American World’s Fairs of the 1930’s bring to mind the great expositions of Chicago in 1933 / 1934, New York and San Francisco in 1939 / 1940. But there were other fairs that are often ignored today, such as the San Diego Fair of 1935 / 1936 and the fairs held in Cleveland and Dallas in 1936 / 1937. While little remains of the Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and New York Fairs, the Dallas Fairgrounds are surprisingly intact, or so it seems at first glance. What survives from the Texas Centennial Exposition is a combination of the original and wonderfully recreated and restored structures, fountains and sculptures.
Almost every summer Chris and I hit the road and drive to some part of the United States for antiquing in places we have never been. This past summer we went to Texas and one of the places that I was most interested in seeing was Fair Park. We first became aware of Fair Park and its significance to depression era World’s Fairs and few years ago, so we weren’t going to let the opportunity to visit the site slip by. When we arrived at Fair Park, I was impressed that so many of the 1936 fair buildings were still standing. I purchased the book Fair Park Deco by Jim Parsons and David Bush later that day, which is the definitive history of the Texas Centennial and the restoration of the Art Deco fair grounds.
The grounds were established in 1886 for the Dallas State Fair, on an 80 acre site in East Dallas. Over the years the site expanded to its current size of 277 acres. The site became known as Fair Park in 1904 and a series of buildings were constructed in the then current Beaux Art style. The idea of a centennial celebration had been in the works since the early years of the twentieth century. As the centennial approached the United States was just pulling out of the great depression, and the idea of a large fair was welcomed as a way to stimulate the Texas economy. Dallas won the bid to hold The Texas Centennial Exposition over Houston and San Antonio. Construction and re-modeling of the existing buildings were begun in the fall of 1935, which did not give the builders a lot of time before the opening of the fair in June the following year. Opening on June 6 the fair ran until November 29th. It reopened the following year as the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition.
After the fair closed the modifications and changes to the fair grounds and buildings began. One of the first losses were the statues Tenor and Contralto and the concrete speaker towers behind each as well as the 50 foot pylon that stood between them.. Located at the eastern end of the reflecting pond in the Esplanade of States, they were damaged after the exposition closed and were removed sometime around 1938. In 2009, sculpture David Newton re-created the statues using period photographs. The pylon was rebuilt at the same time.
The buildings on the south side of the Esplanade of State were the Hall of Varied Industries, Communication and Electricity, during the run of the fair. The original buildings were destroyed by a fire in 1942 and were replaced by the Automobile Building in 1948, which was in a completely different style than the destroyed structure. In 1986 the building was redesigned to look like the destroyed structure, which restored the Esplanade of State back to its 1936 appearance.
The Pierre Bourdelle murals that were also destroyed when Hall of Varied Industries Building burned down were re-created in 1999 based on the artist’s original drawings and black and white photographs from 1936. The new murals were created the same way as the originals – glass slides of the drawings were projected onto the walls of the buildings and then painted in. The original glass slides were loaned by Bourdelle’s son for the restoration.
One of the earliest of Fair Park’s Beaux Arts buildings was the Coliseum, which was remodeled in 1935 into the streamline moderne Administration Building. On the front facade is mural depicting Texas flora and fauna, designed by Carlo Ciampaglia. Directly in front of the mural is the statue, Spirit of the Centennial, designed by Raoul Josset and sculpted by Jose Martin. The mural and statue were restored in 1998 by Stashka Star. The Administration Building became the Women’s Museum in 2000 and is now closed.
The center piece or theme center of the fair was the State of Texas Building. Designed by Donald Barthelme in 1935 it was and still is a monument to all the people of Texas, past and present. This enormous T shaped building is entered through the semicircular “Niche of Heroes” which is surmounted by the “Tejas Warrior” statue.
Chris and I had a great time walking around the fair grounds, even though the temperature reached 103. We want to go back and visit at night when the buildings are all lit up, it must be a fantastic sight. Not yet owning a time machine, it really was the closest that we have come to going to a 1930’s world’s fair. If you are fan of the great expositions of the 1930’s, and you have not already visited Fair Park, you should treat yourself and make it a deco destination.
Chris & Anthony (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)
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