TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
NEW
TEXAS TOWNS
GHOST TOWNS
COUNTIES
TOPICS
TRIPS
ARCHITECTURE
COLUMNS
ARCHIVE
SITE MAP
SEARCH SITE
HOTELS



Dallas, Texas
National Historical Landmark

FAIR PARK:
HISTORY & OVERVIEW

by Clint Skinner
CONTENTS: History

Overview:
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

HISTORY
Located east of Downtown Dallas, Fair Park covers a vast area of 277 acres. It contains the world’s largest collection of Art Deco through its many murals, paintings, and sculptures, which were made possible by federal funding for the Texas Centennial. The national historic landmark also has three museums, an aquarium, a music hall, and a football stadium. Although Fair Park hosts a large number of festivals, most of them coinciding with national holidays, the most famous event is the State Fair of Texas. It boasts an annual attendance of three million and is the only one to have an automobile show. Starting in late September and ending in the middle of October, it is responsible for the birth of Fair Park.
Dallas TX - Fair Park
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

The whole thing started in August 1885. Frank Holland, the owner of the Texas Farm & Ranch Publishing Company, came up with the idea of having a state fair which would celebrate the city’s history and development. Holland and those who liked the proposal were heavily influenced by all the state expositions taking place throughout the nation at the time. In addition to attracting more visitors and new residents, they wanted to use the event to spark business and trade opportunities.

During the early part of January in 1886, a group of prominent citizens gathered to form a private corporation called the Dallas State Fair Association. The charter arrived from the State of Texas on January 30, 1886. Upon its receipt, there were nine men who signed the document to make everything official : James B. Simpson was a lawyer and politician, C. A. Keating acted as president of a manufacturing company, Alex Sanger was a retailer and served as the vice-president of the Dallas Electric Lighting Company, William H. Gaston worked as a banker and founded the town of East Dallas, Jules N. Schneider was a local businessman, J. S. Armstrong spent his time in real estate development and was responsible for founding Highland Park, Oliver Bowser served as the state representative for a Dallas district, J. M. Wendelken ran the Emerson-Brantingham Plow Company, and Thomas Field was a developer who had played a key role in securing the Texas and Pacific Railroad for the town.

On March 25th, the company directors assembled together to determine where the state fair would be located. Those attending had to choose between the Cole Property and the Gaston Property. Located in North Dallas, the first option consisted of ninety acres of farmland owned by Jack Cole, the first surveyor of Dallas County. The second option came in the form of an offer from William Gaston. He had recently purchased land which was once the property of John Grigsby and Thomas Lagow, veterans of the Texas Revolution who had received the prairie land in recognition of their service. The gift, located in the town of East Dallas at the current location of Fair Park, was later divided into sections and sold to various individuals. Gaston managed to obtain eighty acres of the land and offered it to the association in exchange for stock valued at 14,000 dollars.

When it came time to vote on the matter, six directors chose the Gaston Property while three picked the Cole Property. A large number of stockholders, mostly manufacturers and dealers in farm equipment, voiced strong opposition to the decision. Led by C.A. Keating, the opposition claimed that Cole’s farmland was more superior in quality and price than Gaston’s prairie land. The attacks continued until the leaders agreed to allow the stockholders to voice their complaints on April 17th.

A Committee of Appeals heard the opposition’s case but declined to overturn the decision because there was no proof that the Gaston Property was unsuitable for staging a fair. Despite assurances that the manufacturers and dealers would get top-quality space for their exhibits, the members refused to be satisfied and started making plans for their own fair. Keating resigned to lead the group with the support of Schneider, Bowser, and Holland. They sent a request for a state charter. The end result was the formation of the Texas State Fair & Exposition.

Taking place on the Cole Property in North Dallas, the fair would last from October 25th to October 31st. Its main highlights included horse racing, hot-air balloon shows, and local exhibits. While this was going on, the other organization hosted its fair at the current location of Fair Park. Starting on the day after the first festival began, the Dallas State Fair lasted until November 6th. It had the same highlights as its competitor with the exception of ceremonial dance performances by Native Americans. Both events were extremely successful, averaging a total of 35,000 visitors a day. However, the attendance barely offset the expenses. The two sides decided it would beneficial for them to merge together and host only one fair in Dallas.

The merger officially took place on Valentine’s Day the following year with the adoption of a new charter. Now called the Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition, the members decided to host the event on the Gaston Property. When December arrived, officials bought additional land and increased the size to 120 acres. They changed the organization’s name to the Texas State Fair twelve years later in 1899.

All was going well until the Texas legislature passed a law in 1903 that banned horse race gambling, the fair’s main source of income. With no way to finance the festival, the organization decided to give the land to Dallas as a way of preserving the annual tradition, despite previous offers from development firms to buy the property. The Dallas City Council accepted it, thanks to the efforts to introduce legislation two years earlier.

