called the Hall of Aquatic Life, the Children's Aquarium at
Fair Park stands northeast of Leonhardt
Lagoon. A local firm called Fooshee & Cheek, known for designing
Highland Park Village, worked with H. B. Thompson and Flint & Broad
to make the plans for the building. The exterior was modeled after
the Seattle Art Museum while the interior reflected the John G. Shedd
Aquarium. Construction soon followed on the structure, which would
be made out of a combination of brick, limestone, and shellstone.
Allie V. Tennant, who had worked on the Tejas
Warrior in front of the Hall
of State, then began carving bas-reliefs of sea life into the
walls. Carrying a final price tag of 200,000 dollars, the aquarium
was ready for business in 1936 in time for the exposition.
| Children's Aquarium
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
the first year of operation, the place had forty-four tanks made of
metal, concrete, one-inch plate glass. Features such as arch ceilings,
tank skylights, and protective handrails represented the latest in
exhibition technology. The facility hosted a variety of fish, reptiles,
and amphibians. However, the vast majority of the specimens were freshwater
because of the costs associated with maintaining a saltwater environment.
Regardless, the aquarium was a huge success. Most people had never
visited one because there were currently only twelve in the entire
United States, making the new attraction the first aquarium built
in the state of Texas.
When it came time to choose a director, officials chose an unlikely
candidate. Pierre A. Fontaine was born in 1905 on a ranch in White
Settlement, Texas. At the age of three, he witnessed the death
of his mother. A year later, his Swedish father moved to Dallas
and worked as a manager for the Karo Syrup Company, then married a
woman named Florence Janelli. In 1924, he attended SMU, not knowing
what career he wanted to pursue. A year later, his father took the
family on a vacation tour of their homeland. Pierre loved it so much,
his grandfather convinced him to attend the University of Lousanne,
a school famous for producing some of the greatest chefs in the world.
Pierre graduated in 1927 and acquired a contract to work at the Grand
Palace Hotel in Tokyo, Japan. However, he soon received word that
his father was ill. He moved back to Dallas
and watched over father until he got well again. Pierre stayed in
Dallas and worked as an assistant chef
steward for the Hotel Adolphus. He didn't like arranging bouquets,
so he left the hotel a year later. He then took over Janelli Advertising
Services. At this time, he started collecting fish again, a hobby
he had started as a kid. He also began building up a small aquatic
library and studied sea life in earnest. On a blind date, Pierre met
Josephine Clark and married her in 1930. Together, they had two kids.
Despite the Great Depression, he did well in the advertising business.
When the Park Board started looking for someone to run the aquarium,
the members were told to check out Fontaine, who supposedly had the
best home aquarium in the Southwest. When they arrived, they saw that
he had a collection of 3,500 fish. Impressed with his ability to take
care of them, the board members hired him. Fontaine sold his advertising
agency and went into deep study mode for the position. As director,
he became highly successful and gained the respect of everyone.
Hall of Aquatic Life became the Dallas Aquarium after the
Pan-American Exposition came to a close. Sixty-eight more feet was
added to the building's north hallway in 1963, making the attraction
the third largest aquarium in the nation. Tragedy arrived in 1968
when Fontaine, who had reduced his role at the aquarium so he could
serve as the head of the Dallas Zoo, died from a sudden heart attack.
As years passed by, the aquarium suffered from neglect. Their were
ceiling leaks, exposed rebar, rusting pipes and conduits, deteriorating
tanks, and broken skylights. To make matters worse, the place lost
its official accreditation. Something had to be done. Bond election
money from 2003 and 2006 was used to completely renovate the building.
At the cost of eight million dollars, it opened in 2010 as the Children's
Aquarium at Fair
aquarium is divided into six areas called the Freshwater Zone, Intertidal
Zone, Shore Zone, Near Shore Zone, Offshore Zone, and Stingray Bay.
The Intertidal Zone has an area which allows guests to touch a variety
of small marine animals like hermit crabs, sea urchins, and horseshoe
crabs. Visitors are also allowed to pet stingrays and feed them
at Stingray Bay, a place where people can view sharks and special
feeding demonstrations. There are other feeding shows, depending
on the day of the week. In addition to the regular exhibits, there
are birthday parties, summer camps, and overnight parties.
November 28, 2016
© Clint Skinner
3.Dallas Morning News Archives
5.Slate, John H. Historic Dallas Parks. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
8.Winters, Willis Cecil. Fair Park. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.