Fair Park, an Art Deco icon in Dallas, may be due for big change

From the Comet roller coaster to the Texas Star Ferris wheel, rides at Dallas’ Fair Park have achieved legendary status over the years. But perhaps the most eye-catching creations on this famous fairground are the buildings themselves, Art Deco masterpieces that were first unveiled during the 1936 Texas Centennial Celebration.

The 277-acre Fair Park is home to the annual State Fair, a celebration that suits a place of superlatives. Founded in 1886 by a cadre of local business people, it is a symbol of optimism for the growing city. It would prove prescient as the park would host the state’s massive centenary birthday celebration, the biggest party in Texas history at the time. Twenty-six of the original buildings built for this celebration have been preserved. This makes the Dallas landmark one of the largest collections of Art Deco architecture in the country.

The Tower Building Library of Congress: Carol Highsmith

According to National Geographic Traveler, the structures were “much more than a collection of buildings; It’s a neighborhood that tells dozens of stories from dozens of cultures. “The massive building, made up of structures, sculptures, and an epic reflective pool, was built from piles of then-new concrete blocks and contained all sorts of seals and flourishes that tell the vastness of Texas history.

It’s a place burned into Texas history. However, the future management of this architectural masterpiece has been called into question. An old on-site science building is slated to be converted into a student transfer center for Dallas High School students, a proposal that the city council will vote on later this month. More importantly, the plan to hand over the site to an independent, nonprofit foundation – an arrangement common in many large city parks – continues to be driven by the city government.

Fair Park Dallas

The Hall of State Library of Congress: Carol Highsmith

The whole matter raises questions about how the city is properly managing and benefiting from the beautiful park and how the goldmine’s revenue is being managed, and old complaints are being dredged from nearby neighborhoods, some of the city’s poorest, that have since been dredged Feeling neglected and ignored for decades. Dallas architecture critic Marc Lamster wrote: “It should be one of the city’s main attractions, not a neglected stepchild.”

1936 picture of the fair park during the Texas Centennial Celebration

1936 image of Fair Park during the Texas Centennial Celebration Fair Park

Establishing the fair in cotton fields east of downtown, a place dubbed “the worst kind of hog” in 1886, began with the construction of a handful of Victorian buildings. In time, the park and fair would develop their reputation for over-the-top entertainment.

The site had exactly the types of curiosities you would expect from a larger than life state fair. The year after it opened, a replica of the Washington Monument made of human teeth graced the fairgrounds, the first of many incredible models, including a life-size battleship made of citrus and a gemstone diorama of a scene from the Count of Monte Cristo. What fair can claim to have hosted two goats that survived a nuclear test (Adolph and Satan), as well as a pair of actual nuclear missiles?

In 1906, George Kessler created the first landscaping plan for the site, a series of fountains and plazas influenced by the City Beautiful movement. Over time, the exhibition grounds expanded to include famous venues such as the Cotton Bowl. However, it did not become an architectural icon until the Texas Centennial Exhibition in 1936. Architects George Dahl and Paul Cret, together with hundreds of workers and craftsmen, have transformed the standard exhibition center into an Art Deco icon.

Restored mural from the Fair Park

Restored mural from the Fair Park Library of Congress

Restored mural from the Fair Park

Restored mural from the Fair Park Library of Congress

Dahl’s design embraced the modern with the aim of presenting the city as future-oriented and progressive on the occasion of Texas’ 100th birthday. He described the size of its sleek, streamlined buildings as “Texan,” a fitting descriptor for the central esplanade, a 700-foot reflective pool flanked by massive Art Deco buildings with spacious porticos. The esplanade was the centerpiece of a number of districts dedicated to showcasing industry and culture. She was surrounded by a series of commissioned sculptures and murals depicting the history of Texas from its economic achievements to the various nations and states that at one time or another had raised their flag over Texas.

Esplanade in Fair Park

Esplanade in the Fair Park Library of Congress

More than two million tickets were sold ahead of the June opening, and the Centennial’s positive reception during the economic downturn helped kick-start the state’s troubled economy when it needed it most. Since then, the area has been used for the state fair as well as for numerous annual events and has been the only preserved area of ​​its kind since the first half of the 20th century.

As the park ages, numerous renovations have restored many of Dahl’s Art Deco gems to their original splendor. The city began serious restoration work in the 1990s. In the past few decades, cameo reliefs have been restored on the Centennial Building, a fountain and the main fountain. The city issued a 2006 bond to provide $ 72 million to repair the park. But many, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, believe Fair Park needs better management to become a successful year-round attraction.

Restored mural from the Fair Park

Restored mural from the Fair Park Library of Congress

Walt Humann, a wealthy Texan who started a not-for-profit firm to support Fair Park, has long been a pioneer in taking control of any foundation that takes control of the grounds (though the entire process with claims of non-transparency and the transparency was filled with preference). The city asked for offers last month as part of a quick process. Some feel restricted as to who can participate.

Jon Cassidy, a writer at Watchdog.org, believes the bidding process benefits Humann as he had time to put a plan together and the tight schedule prevents others from putting together a similarly detailed bid. Since the Dallas City Park and Recreation Department was not consulted on the way, they have asked the city to suspend the bidding process until they can properly weigh. With such an incredible location in the state, the debate over how to manage one of Dallas’ civic treasures is sure to continue.

Big Tex at the Texas State Fair

Big Tex, a mascot for the Texas State Fair Library of Congress

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