Dallas TX - Fair Park
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
A national park movement developed as the new century arrived and made its way to Dallas in 1901, thanks to the efforts of Gilbert Irish. Born in Wisconsin, he worked as a printer while attending the University of Nebraska. Gilbert graduated with a law degree and moved to Dallas two years later in 1894. He practiced law, building up a strong reputation and volunteering his printer skills for the local labor unions. He also publicly advocated building more city parks and brought the issue to the forefront. The Dallas Morning News followed suit by publishing stories and editorials about parks and their necessity. While this was going on, lobbyists, organizations, and interest groups joined forces with some councilmen to apply pressure to do something about the matter. Progress was made when Gilbert Irish became an alderman in 1902.

Taking advantage of his new position, he passed a resolution for the creation of the Joint Committees On Parks and Driveways. It would focus on formulating a plan for constructing new roads and building additional parks before land got too expensive. While the members conducted research on the economic viability of acquiring land for the various projects, they came to the conclusion that the only way to get funds would be through a bond election and park tax. After a public vote to place the matter on the next ballot succeed, the committees announced that the park tax would come in the form of a property tax increase amounting to one-tenth of one cent.

The joint committees promoted the measure with the help of Gilbert Irish, the Commerce Club, and members of the park movement. Irish led the charge, claiming that parks would prevent crime, improve health, develop civic pride, provide inexpensive amusement, and remain a profitable asset. These arguments were echoed throughout the entire campaign until election day. The measure suffered a narrow defeat. Though it never became evident, the park tax campaign laid the foundation for accepting Fair Park.

The owners of the state fair offered the fairgrounds for free on February 15, 1903. In return, the city had to construct an exposition building, perform maintenance on a regular basis, keep the grounds open to the public, host an annual fair at its own expense, and use the profits for improvement purposes. Throughout the year, the city government worked out the details with the fair owners.

The two sides reached an agreement on November 24th. The city council would form a new company called the Fair Association, which would be organized with a capital stock of 125,000 dollars. The money would pay off the mortgage, construct the building, and improve the fairgrounds. Afterward, the title and interest of the property would be handed over to the government.

Unfortunately, the City Council dragged its feet. The members wanted to own the property, but they had no desire to pay for the Fair Association's formation because it would mean the reintroduction of a park tax. As they continued debating, the fair owners grew impatient. They made an ultimatum in 1904. The citizens would vote for a property tax, the same one proposed by the park movement. If voted down, there would be no Fair Park and no state fair.

The election took place on April 6th. Although the measure passed by an overwhelming majority, ownership would not take place until October 7th. The council adopted a new charter a month after taking possession of Fair Park. One of the amendments called for the creation of a park board, which would be in charge of the fairgrounds and other public parks. Everything moved smoothly until the Great Depression, but the gloom dissipated with the arrival of an event that would forever change Fair Park.
Dallas TX - Fair Park
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
The nation was going through a horrible depression during the 1930s, but this didn’t stop plans for a celebration of the Texas Centennial. In fact, there had been plans made as far back as 1900, when James Stephen Hogg came up with the idea commemorating the state’s independence from Mexico in a speech. During the Convention of the Advertising Clubs of Texas, held in the city of Corsicana, the various organizations met with the Texas Press Association. The result was the formation of the Texas Centennial Survey Committee, which would be responsible for putting together a statewide celebration. A constitutional amendment was approved in 1932 to provide funding for the occasion, setting the stage for a government-appointed group called the Texas Centennial Commission, which was formed two years after the amendment passed.

The Commission of Control, the Advisory Board of Texas Historians, the Work Projects Administration, and the Texas Highway Department joined forces to make the statewide celebration a reality. They made buildings, monuments, statues, and grave markers. For each county, a marker was installed that provided information about the place’s name and origin. A calendar was printed and circulated so potential tourists would know when all the events would take place during 1936. However, not all of them would occur that year. Gonzalez held an observance in November 1935 and San Antonio hosted some pageants the following month. January brought with it a sun carnival in El Paso and a Native American ceremony in Livingston. During the next month, the residents of Galveston enjoyed the festivities of Mardi Gras. Houston and San Antonio both had a celebration in store for the months of March and April. In July, Fort Worth hosted the Texas Frontier Centennial. The founding of Houston was observed throughout the city in August. Although Fort Worth’s attraction enjoyed the most popularity of all these events, it was nothing compared the vast project known as the Texas Centennial Exposition.

San Antonio, Austin, and Houston competed alongside Dallas to be the location for the exposition. In an effort to make sure that Dallas would win the contest, a group of local businessman led by bankers R. L. Thornton, Fred Florence, and Nathan Adams formed the Texas Centennial Central Exposition Corporation. They promoted the city, emphasizing its capability of hosting the State Fair of Texas and the willingness to invest in the upcoming event. In regard to the latter point, Fair Park saw itself expand to 180 acres and the corporation collected over five million dollars in public and private funds. The city of Dallas won the battle and Fair Park became the site. To make the project a reality, the local government received 25 million dollars.

