Thursday, August 13, 2009

Knoxville Sunsphere: Site Report

This summer, I traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee and, naturally, could not miss the opportunity to visit the Sunsphere. Built for the 1984 World’s Fair, the tower was smaller than I expected, but it still stands 266-feet high. The park in which the tower sits was nice and is still used by the residents for events and concerts. An elevator delivers visitors to an observation deck with slanted windows within the sphere itself. This floor was unattended and almost empty. Signage allow visitors a self-guided history lesson about the views throught the windows and information about the World’s Fair. There is no gift shop at the Sunsphere, so hang onto your miniature versions as none are currently available nor being produced. The theme for the 1982 World's Fair was "Energy Turns the World." It opened on May 1, 1982 and closed on October 31, 1982 after hosting over 11 million visitors.The centerpiece of the fair was the Sunsphere, a steel tower topped with a five-story gold globe. Designed by the Knoxville architectural firm Community Tectonics, the Sunsphere is noted for its unique design in several engineering publicationsIn its original design. The sphere portion was to have had a diameter of 86.5 feet (26.4 m) to represent symbolically the 865,000-mile (1,392,000 km) diameter sun. The tower's window glass panels are layered in 24-karat gold dust and cut to seven different shapes. It weighs 600 tons and features six double steel truss columns in supporting the seven-story sphere. During the fair, admission price was $2 to take the elevator to its observation deck. The tower served as a restaurant and featured food items such as the Sunburger and a rum and fruit juice cocktail called the Sunburst." The Sunsphere has been used as a symbol for Knoxville, appearing in postcards and logos. Between 1993 and 1999, the Sunsphere was featured in part on the logo for the Knoxville Smokies minor league baseball club. The 2002 AAU Junior Olympics mascot Spherit took its inspiration from the landmark. It featured red hair and a body shaped like the Sunsphere.Today, most of the World's Fair site is now a public park and a convention center, but the Sunsphere remains.Other notable events at the Sunsphere include: October 1987 when the sphere was illuminated to represent a huge jack-o-lantern. On Sunday, May 15, 2000, nuclear weapons protesters scaled the tower and hung a large banner that said "Stop the Bombs." They remained on the tower for three days before surrendering to police. The Sunshere sat empty for years until renovations began in 2003. As a result of European starling birds depositing on the tower's frame too much of, ummm…what birds deposit, the Knoxville Public Buildings Authority purchased a device that emits various noises to scare the birds away from the tower. Currently, the sphere contains offices, a bar and the observation floor. While in the elevator, we chatted with someone who worked in an office on top and he said during high winds the tower sways - making computer-users nausous. A few different souvenir building versions of the Sunsphere were made. The most common is a copper-colored pot metal replica which was made in two sizes: 6 and 9 inches tall. A plastic version was also made with a garish blue and gold-painted surface. A smaller pot metal pencil sharpener was also produced. The last that I know of is a rare souvenir cast for the fair by the A.C. Rehberger. This one has a golden finish and great detailing of the ladder work and ball on top is etched, not just smooth. It stands 5.25" tall. There is also a small metal pencil sharpener verson of the sunsphere which I believe is a more recently-made replica. Do know of other miniature replica versions of this tower?
Site reports - Have you been to a location, building or monument which was memorialized in miniature? Write up your impressions of the place and send it to me along with any photos you may have taken while there. It would be great to hear from readers and where they've been.


Anonymous said...

There is the ceramic version as well painted blue and gold. SD

Alan Bloom said...

Here you go:

And don't forget the Simpsons episode that features the Sun Tower, used to store wigs, collapsing at Bart's feet.

Dave said...

Thanks for the ceramic version Alan. I included it in the post.

chubbler said...

hey--I really like that porcelain one--how much were they originally and how much do you think it might cost to find one now?

Anonymous said...

hey Chubbler, i just won the porcelain one on ebay for $27...last month one sold for $41. It is actually kinda rare to find this on ebay as i've been waiting for awhile to find one. Good luck to you and hopefully more will show up soon on eBay.

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