In 1984, the Louisiana World Exposition, more commonly referred to as the World’s Fair, came to New Orleans – but the process to get it here started much earlier.
The first steps were taken in 1974 by Edward Stagg, Executive Director of the Council for a Better Louisiana, who successfully promoted the fair to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce as a chance to boost Louisiana’s economy. A fair would repair existing infrastructure, create new public facilities and spark a new tourism industry in New Orleans.
Land along the Mississippi River and extending into the rundown warehouse district was identified as future fair grounds, and in August 1982, under the eye of Louisiana Governor David Treen, a groundbreaking ceremony was held, complete with a river parade and music by the Razzberrie Ragtimers.
Construction began in earnest, but as the deadline loomed there was great concern. A media preview the day before the opening revealed piles of trash, unpainted walls and waterless fountains. Crews worked through the night – and except a couple pavilions, two amusement rides and a few other things – the fair was ready.
The opening ceremonies on May 12, 1984, took place in the Amphitheater, a new entertainment structure built open to and facing the river. Hosted by Hugh Downs, it included fair executives, local and national politicians, and of course, lots of music – including Pete Fountain. A roll call of nations, in which participating nations’ flags were raised, was followed by the Official Opening Announcement and the simultaneous release of 70,000 balloons.
The two main gates were opened and the first visitors of an eventual daylong tally of 62,746 walked i,n accompanied by the Southern University and St. Augustine marching bands.
Note: This is Part 1 of a yearlong focus on the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.
Then-Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara sign a concrete piece at the groundbreaking ceremony for the United States Pavilion in July 1983. Mascot Seymour D. Fair looks on while Mayor Morial and Director of the Louisiana World Exposition Petr Spurney wait behind them.
While President Ronald Reagan was invited to, and expected to attend, the opening of the fair, he decided that the trip would’ve taken too much time and not garnered enough public interest. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Malcom Baldrige took his position instead, making the last grand speech at the opening ceremonies. Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.