The Wonderwall

A half-mile long stationary Mardi Gras.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library

One of the most praised and ultimately favorite attraction at the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair was the Wonderwall, a half-mile long wall often described as a stationary Mardi Gras parade. It ran down the length of South Front Street (now Convention Center Boulevard), forming a colorful edge of the fair grounds.

Designed by famed Los Angeles architect Charles W. Moore and William Turnbull as a means to hide overhead wiring and an intrusive cityscape, the original inspiration for the Wonderwall design was the work of 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Piranesi. As different artists were asked to contribute to the design, it turned into a cascading structure of stucco and papier-mâché in 25 different colors, containing metallic trees, pelicans, sandbag alligators, plants and Roman statuary.

 Influenced by many different architectural forms and eras, the wall varied between one and three stories high, and 12 to 18 feet in depth. Among the wall’s many architectural features of temples, towers and archways were found multiple entertainment stages, storefronts, food vendors, passageways and 40 fountains.

Also contained in the Wonderwall was a fully functioning radio station, an outpost of WRNO, which operated daily from the site. Disc jockeys played requests from guests to dedicate to their friends back home, as they also broadcast on WRNO Worldwide (shortwave radio).

After the fair closed, various structures were sold off at public auction. The Wonderwall in its entirety was bought by cemetery owner Larry Chedotal for $50. He was the only bidder. He later sold parts of the Wonderwall to people who wanted them, and many of those decorative pieces can still be seen around town: in the backyards of Uptown homes, on Bayou St. John, at the Louisiana Children’s Museum and along the Poydras Street corridor.

Note: This is Part 4 of a yearlong focus on the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.


A model of the Wonderwall on display at the Exposition’s Headquarters Building in early 1984 shows how the estimated 10,000 lights will showcase the structure at night, creating an entirely new experience and look from the daytime version. The Wonderwall lighting was designed by Richard Peters, lighting consultant to Perez Associates, architects of the World’s Fair. The lights were to be seen as artwork, not simply illumination, and were controlled by a central computer, set to change depending on the time of day, and often piece by piece in sequence, taking the eye from one end of the fair to the other.


 

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