Not far from the flying saucer-inspired New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, there is another fountain with a quirky science fiction connection. The Fountain of the Planet of the Apes takes its name from the 1968 film, which stars Charlton Heston as an astronaut who crash lands onto a planet where primitive humans are hunted and exploited by intelligent, speaking apes.
Loosely adapted by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling from the French satirical novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes was a huge hit. It spawned sequels, reboots, a television series and a children’s cartoon show. The merchandise bonanza that resulted made Planet of the Apes the first successful sci-fi franchise years before Star Trek and Star Wars. So there’s no doubt the public has gone ape for the franchise, but how exactly did a fountain inside a municipal park come to be named after Planet of the Apes?
The fountain was nameless when it was first presented to the public, in June 1967 after the 1964–65 World’s Fair. The name change didn’t occur until decades later, when the eccentric Henry J. Stern became the parks commissioner. A much larger body of water called the Fountain of Planets is located nearby. Inspired by that name, Stern decided to dub the previously unnamed water feature the Fountain of the Planet of the Apes.
The naming went on with little fanfare, but a year later, a concerned resident complained about the name to the Queens borough president. Unfazed by the criticism, Stern defended his choice by saying, “It’s a great movie which is also a treatise on the dangers of war.”
The Fountain of the Planet of the Apes has a sister fountain that is named the Fountain of the Grapes of Wrath. In his typical irreverent style, Stern explained his decision by saying, ”We thought since we were paying tribute to a motion picture with an animal title, we should pay tribute to a motion picture with a vegetable title.”
Subsequent parks commissioners didn’t seem to share Stern’s love of puns and have removed the signage from the fountains, but official city maps to this day still list the unusual names that Stern picked.
Know Before You Go
At 111th Street and 55th Avenue there is an entrance into Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Go down the stairs and walk towards the New York State Pavilion. The Fountain of the Planet of the Apes is located across from the Fantasy Forest Amusement Park. The sister fountain, the Fountain of the Grapes of Wrath, is on the opposite side of the Queens Zoo. It's located past Terrace on the Park, towards the the New York Hall of Science.