Architecture of Fair Park
Dallas architect George Dahl served as general planner for the 1936 Centennial Exhibition.
In its "Places of a Lifetime" series, National Geographic Traveler magazine wrote:
"Fair Park is much more than an assemblage of buildings; it's a district telling dozens of stories from dozens of cultures. At the original Main Gate on Parry Avenue, [you can] see tan columns exhibiting the classic art deco style that made the park famous when it served as host site of the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936.
"Architect George Dahl employed this majestic design, infusing it with elements of Southwestern art on existing and new buildings, and the overwhelming success of the centennial – six million people visited, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt – helped pull Dallas out of the Depression.
"The bas-relief effect continues through the park, offering three-dimensional murals, such as that on the front gate columns, where you see the pioneers arriving in Texas."
Dahl constructed Fair Park's general exhibition buildings with a newly developed (for the 1930s) building material: concrete blocks. In the depths of the Great Depression, this new construction technique was more affordable than other options. Over time, the substantial nature of the material has helped Dahl's vision survive.
Dahl divided the Centennial Exposition into four sub-districts, still evident today:
The formal, symmetrical Esplanade (1936) with its 700-foot-long reflecting pool flanked by six statues representing the six nations that once ruled Texas. Some of the Esplanade's architectural highlights (included in our Esplanade walking tour):
- Parry Avenue Entrance (1936) with its sculptural frieze
- Dallas' first municipal coliseum (formerly the Women's Museum (1910, renovated in 1935, adapted in 2000, closed in 2011) with the Spirit of the Centennial sculpture (1936)
- Centennial Building (1905, renovated in 1936) and its re-claimed murals
- Automobile Building (1948, replacing a Centennial building that burned to the ground) and its re-created murals
- Hall of State (1936) with its golden Tejas Warrior sculpture and frieze of the last names of 59 Texas heroes
- Tower Building (1936) distinguished by a 179-foot-high tower topped by a stylized gold eagle
The naturalistic Lagoon with museum buildings set informally around it. Some of the Lagoon's architectural highlights (included in our Lagoon walking tour):
- Old Mill Inn (1936) originally a Centennial exhibit for the flour milling industry
- Magnolia Lounge (1936) which introduced European Modernism to Texas
- The Leonhardt Lagoon (1936) and its earthy sculptural element which was added in 1986
- Perot Museum of Nature and Science at Fair Park (1936) which was Dallas' original Museum of Fine Arts
- Fair Park Band Shell (1936) in Streamline Moderne style
- Texas Discovery Gardens (1936) with a modern exterior added to what was originally the Exposition's Horticulture Building
- The Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park (1936) which incorporated technological advances at the time
- Cotton Bowl (1930, expanded in 1948, 1959, 1994 and 2008) site of the original Fair Park Stadium
- The Music Hall at Fair Park (1925, remodeled in 1972) built in Spanish colonial style
The Agrarian District which ironically portrays a very urban feeling and houses the livestock facilities and exhibit halls along Nimitz Drive. Some of the Agrarian District's architectural highlights (also featured in our Esplanade walking tour):
- Food and Fiber Building (1936) which had murals concealed by layers of paint and "re-discovered" by accident prior to a 1999 conservation project
- Embarcadero Building (1936) designed to mirror the Food and Fiber Building
- Woofus (originally constructed in 1936, recreated in 2002) a sculpture that is part sheep, part horse, part hog, part duck, part turkey, part Texas longhorn and all, um ... male.
The Midway with its giant Texas Star Ferris wheel and amusement park rides which operate during the State Fair of Texas.