Here’s what I know you’ve been eagerly waiting for, and about time, isn’t it? I’m talking about Part III of my three-part tour of what may be Dallas’ biggest landmark, Fair Park — the place that’s ostensibly meant to house the great State Fair of Texas, but which is oh so much more. As you’re probably aware by now, my intent is to prepare you for the annual extravaganza itself. The truth is, I’ve already been there and come back with pictures, which I plan to entertain you with extensively in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy this introduction, and this one, and this one.
Our first stop today is this impressive building on the far northwest end of the Fairgrounds.
This is the Women’s Museum, as you can see. I took this picture during the Fair itself (hence the displayed trucks) because I missed it during my pre-Fair walkabout, and felt the building’s story needed to be told. The Women’s Museum is one of the oldest structures in Fair Park; in fact, it was constructed in 1910 as the city’s first coliseum. It was later taken over by Fair officials, who apparently had some self-esteem issues (they left monuments to themselves all over the Park), and turned into the Fair Park Hall of Administration. In the early 1930s George Dahl, the architect who designed the 1936 Centennial Exposition, got ahold of it and renovated it to match the rest of the Expo buildings he had planned — in other words, most of the buildings in the Park today. He ripped out the original porticos and added the Art Deco decorative elements, which have been lovingly maintained since. For decades Fair officials maintained offices here, even after the Women’s Museum moved in; but eventually, the erstwhile Hall of Administration was given over entirely to the museum.
Once you toddle a little farther south, past the Old Mill Inn, you’ll encounter the Music Hall (which I didn’t get a picture of), and several other interesting structures and features along the eastern edge of the park. Each deserves its own entry, which they’ll eventually get. One of the first things you run into is the impressive limestone pile of the Dallas Museum of Science and Nature, once called the Dallas Museum of Natural History, which you can still see carved into the façade outside.
Next door (and connected to it, actually) is a really cool newer museum called The Science Place, which is dedicated mostly to younger people. I can attest, however, that it holds some charms for us older folks, too.
The Science Place includes, among other things, an IMAX theatre (which I enjoyed immensely on my last visit) and a huge floor mosaic of the Solar System, which makes up for its inaccuracy with enthusiasm. But more on that in another entry!
Outside the museums are several installations that I rather liked, including this huge statue of an elephant on the northeast side of the Museum of Science and Nature. I don’t know what’s up with this statue, but it’s impressive, and one of the many statues you’ll see scattered all over the place at Fair Park. I call him Tantor, after Tarzan’s buddy.
Not for away from Tantor, a little to the north, is this interesting plaque.
I’m not sure what it’ all about, but I suspect it advertises a permanent display somewhere. I’m not sure where, because, well, there’s nothing written on it. Maybe it’s just there as a decoration. That’s no more illogical than the little German bear from my last entry, or the great big lagoon a few dozen yards to the south. That’s right: a lagoon. The Leonhardt Lagoon.
I’m beginning to suspect that Fair Park is where the city of Dallas puts everything they don’t know what to do with. Speaking of the lagoon itself, it’s pretty extensive. Nowadays, it mostly functions as a barrier between the east and west sides of Fair Park; it may have had some other purpose before, but the city’s let the water quality degrade, and the infrastructure fall apart. At either end are these huge terracotta-colored tangles of what I think are supposed to be walkways and decorative elements, but which look to me like someone squeezed out a really big tube of reddish-brown toothpaste and let it harden. Moot point, anyway; the Park’s had the walkways fenced off for years. Apparently they’re not safe — it’s too easy to fall off and drown in the lagoon, especially if you’re a little kid. But more on that when I write about the big hole-in-the-ground that is the Leonhardt Lagoon, possibly in a special omnibus edition covering the adjoining museums, too. But before I sign off, one last photo, okay? This here’s a picture of who really owns Leonhardt Lagoon. While there are supposed to be Guadalupe bass, sunfish, and other denizens there, this is all I’ve ever seen there, and they’re everywhere.
Those are real critters, not statues. If I’m not mistaken, they’re the familiar bait-stealing, fast-breeding aquatic turtles that show up in most Texas waters, the ones called river cooters. I love that word: Cooters! Maybe I should start up an overpriced theme restaurant of that name starring scantily-clad brainless waitresses and featuring decoy statues of great big turtles outside. I could make a ton of money. Wait, what do you mean it’s been done already…?