How Knoxville World’s Fair got biggest attraction Great Wall of China

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When planning for the World Exposition in Knoxville in 1982 was underway, Charlie Smith was of the famous local architect Bruce McCarty, who was part of the team overseeing the master plan for the trade fair. I was a young architect who worked for a company.

One day, when the trade fair venue began to bear fruit, Smith was told that the trade fair planners needed someone who knew the design and could work with architects, engineers and contractors. So he became Vice President of Site Development.

“I oversaw all the design and construction of the fair,” he proudly recalled when he recently recalled just below the Sunsphere at the World Fair Park in connection with the 40th anniversary of the fair.

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It was a big job for those who were just starting their architectural career after getting a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, but he was not afraid to accept it.

Architect Charlie Smith, vice president of site development at the 1982 World's Fair, stands by the elevator door at the base of the Sunsphere on May 10, 2022. He is his work with the 1982 World's Fair tie and name tag and Rodeos.

“I felt very comfortable because I visited many other World Exposition venues and worked with 7 architects and 10 contractors,” he said.

Mission to China for World Expo

But as part of this work, he was a little nervous, or at least excited. He one day fair President Bo Roberts asked him if his passport had been renewed, and he told Smith that they had a special mission for him.

Charlie Smith, second from the right, meets with China's Foreign Minister and others, second from the left, while securing the relics of the Chinese pavilion before the 1982 World's Fair.

He went to the People’s Republic of China and negotiated with Chinese authorities to bring back some notable relics that could be used at the China Pavilion at the trade fair. To support his negotiations, he was given a $ 1 million loan facility. And the goal was ambitious — regaining some important artifacts like part of the Great Wall.

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