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Dallas, Texas
National Historical Landmark

FAIR PARK

by Clint Skinner

10. Centennial Building

When the Dallas State Fair made its only appearance in 1886, the year before it merged to become the State Fair of Texas, one of the main attractions was a wooden structure called the Exposition Building, despite the fact that there was no exposition. Its 140,000 feet of space served as a marketplace for companies and individuals wanting to sell their products that included pianos, alcohol, clothing, trunks, jewelry, saddles, sewing machines, hardware, quilts, and tobacco. It became the perfect place for exhibits, meetings, reunions, and public events when not being used for the fair.

In 1902, a blazing fire burned the structure to the ground, forcing officials to build a new one. Construction began in 1905 and opened at its current location the following year. Everyone called it the Exposition Building for thirty years. During that time, it served as a place for individuals, small businesses, and corporations to promote and sell their products at the state fair. Things would change in 1936 with the Texas Centennial Exposition.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Exterior
Centennial Building
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

For the grand celebration, the Exposition Building had an extra wing added to it while the exterior was completely remodeled to reflect the popular art style of the time. In addition, statues were sculpted and placed in front of the three main entrances facing the esplanade pool. George Dahl wanted the artwork to represent the nations that ruled over Texas at one time or the other. There would be three statuaries for the Exposition Building and three for the structure on the other side. Designed by Lawrence Tenney Stevens, the twenty-foot female figures stood in front of a portico that covered each of the entrances.

Dallas TX Fair Park  Centennial Building Spain Portico
Centennial Building Spain Portico
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
1936 Texas  Centennial  Exposition  in Dallas aerial photo left enlarged
No.3 - Travel and Transportation Building
(
1936 Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas - Aereal photo left)
Click on image for full view
Courtesy Sarah Reveley

During the centennial, the main section was called the Travel and Transportation Building and the new wing was called the Chrysler Building. Dahl decided it would be best to have artwork at each portico that reflected the structure's theme. He picked Carlo Ciampaglia to complete the task, resulting in the composition of six wall murals in the art deco style.

Dallas TX Fair Park  Centennial Building  Texas Portico - Rail Transportation
Centennial Building Texas Portico - Rail Transportation Mural
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Texas Portico  -  Navigation Mural
Centennial Building Texas Portico - Navigation Mural
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

The first portico that visitors encounter when arriving from the main entrance belongs to Spain. Its flag flew over Texas from 1519 to 1685 and 1690 to 1821. The nation's interest in Texas was minimal at best during the first part of its occupation. It all started with explorer Cabeza de Vaca, whose name means Cow's Head. His venture into the North America in 1527 resulted in the starvation, death, and enslavement of everyone who joined him. Only four managed to escape their captors, various tribal bands living in the Galveston region. Estaban returned from his ordeal with stories of golden cities. This eventually led to the Coronado Expedition of 1540. In addition to exploring the untouched wilderness of North America, Francisco de Coronado sought to settle the validity of the stories of gold and riches. His journey led him through the Texas panhandle. When he returned home, Coronado faced a series of inquiries, where he revealed that no riches could be found.

Interest in Texas quickly faded with the exception of maybe a few missions. This all changed when France tried to colonize the area. Spain reacted by sending priests into the region to convert the native people and setting up small colonies. Spain's territorial reign ended with the establishment of Mexico.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Man And Eagle
Man and Eagle
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

To the right of the Spanish portico is a cement bas-relief featuring a man, an eagle, train wheels, and railroad tracks. The artwork as a whole symbolizes the conflict between nature and machine or reflects the power necessary to move a train, depending on who is consulted as an interpreter. It was made from the hands of a French artist named Pierre Van Parys Bourdelle. Born in Paris, he worked under the guidance of Auguste Rodin after fighting in World War I and studied at two schools in the capitol city. In 1929, he moved to America and made large scale paintings, murals, and reliefs in New York City during the 1930s and 1940s. Bourdelle, however, performed many tasks outside the city. The Texas exposition was one of them.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Confederacy Portico
Confederacy Portico
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

