Todd DeFeo

Sunsphere goes from symbol of 1982 World’s Fair to symbol of city

The Sunsphere in Knoxville, Tenn., as seen on Oct. 18, 2013. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — More than 11 million people visited the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn., between May 1 and Oct. 31, 1982.

The Sunsphere in Knoxville, Tenn., as seen on Oct. 18, 2013. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

The Sunsphere in Knoxville, Tenn., as seen on Oct. 18, 2013. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

And, one of the most enduring symbols of the Fair is the Sunsphere. Designed by Knoxville architectural firm Community Tectonics and built at a cost of $8.6 million, the 266-foot-tall tower features 360 windows that were coated with 24 karat gold dust.

The World’s Fair is credited with putting Knoxville on the map. Though the Fair was not immune from controversy, it brought worldwide attention to the East Tennessee city.

“Let the rest of us draw from this exposition a sense of confidence and community,” President Ronald Reagan said in his opening remarks at the Fair.

“Let us realize that free men and women still have the power to better their lives and raise the standard of living for all mankind,” the president added.“Let us recognize that those things that bind us and keep us strong: our democratic political institutions, our market economic systems, our commitment to liberty, and our belief and faith in human dignity. And let us reaffirm our partnership among citizens, among States, and among nations.”

The Sunsphere sits in what is today the centerpiece of World’s Fair Park and has transformed into a symbol of the city as a whole. The tower is one of two buildings that survived the Fair, but it has been underutilized for most of its post-show life.

Oddly, in May 1982, shortly after the Fair opened, a sniper’s bullet shattered one of the Sunsphere’s windows, according to a newspaper report from the time.

Fair promoters hoped the site site would be redeveloped. However, substantive redevelopment of the 67-acre Fair did not materialize for many years.

“This deck provides a 360-degree view of the city and the surrounding countryside and we think it’s something people will really enjoy,” The Associated Press quoted then Mayor Bill Haslam as saying in 2007 as the Sunsphere reopened to the public.

Today, the tower is home to an observation deck, an event space and a restaurant and bar. The tower was closed to the public from 1999 until 2007.

About Todd DeFeo
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.