Construction for the expo began in October 1935 under the supervision of architect George Dahl. Born in Minneapolis, his parents came from Norway as immigrants. He studied architecture at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University before spending two years at the American Academy in Rome, Italy. In 1926, he started working for a Dallas architectural firm called the Herbert M. Greene Company. Dahl did such an impressive job, he became a partner two years later. In addition to his work for the exposition, he was responsible for many local projects like the Neiman Marcus Building, the Dallas Morning News Building, Old Dallas Central Library, Dallas Memorial Auditorium, and Turtle Creek Village. He also made RFK Stadium, which served as the home of the Washington Redskins football team for thirty-five years.

Also serving as the technical director, Dahl wanted the exposition’s design to reflect the themes of history, progress, and culture. For this purpose, he chose Art Deco, the most current and popular style of the time. Dahl managed to complete the project in eight months. The park now had fifty buildings and enough space to accommodate more than a hundred exhibitors and several large show productions.
Dallas Centennial Will Rogers 1936
Will Rogers Pet "Big Jim" - Dallas Centennial, 1936
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
The Texas Centennial Exposition opened on June 6, 1936 with national news coverage. The festivities that day included a downtown parade and speeches made by Texas Governor James Allred and U. S. Secretary of Commerce Daniel Roper. Six days later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a visit to the centennial event as a way to promote himself before starting his re-election campaign. The last two weeks of September saw the arrival of Mack V. Wright and Joseph Kane to make a movie called The Big Show. Produced by Republic Pictures, the film starred Gene Autry, Kay Hughes, Smiley Burnette, and Sally Payne. The Texas Centennial Exposition closed on November 29th after a successful six-month run.

The exposition saved Dallas during the Great Depression, providing jobs and a boost to the economy. It also placed the city on the national map. Because the centennial celebration was so successful, the local government decided to host another large event at Fair Park the following year. The new project was called the Greater Texas & Pan-American Exposition. Opening on June 12th, the event resembled a world’s fair because it had several countries being represented. Its theme and purpose was the celebration of Texas and the growing influence of the Pan-American civilization. This was reflected in the redecoration and renaming of the buildings left over from the Centennial Expo in addition to the various attractions and activities offered throughout the park. Ending on October 31st, the event attracted two million visitors, far below the expectations of those involved.
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
During World War II, the grounds and buildings of Fair Park were used for rationing, equipment repairing, and military training purposes. The final two years saw the arrival of German POWs to perform work requirements during their confinement. After the war ended, the park was returned to the city for public use and everything returned to normal.

In September 1961, a crew began filming for the movie State Fair, which starred actors Pat Boone, Ann Margaret, and Tom Ewell. Officials turned Fair Park into a race track in July 1984 so it could host the Dallas Grand Prix. The local government wanted the event to prove to the rest of the nation that Dallas was still a top-tier city. With former President Jimmy Carter in attendance, Keke Rosberg won the race. It was a memorable occasion, but it was the only Grand Prix race to take place in the city.

On September 25, 1986, the U.S. Department of the Interior declared Fair Park as a national historical landmark because it was the only intact exposition site from the Great Depression. Two years later, the responsibility of administrating the park went to the Dallas Parks Department. Errol W. McKoy became President of the State Fair of Texas in 1988 and brought the concept of corporate sponsorship to the forefront in regard to the exhibits and entertainment. The majority of the park’s buildings underwent some degree of remodeling or restoration from 1998 to 2003.

For years, many people complained that there were no big events to attend during the year except for the state fair. In an attempt to change this, the city council came up with the idea of having a seasonal theme park. The members allocated thirty million dollars to make this idea a reality. Called Summer Adventures in Fair Park, the beach-themed attraction was located in the Midway. It featured rides, carnival games, musical performances, animal shows, and free admission to the park’s aquarium and butterfly house. Summer Adventures opened in May 2013 and closed in August. The original plan called for a two-year test run, but terrible attendance figures convinced the local government to completely abandon the theme park.

A task force appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings submitted its report in September 2014. The report called for the privatization of Fair Park and the State Fair of Texas as a way to improve the area. Since that time, advocates and opponents have been fighting over the issue with no progress being made.

August 28, 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.

See Dallas, Texas | Dallas Hotels

Related Topics:

Texas Things to See | Texas Trips
Texas Towns

Dallas Hotels
Find Hotel Deals in Dallas, Texas
Book Here

All Texas Towns :
Gulf Gulf Coast East East Texas North Central North Central Woutn Central South Panhandle Panhandle
South South Texas Hill Hill Country West West Texas Ghost Ghost Towns counties COUNTIES

TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWNS A-Z | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS A-Z | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS TOPICS
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

USA | MEXICO | HOTELS

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved