The Sunsphere Fund was created in 2019 by Visit Knoxville, with support from the City of Knoxville, to preserve and maintain this historic structure.

Protecting Our City Icon

Historic buildings are a crucial element in our perception of culture and identity through time and are therefore important for our future. By observing and studying historic buildings, we learn from our past and enjoy the accomplishments of our ancestors. However, these valuable resources require protection; restoring and protecting historic buildings is expensive.

By allowing regular people like us to pay homage to the Sunsphere through art, clothing and…ornaments we have been empowered to support the cause.  Five dollars of every Sunsphere ornament will be donated to The Sunsphere FundOur hope is that the sale of the Sunsphere ornaments will inspire others in Knoxville to use the Sunsphere in their art and sellable goods so we can make The Sunsphere Fund a material source of funding it can count on for regular maintenance and new projects.

Knoxville Skyline

The Purpose of The Sunsphere Fund

Knoxvillians know the story of the Sunsphere post-World’s Fair 1982 – it’s filled with failed restaurants, dingy windows and sketchy elevator rides. Needless to say, the experience isn’t anywhere close to what we know it can be.

Instead of remaining a dated relic of the extinct World’s Fair, what if the Sunsphere were a beautiful building inside and out that drew crowds from visitors and Knoxvillians alike?

Nestled in the beautiful World’s Fair Park, the Sunsphere bridges the gap between Downtown Knoxville and UT’s campus. It’s potential is endless, but it faces a massive obstacle: resources.

Partnering with Visit Knoxville

Before the ornament was even designed we knew that the city and the Sunsphere needed to benefit in some way.  How to make this happen was unknown until we had our first meeting with Visit Knoxville’s CEO, Kim Bumpas.

Kim told us that a fund for the Sunsphere was in the works and she thought our ornament could be the first item to benefit The Sunsphere Fund and help launch it.

We are so glad Visit Knoxville and the City of Knoxville have established The Sunsphere Fund because most iconic structures have regulations on how the image or their shapes can be used. (Eiffel Tower, Space Needle, Hollywood Sign, etc.)

Now that the fund is official, the Sunsphere can finally thrive from its image being used in art and throughout the community. We hope that our ornament is just the first of many items to benefit the fund.

Post Card From Knoxville Mural
"Postcard From Knoxville" mural by Bobbie Crews

On October 10, 2017, the City of Knoxville approved a $2.5 million renovation budget to benefit the Sunsphere and the Amphitheater in World’s Fair Park.  Since then, the Sunsphere has been promoted like other attractions by Visit Knoxville, who manages the experience on the 4th floor Observation Deck.

Where Does the Funding Go?

The fund will go to everything from elevator upkeep to cleaning the windows and more as the Sunsphere fund grows. You can learn more about the fund Here.

Sunsphere photo by @knoxbill_photos
photo by @knoxbill_photos

While we want to give back to the city we love, we also hope for the Sunsphere ornament to be a work of art for people to cherish their memories of Knoxville.

The First Ever Sunsphere Ornament

Glittering almost like the real thing, the Sunsphere ornament adds a glimmer of Knoxville to your home, just in time for the Holiday Season!

Did You Know...

When it was completed, the Sunsphere became the first spherical building in the United States! 

Sunsphere circa 1982

The original design for the Sunsphere was only going to be a hundred feet off the ground and have a diameter of 86.5 feet to symbolize the 865,000 mile diameter of the sun.

Far Right Sunsphere construction photo taken September 11, 1981 by J. Miles Cary

The Plans

Since the structure was to be built in a valley, it was going to be partially hidden by surrounding buildings and therefore wouldn’t have had a dramatic effect over the fair site.  The estimated cost of this design was also too high.  The architecture firm figured out that they could reduce the costs and raise the height if the pedestal for the sphere was made entirely of steel.

The Sunsphere design was purposely made small compared to other World’s Fair theme structure predecessors.

Sunsphere photo by @john_d_potter
The Space Needle is actually more than twice the size of the Sunsphere.

 Not only was it more economical, but it also addressed a concern of visitors to World’s Fairs… the Space Needle was so tall that it was difficult to see the actual fair site from inside the structure!

Sunsphere Ornament

Blue Skies & Sunshine

The steel tower was originally painted blue during the time of the World’s Fair to represent the sky.  This way the gold ball on top would appear more like the sun!  It stands 26 stories tall (266 feet) and 75 feet in diameter.

The Sunsphere used to be blue
The current color of the tower is forest green, as shown on the right.

The exterior of the sphere was constructed of 360 windows coated with 24-carat gold dust.

The Knoxville Sunpshere and Sunsphere ornament

Circa 1982

During the World’s Fair the Sunsphere saw an average of 60,000 visitors a day from May 1 through October 31 of 1982!

The tower served as a restaurant and featured food items such as the Sunburger and a rum and fruit juice cocktail called the Sunburst! 

It cost $2 to take the elevator to its observation deck (now it’s free).