The second portico represents the Confederacy. Its flag flew over Texas from 1861 to 1865. The issue of secession was a contention one of Texas, sometimes leading to violence. In the end, the state legislature voted in favor of the proposition and removed Governor Sam Houston from office because of his opposition. The former republic's first president disappeared from the public scene and stayed in Huntsville until he died from pneumonia in 1863.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Confederacy Portico - Future Transportation
Confederacy Portico - Future Transportation Mural
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Confederacy Portico - Old Methods of Transportation Mural
Confederacy Portico - Old Methods of Transportation Mural
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

Texas played an important part in providing food and raw materials for the South. The North tried to prevent this from happening by sending its navy forces to Galveston as part of a blockade along the Gulf of Mexico. As part of the Texas Coast division, Commander William B. Renshaw led eight ships to capture Galveston in October 1862. The Union boats barraged Fort Point after they received several ineffective shots. Looking at the situation, Joseph J. Cook, who was in charge of the Confederate fortifications, came to the conclusion that the stronghold could not be successfully defended. He asked Renshaw for a four-day truce and got it. After the agreement went into effect, Cook spent his time sending all the men and supplies to the nearby coast. The Union forces took control of the harbor, but they did not move inland until December.

Meanwhile, Major General John B. Magruder was sent to retake Galveston Bay. Wanting to redeem himself after his poor performance during the Seven Days Campaign, Magruder made his plans in Houston. He then moved his forces and attacked on New Year's Day. One force would attack by land while another force would assault the navy. Things did not go well. After the army was pushed back, one of the two Confederate ships fell into the watery depths. Out numbered six to one, all seemed lost until the Bayou City managed to sink one of the ships. Renshaw's own vessel got stuck on a sandbar and a truce was issued. The Union commander destroyed his ship during the respite so it wouldn't fall into enemy hands. Unfortunately, he died from the explosion. This series of events convinced the remaining naval crews to escape and retreat. Weary of fighting, the Confederate forces decided not to pursue them. This victory allowed Galveston to remain an open port for trade throughout the war.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Centennial Building Man and Angel
Centennial Building Man and Angel
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

Going past the second portico, visitors will encounter the second bas-relief made by Pierre Bourdelle. Showing a man being carried by an angel, the artwork symbolizes air travel.

 Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Texas Portico
Centennial Building - Texas Portico
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Texas Portico - Aeroplane Transportation
Texas Portico - Aeroplane Transportation Mural
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Texas Portico - Automotive Transportation
Centennial Building Texas Portico - Automotive Transportation
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

The final portico of the Centennial Building represents the Republic of Texas. Its flag flew over Texas from 1836 to 1845. The period began with the victory over the Mexican Army led by Santa Anna. leading to the end of the Texas Revolution. On April 21st, the Mexican president and his men were taking a peaceful rest during the late afternoon at San Jacinto. General Sam Houston learned about the respite and decided to take advantage of the situation. Under his command, the Texans took the opposing forces by complete surprise, resulting in a battle that lasted only eighteen minutes. A day later, Santa Anna was captured while retreating and forced into signing a treaty which recognized Texas Independence.

Upon becoming an independent nation, the Texas government formed a constitution very similar to the one used by the United States. The document called for an executive branch headed by a president who would stay in office for three years. However, the person could not run for re-election. The Congress consisted of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House would have twenty to forty members until the country's population reached 100,000. Afterward, it would be allowed to have forty to one hundred representatives. The Senate had no set number of politicians. The Constitution said that the body need to have at least one-third of the number of House representatives but not exceed fifty percent of that same amount. There was a supreme court like the United States, but it had five judges instead of nine. The president appointed the chief justice and the Congress picked the remaining four. All of them served a period of four years, but they could be re-elected unlike the executive branch.

The new nation faced the problem of settlement raiding by the various Indian tribes, the Comanche and Cherokee being the most active among them. Making things worse, two approaches clashed over the issue of what to do about the attacks. Sam Houston and his supporters wanted peace and advocated making treaties while Mirabeau B. Lamar's group favored a militaristic response. With a different leader every three years, one side would cancel out the work of the other. In the end, Houston won the battle with a successful treaty involving the remaining tribes.

