Welcome back to our three-part retrospective of Fair Park, which will soon be followed by the who-knows-how-long 2007 State Fair report itself. First, a few fun facts. Did you know that Fair Park consists of 277 jam-packed acres, and has been hosting the Fair since 1886? The Texas State Fair has the highest number of visitors of any state fair in the USA, drawing more than three million visitors annually. Most of the important buildings in Fair Park were built for the Centennial Exposition in 1836 (which celebrated the founding of the Republic of Texas), and as with most such structures, they were built to last and have been lovingly maintained.
There’s a lot to see here, which is a fact I’m not sure I made clear enough in my last entry. I’m gonna do my best to get the place covered, but forgive me if I miss a thing or two. I’ll try to catch ‘em during the Fair report itself.
Fair Park is considered one of the historical and architectural landmarks of the city of Dallas, and for good reason. Last entry, I showed you some of the most significant features, like the Texas Star, but I’ve barely scratched the surface; and you can be sure that most of the major structures and features will eventually get their own entries, because they’re bad-ass mofos in their own right.
One of the more interesting features in the Park, at least from a botanical perspective, is the Discovery Gardens and Arboretum, which is located on the south end of the complex right as you enter the Park. I wasn’t able to go inside on the day I was there (it was under renovation), but here’s a shot of the entryway of the exterior part of the gardens. A lot of the exhibits are located indoors, where they can keep everything at tropical temperatures.
Moving north, we find this imposing structure on the east side of Fair Park:
Yep, that’s the famous Cotton Bowl, host to decades of high school football play-off games, Oklahoma-Texas contests, and Southwest Conference finals, back in the heady days when there was a Southwest Conference. It was built in 1932 and has a natural grass surface. For 10 years (1960-1970) it was where the Dallas Cowboys played their games, and back when the Kansas City Chiefs were the Dallas Texans (1960-1962), they played there, too. When the World Cup was here in 1994, some of the games were held there, and FC Dallas (our pro soccer team) played there off and on until 2005. The University of Oklahoma and University of Texas have played there during the State Fair for decades, but this is the last year they’re going to do it. The facility’s just getting too old, so in the future it probably won’t be used for much more than a few minor games and events.
The Cotton Bowl is a pretty interesting place, and it’s certainly one of the city’s top landmarks, so expect a more in-depth discussion of its charms sometime in the future. Meanwhile, here’s a bear.
This li’l bear is one of the numerous statues dotted around Fair Park, which frankly deserve an entry of their own. There are about a dozen of them, and the bear is probably the least of them. No, really; it’s maybe six foot high, and most of that’s pedestal. During the Fair itself, it’s usually hidden behind food booths on the Midway. One of these days, after the Fair is well and done, I’m going to go around and take pictures of all the statues and see if I can dig up information on them. This particular bear was a gift of the people of Berlin to the people of Dallas. Well…okay.
Moving right along toward the north, we find this Art Deco masterpiece. When it was constucted for the Centennial Expo in 1936, it was called the Federal Building and was at the geographic center of the Expo grounds. It’s had a number of names since. From 1937 til 1972 it was called the Electric Building, and had the word “ELECTRIC” picked out in blue neon letters down the side. From 1972-1977 it was the “Better Living Center” (sounds like the ’70s, doesn’t it?). Since 1977 it’s been called the Tower Building; they had to dig down deep to find that one. In 1999 they tore down most of it (except the tower and front office space) and rebuilt it to the original standards. It’s mostly used as a food court now. Check out that gold accenting on the tower, eh?
I was particularly taken by his idealized friezes of Texas history on the front cladding. Here’s a detail of a small section. The painting needs some touching up, obviously; hope they got to that this year before the Fair.
Not too far north of the Tower Building is the Hall of State, which was built as the centerpiece of the Centennial Expo in 1936. It’s a handsome structure, as you can see. See those wide steps? That’s where I stood to take the picture of the Promenade that I discussed in my previous entry.
The Hall of State includes a Hall of Heroes dedicated to the white people who “tamed” the wilderness that, in Anglo eyes at least, the state of Texas once was. Since it was constructed in the ’30s, the Indians, Spanish, and Mexicans who were here before weren’t considered worth mentioning. Thus you’ll see statues to Texas heroes like Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, William Barrett Travis, and Davy Crockett, all of whom were heroic indeed — but also there’s a statue of Mirabeau Lamar, who was nothing short of a scoundrel. Naturally the people who ordered the Hall of State couldn’t decide what they wanted, so they waited until the last minute, and the building wasn’t even finished when the Expo started. It cost $1.3 million to build — that doesn’t sound much, but it was the most expensive structure ever erected in Texas up to then. One saving grace was that it was air-conditioned, the first time than any Fair structure had been.
While the original natives of Texas are mostly ignored by the Hall of State, there is that peculiar gilded statue above the entryway, which represents no tribe of Indian that ever lived in Texas, as far as I know. He could be a Mohawk or a Pawnee, I guess, but they lived in the Northeast and the Great Plains, respectively. It’s a pretty statue, though, with plenty of anatomical detail, but I have no idea where he got the longbow he’s clutching. It looks English to me. Guess that’s where artistic license comes in — unless the artist was privy to a little information I’ve never seen, and we need to add seventh flag to the Six Flags of Texas…?
Stay tuned — Part III will be up soon!