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The 1934 World’s Fair in Technicolor

The Columbian Exposition’s slept-on sequel disappeared as quickly as it arrived (except for the tribute to fascism), depriving the city of a more colorful alternate architectural history.

The White City of the Columbian Exposition left a tremendous legacy in Chicago, from its litany of inventions, to the nation’s own Jack the Ripper, to the White City’s architectural legacy in our somber city. Less historically beloved is the 1933-1934 World’s Fair, even if it did feature a couple crackerjack inventions (the electric stovetop! wireless speakers! Miracle Whip!); the world is even coming around on the fair’s spectacular Sky Ride, in the form of gondolas as public transportation.

Nonetheless, the ‘34 fair was quickly dissembled and was gone as soon as it came—Balbo’s column is the last remaining structure, and that’s, um, a gift from Mussolini in tribute to a fascist. It’s kind of a shame, really: had the World’s Fair left the same footprint as the Columbian Exposition, the city might look quite different today. The Rainbow City was designed in contrast to the White City, meant to lift the spirits of a Depression-ridden nation, and some of the architecture was quite spectacular, as Chicago decked its lake shore out like Vegas. This technicolor marvel was captured in the then-new three-strip Technicolor process, the technological marvel that was first used shortly before the fair on Walt Disney’s Flowers and Trees Silly Symphony. It’s fun to imagine an alternate Chicago that embraced the Rainbow City in its civic architecture, though I imagine it would look something like Ricardo Legorreta’s University of Chicago dorm.

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