The problem with the Native Americans was nothing compared to the financial difficulties facing the new nation. By the time Texas finally won its independence, the government had acquired a debt reaching over one million dollars. There was no currency at the moment, so it had to rely on bank notes. This wasn't helped by a complicated bank system and the ever-increasing deficit. The government eventually printed money, which became known as redbacks. Unfortunately, they only survived for three years. This lack of a strong financial backbone forced the government to rely on the sale of land for the funding of its programs and daily functions.

While this was going on, many people wanted to annex Texas to the United States. Indeed, there was a call for such action even before the nation won its independence. The members of the first Congress voted on the matter with a majority in favor of joining the Union. However, the political environment in America prevented annexation from happening. Sam Houston brought the matter to President John Tyler in 1844 and a law was passed the following year, making Texas the twenty-eighth state.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Bison and Cougar
Centennial Building Bison and Cougar
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

The third Bourdelle relief is located to the right of the final portico. It depicts a bison trying unsuccessfully to outrun a cougar. The artwork represents ground transportation.

At the end of the building, the fourth and final work by Pierre Bourdelle awaits. It shows man's attempt to tame horses in the same manner he has tamed water. Symbolizing water transportation, the art is displayed on a wall behind an anchor stationed on a concrete base. The anchor was given by the United States Navy in 1971 to show thanks for the state fair's continued support.

Dallas TX Fair Park Centennial Building Man and Horse
Centennial Building Man and Horse
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

Although the exact year remains a mystery, the public started referring to the vast structure as the Centennial Building after the two expositions ended. In 1942, its mirror image on the other side of the esplanade poll burned to the ground. There were no plans for reconstructing the murals for the planned replacement, so officials decided to paint over Carlo Ciampaglia's paintings at the Centennial Building. This would allow the two structures to mirror each other. The paint began flaking in the early 1960s, resulting in another layer of paint. This practice continued until there were six coats covering the artwork.

Efforts to restore the murals began in 1999. Founded by Scott Haskins, Fine Art Conservation Laboratories, a specialized company which had been in business since the 1970s, faced the difficult task of recovering the centennial remnants of the Centennial Building. Haskins also had to deal with all the other neglected artwork in Fair Park. The restoration was a long, hard process that was successfully completed in 2000.


October 2, 2016

© Clint Skinner


FAIR PARK:
Fair Park - Attractions:
1. Fair Park Station
2. Main Entrance
3. Founders Statue
4. Women's Museum
5. DAR House
6. The Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial
7. Sydney Smith Memorial Fountain
8. Music Hall
9. Fair Park Esplanade
10. Centennial Building
11. Automobile Building
12. Hall of State
13. Tower Building
14. Big Tex Circle
15. Grand Place
16. Old Mill Inn
17. Magnolia Lounge
18. Hall of Religion
19. African American Museum
20. Leonhardt Lagoon
21. Dallas Museum of Natural History
22. Science Place I
23. Children's Aquarium
24. Fair Park Bandshell
25. Texas Discovery Gardens
26. WRR Headquarters
27. Science Place II
28. The Texas Star
29. Cotton Bowl Stadium
30. The Texas Skyway
31. The Embarcadero
32. The Creative Arts Building
33. Food and Fiber Building
34. Pan American Arena
35. The Woofus
36. The Swine Building
37. Briscoe Carpenter Livestock Center
38. Livestock Pavilion and Arena
39. The Horse Barn
40. Fair Park Coliseum
41. Top of Texas Tower


References:
1.Bigtex.com
2.Dallashistory.org
3.Dallas Morning News Archives
4.Fairpark.org
5.Slate, John H. Historic Dallas Parks. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
6.Tshaonline.org
7.Watermelon-kid.com
8.Wikipedia.org
8.Winters, Willis Cecil. Fair Park. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

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