Louisiana World Exposition, Inc., September 1985; The World's Fair, New Orleans, Foreword by Kent Bloomer and Charles Moore, Photographs by Joshua Mann Pailet; New York Times; Philadelphia Inquirer; Fair News; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller.

BIE Special Expo

Nepture on an Alligator Sculpture, New Orleans World's Fair 1984

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

China, France, Mexico, Australia, U.S.A., Japan, Peru, Canada, Egypt, Italy, Liberia, Korea (South), Philippines. Honduras (Caribbean Pavilion), Belize (Caribbean Pavilion), Dominican Republic (Caribbean Pavilion). One international organization, the European Common Market, who represented the Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Italy, France.

Six Neighborhoods of the Fair
Bayou Plaza: Aquacade, African Queen, Bayou Lagoon and Cajun Walk, Chrysler, Conergy, Louisiana Native Plants, Union Pacific, Watergarden, Rides Shoot the Chute, Cyclo-Tower and Giant Wheel.

Centennial Plaza: America's Electric Energy, Centennial Pavilion, MART aerial ride over the Mississippi River, Petroleum Industries Pavilion, Empress Walk, Carousel, Frey Gazebo.

Festival Park: Federal Fibre Mills, Louisiana Folklife Festival, Miller Beer Garden, Jazz and Gospel Tent, American Showcase Theater, Rides Rainbow and Skylab, Italian Village.

Fulton Street Mall: Rain/city of New Orleans/Historic New Orleans Collection, Reunion Hall, Vatican. Fulton St. Market West and East.

The Great Hall: Louisiana Journey, Artworks '84, Detroit/State of Michigan, Delta, Kodak, US Coast Guard, United States Geological Survey Exhibit, Vacation USA: Florida Vacation Planners, Bureau of Reclamation, Christian Pavilion, Church of Christ, I've Known River, Inc., Louisiana Journey, Mississippi, National Parks, Oschner, Portland (Oregon), Preservation Resource Center, River Road, Lipton Tea House of the World, Watercourse, Wave of the World Sculpture, WDSU Television, Women's Pavilion, Banking, Ride: The Magic Room, Seventh Day Adventist, International Business Center, other small exhibits.

International Riverfront: Army Corps of Engineers (MAP), Space Shuttle Enterprise, NASA, Liggett and Myers Ampitheatre, Op Ship, Riverboat Cruises, Sky Transpo, UNICEF, International Pavilions.

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as the official guidebook or Expo Authority, which officially stated there were twenty-seven foreign exhibitors, may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur, or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Expo Tidbits
Monorail around site took twelve minutes to make a round trip. It was free at the beginning of the fair and later cost $1.

The Wonder Wall cost $3.9 million. There was a 5,500 seat Amphitheater and an Aquacade.

When the fair closed on November 11, it owed $100 million to 750 creditors. The original workforce had been reduced from 2,300 to 1,100, and the attendance had reached 7.3 million, an average of 38,000 per day not the projected 71,000.

Public impression of the fair: 58% Extremely positive, 34% Positive.

Most Popular Exhibits by Survey: 1. Aquacade, 2. Fireworks Display, 3. Louisiana Journey, 4. Italian Village, 5. Canadian Pavilion, 6. Water Garden, 7. U.S. Pavilion, 8. Japanese Pavilion, 9. Petroleum Pavilion, 10. Vatican Pavilion.

The Louisiana Journey was a fourteen minute boat ride through an audio-visual display of Louisiana scenes. The Canada Pavilion drew 2.5 million visitors.

Legacies of the fair outpaced the event itself when you consider that Riveralk, now known as the Outlet Centers of Riverwalk, where the international pavilion were situated, is a vibrant area along the Mississippi River that had not been open to the public prior to the fair. The Convention Center remains and many of the warehouses near the site have been refurbished into housing and commercial space. The Neptune and Alligator stature remains near the Convention Center. The monorail was sent to Miami for use at the zoo.

Those in Charge

Petr L. Spurney was President and CEO. John G. Weinmann, United States Commissioner General. Jim Brandt, Vice President of Planning.


Photo column top: Nepture riding an Alligator sculpture at the New Orleans World's Fair 1984, 1984, Michale L. Osborne, Official Photobook of the World's Fair. Bottom: Today's Outlet Mall at Riverwalk via Chillie Falls, Pinterest.

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