A scant two miles (three kilometers) east of downtown lies the 277-acre (112-hectare) National Historic Landmark containing the nation’s largest collection of 1930s art deco exposition-style architecture. But Fair Park is much more than an assemblage of buildings; it’s a district telling dozens of stories from dozens of cultures. At the (1) Original Main Gate on Parry Avenue, 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.
Straight ahead from the original entrance, walking through Exposition Plaza, come to the (2) Esplanade and its 700-foot-long (213-meter-long) reflecting pool, where various periods of Texas history are represented by six sculptures of women, as Dahl commissioned artists of the day to pay tribute to Texas heritage and the six flags under which Texas had been ruled. On the left, or north, are Lawrence Tenney Stevens’ sculptures representing Texas, the Confederacy, and Spain. On the right, or south, sculptures by Raoul Josett represent Mexico, France, and the United States.
Immediately to the north of the Esplanade, the (3) Centennial Building (also called the Transportation Building and Chrysler Building at various times) was a 1905 building that Dahl renovated and expanded for the Centennial. See its eight murals, painted by Carlo Ciampaglia but since restored, which from west to east, depict Speed, Traction, Railroad Transportation, Navigation, Future Transportation, Old Methods of Transportation, Aeroplane Transportation, and Automotive Transportation.
Just west of the Centennial Building, see the (4) Women’s Museum, which occupies a 1910 building that was Dallas's first coliseum. Often it was the daytime site of horse shows and evening site for opera, and it was the first building Dahl renovated in 1935, giving it an art deco look, to operate as the Centennial’s administration hall. Of particular interest are the Spirit of the Centennial, a lovely sculpture of a woman; and the Fish Fountain sculpture over a reflecting pool, both seen in front of the building and both designed by the team of Raoul Josett and Jose Martin, and both renovated in recent years. After a stunning overhaul, this building became the Women’s Museum in 2000; inside are exhibits about the achievements of American women.
Returning to the Esplanade, walk east to the (5) Hall of State, the prime showpiece of the Centennial. Costing $1.3 million, a fortune at the time, it was the most expensive structure per square foot in Texas. Admire the magnificent bas-relief carvings of marching soldiers on the columns on the building crafted from Texas limestone, then go inside the magnificent bronze doors adorned with details depicting Texas’ industry and architecture to see four rooms dedicated to Texas’ north, south, east, and west sections, complete with murals and exquisite furnishings. Find the Hall of Heroes, honoring cowboys and ranchers who carved out lives and work in Texas. Behind that, see the Great Hall with its beautiful gold-leaf medallion shaped like a five-point star. The Dallas Historical Society’s research library calls the Hall of State home.
Just beyond the Hall of State, to the east, is the (6) Cotton Bowl, a 1930 stadium that Dahl gave a facelift in 1936. Football contests are still played here, of course. Just north of the Cotton Bowl, the (7) Pan American Building Complex that includes the Sheep and Goat Building, Poultry Building, Arena, and Horse Barn used today for the annual State Fair of Texas is another Dahl renovation with an Art Deco facade and animal murals. One section of the complex is home today to the Dallas Police Mounted Unit.
Facing the complex on the east, look to the Swine Building to the (8) Woofus, a Texas animal sculpture atop a 16-foot (4.8-meter) pedestal. Study it to see sculptor Lawrence Tenney Stevens’ creature, composed of sheep’s head, horse’s neck, hog’s body, duck wings, turkey feathers, and ten-foot-wide (three-meter-wide) set of Texas longhorns.
Return to the Cotton Bowl and walk south to (9) the Tower Building, one of Dahl’s new creations in 1936 and the centerpiece structure of the Centennial. Rising 179 feet (54.5 meters) into the sky, it bears murals showing the seals of the United States, more bas-relief carvings that tell Texas’ history, and an eagle up top. Note the stenciling and the four murals on the interior’s rotunda.
If time allows, explore one or more of the three other museums calling Fair Park home. (10) The Museum of the American Railroad, most of which sits outdoors, lies immediately north of the Centennial Building; the (11) African-American Museum, in a beautiful contemporary building, lies southwest of the Main Gate along Robert B. Cullum Boulevard; and the (12) Museum of Nature and Science, with an IMAX theater, sits just east of the African-American Museum.
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