Fair Park, Dallas
Originally published in Center, No. 2 1986
As time approached for Texas to celebrate the centennial of its independence, Dallas proposed to use the expanded site of the 48-year-old Texas State Fair as grounds for the new exposition, but with a completely new set of buildings. Dallasite George Dahl was selected Executive Architect for the ambitious project, with design assistance from the well-known Philadelphia architect, Paul Cret.
The design of Fair Park reflects design trends of its era. It was, for Texas at the time, strikingly “Modern.” Its clean, planar architectural character is similar to several fair projects of the time, notably the Stockholm Exposition of 1930 by Gunnar Asplund and the Century of Progress of 1933 in Chicago. Its dramatic and much-touted flood lighting at night certainly had its origins in Albert Speer’s blockbuster use of light in the German Pavilion at the Exposition of Paris in 1925.
But the site planning of the fair grounds is notably un-Modern for the era. In some parts of the plan it reaches back to the “White City” vision of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 with its romantic lagoons and dazzling fountains. It is a Beaux-Arts scheme, injecting a powerful order and discipline into the large complex of buildings.
The heart of Fair Park is the 1500-foot-long Esplanade of State which features an immense reflecting pool down its axis and is flanked by six monumental pavilions. The focus of the esplanade is the grand Hall of State, whose central concave feature, called the “Niche of Heroes,” became a kind of logo for the original fair.
The Hall of State is still claimed as the most expensive structure per square foot ever built in Dallas. Its exterior and many of its interior walls are handsomely worked fossiliferous Texas limestone. Its floors are largely marble of a wide variety of colors and grains. Bas-reliefs, delicate metalwork, stenciling and murals grace almost every surface of the building. Their themes are all stories of. Texas with an inventive panoply of regional motifs ranging from Lone Stars to cactus to oil wells. The names of Texas heroes are prominently featured along with highminded words deemed to be descriptive of Texas history such as “Romance,” “Fortune,” “Adventure” and “Honor.”
George Dahl called the architectural style of Fair Park “Modern, flavored with the condiments of Egypt and Archaic Greece.” Other architects shared the vision of an architecture that spanned time, that could be both evocative of universal traditions and suggestive of present time and place.