Fair Park is one of Dallas' hidden treasures. It is a central location to spend the day relaxing and learning about the rich history of the city. There is more to Fair Park than just a great place to walk, visit a museum or attend a live performance – the art and architecture are among the finest in the nation.
Designated a National Historic Landmark, Fair Park has the largest collection of 1930s Art Deco architecture in the United States and is the only unaltered pre-1950s World's Fair site in the nation.
"Fair Park is one of Dallas" historical treasures. It is a wonderful place to spend a Saturday afternoon exploring the art and architecture that Fair Park has to offer. Dallas' rich and meaningful history is visible in every building, mural and sculpture in Fair Park," said Eddie Hueston, former executive general manager of Fair Park.
The State Fair of Texas has been held at Fair Park since 1886 when the Dallas State Fair Board of Directors voted to purchase 80 acres of land and established the fairgrounds. Now the largest annual state fair in the United States, the State Fair of Texas is the largest tenant of Fair Park.
In 1936, the city of Dallas was chosen to host the State of Texas Centennial Celebration over Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. Architect George Dahl was hired to rebuild Fair Park for the event. He had the responsibility of planning, designing and constructing the $25 million Texas Centennial Exposition in just over 14 months. Ten Dallas firms, directed by Dahl, were hired to design 26 major buildings in nine months.
Dahl worked to renovate the existing buildings in Fair Park and also designed new ones to create a functional but stunning site. He created a unique look by combining classic Art Deco designs of the period with a Southwestern flare that interjected elements of Texas history.
The Hall of State building was designed to be the architectural centerpiece of the Exposition. At $1.3 million, it was the most expensive structure per square foot ever built in Texas at the time. The bas-relief, a classic Art Deco style of carving that is used to create three-dimensional murals, shows six soldiers marching around the columns. Inside, four rooms are dedicated to the cultural differences of the four regions of Texas. Built-in skylights illuminate the murals, and the original furnishings have been preserved.
Dahl commissioned several artists to create sculptures with the same subject matter – a tribute to the six flags over Texas – but emphasized their different artistic styles to create unique works of art. Along the Esplanade, there are six sculptures of women representing periods of Texas history. Representing the Confederacy, Spain and Texas, the sculptures in front of the Centennial building were designed by Lawrence Tenney Stevens. Raoul Josett designed the sculptures outside the Automobile building that represent Mexico, France and the United States. The 700-foot long reflecting pool divides the sculptures and buildings, and in 1936 was bathed by 24 spotlights from behind the Hall of State building.
Unlike past World Fairs, the buildings were designed and built to last, and they have. Many of these buildings remain today including those that house the Texas Hall of State, Dallas Museum of Natural History, Dallas Aquarium, Texas Discovery Gardens, D.A.R. Museum, and the Science Place and Planetarium.
Dahl also used several buildings that had been built throughout the years for the State Fair of Texas. The livestock coliseum was the first building converted from State Fair use to be utilized for the Centennial. Built in 1910, the Hall of Administration building was used to hold livestock by day, but was an opera house by night. Dahl incorporated the State Fair Exhibit Hall (circa 1905) into the Centennial Building.
The Texas Centennial closed with a final count of over six million people including President Franklin D. Roosevelt who opened the exposition. It has been credited with pulling Dallas out of the depression. In 1933, there were 10,000 people on general welfare and thousands more struggling on meager incomes. The Centennial employed over 15,000 people and revitalized Dallas's struggling economy.
Fair Park stayed generally the same from 1936 through 1976 with the exception of only one new building. In the 1940s, a new automobile exhibit hall was built to replace one that had burned. In recent years, Fair Park has undergone constant renovations to restore it to its 1936 glory. The Hall of Administration building has been completely renovated and is now occupied by the new Women's Museum. The Tower, Automobile and Centennial buildings have had their murals restored to the original colors by removing years of over-painting and abuse. As the renovation work continues, visitors will be able to walk Fair Park and take a trip back through time to 1936. Fair Park stood to the world as a symbol of the future and better things to come in the midst of the Great Depression.
Friends of Fair Park is a non-profit citizens' group that is dedicated to the preservation of the art and architecture of the 1936 Centennial and the year-round daily use of Fair Park. "Our mission is to bring Fair Park back to its true beauty and restore it to its original 1936 glory," says Executive Director Craig Holcomb. Friends of Fair Park was created in 1986 to raise money and find new uses for the Centennial structures.
Currently, Fair Park draws over seven million people to ticketed events alone and generates millions of dollars for the city of Dallas annually. Smirnoff Music Centre hosts over 40 concerts with nationally known stars each year. There are nine museums and six performance halls located at Fair Park, including the Science Place and The Women's Museum. There are over 749,000 square feet of covered space that can be used for conferences, exhibits, markets, festivals and sporting events.
Fair Park has a wealth of history, art and stunning architecture. For more information on Fair Park, go to to fairparkdallas.org or call the bilingual Fair Park Information Line at 214.421.9600. To find out how to get involved with Friends of Fair Park, call 214.426.3400.
© 2001-2012 City of Dallas, Texas.