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Dallas, Texas
National Historical Landmark

FAIR PARK

by Clint Skinner

17. Magnolia Lounge

Margo Jones

Standing southwest of Grand Place and across the street from the Old Mill Inn, the Magnolia Lounge was built for the exposition. Designed by William Lescaze, the structure became the first building in Texas to display modernism in its architecture, a style which the native Swiss architect was a pioneer in establishing. The Magnolia Oil Company, currently known as Mobil, financed the building's construction. The main feature of the place was an area where people could sit down, relax, and enjoy the scenery of a nearby lagoon. In addition, they could watch movies and enjoy other forms of entertainment. The seating capacity for the lounge was one hundred guests.
Dallas TX - Fair Park Magnolia Lounge
Magnolia Lounge
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

In 1947, Margaret McDermott, a local philanthropist, gave ten thousand dollars to transform the Magnolia Lounge into a theater. The person placed in charge was a woman named Margo Jones. Margo was born in Livingston, Texas. After graduating from High School, she acquired a bachelor's degree in speech and a master's degree in psychology and education. She then studied at the Southwestern School of the Theater in Dallas and the Pasadena Playhouse Summer School in California.

After all this education, Margo became the assistant director of the Houston Federal Theater Project in 1935. The following year, she founded and directed the Houston Community Players. She remained there until 1942, discovering the talents of Ray Walston, Charles William Goyen, Cy Howard, and Larry Blyden during her tenure.

Margo Jones arrived at the University of Texas in 1942 to teach classes and direct plays. It was during this time that she met writer Tennessee Williams. Thanks to her efforts to direct You Touched Me, The Purification, and The Glass Menagerie, the playwright gained national attention and a strong reputation. The third production, which debuted on Broadway, provided Margo with the necessary clout to be given control of the theater funded by McDermott. Although all the paperwork was completed in 1945, the Margo Jones Theater did not open until two years later. When it did, the place became the first non-profit professional resident theater and first arena theater in the nation.

From 1947 to 1955, Jones produced eighty-five plays, seventy percent of them being world premiers. The most significant one arrived in 1955. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee's play Inherit the Wind was deemed too controversial at the time, so no one wanted to host it. Margo took a chance in producing the play, resulting in its transfer to Broadway. In addition to introducing new productions, the theater launched the careers of many famous actors and actresses like Larry Hagman, Brenda Vaccaro, Jack Warden, and Louise Latham. During this time, Margo worked to help establish other resident theaters, hoping to make her dream of making a network of them throughout the country. Though she did not live to see it, her vision eventually became a reality.

On July 17, 1955, Margo Jones held a party for some of her friends. Unfortunately, someone spilled paint on the carpet. Workers used a chemical called carbon tetrachloride, which poisoned Margo while she was sleeping by evaporating from the carpet it had absorbed. She found unconscious and rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, she died nine days later.

Upon her death, the theater did not last for very long. The Magnolia Lounge remained unused until the 1980s and 1990s when it served as the park's visitor center. In 2003, it served as the temporary home for the Video Association of Dallas. The place currently houses the office of the Friends of Fair Park and the home of the Margo Jones Theater Company. The company is actually a collection of independent theater organizations which collaborate to produce experimental productions. During the state fair, the outdoor region is used for a beer garden and live entertainment.


November 12, 2016
© Clint Skinner

See also
Tennessee Williams' Texas Director Margo Jones
by Bob Bowman


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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