Fair Park

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This article is about the park in Dallas. For other uses, see Fair Park (disambiguation).
Texas Centennial Exposition Buildings (1936--1937)
Dallas Fair Park Esplanade.jpg
The Centennial Building in Fair Park
Fair Park is located in Texas
Fair Park
Location Bounded by Texas and Pacific RR, Pennsylvania, Second, and Parry Aves
Dallas, Texas
Coordinates 32°46′55″N 96°45′56″W / 32.78194°N 96.76556°W / 32.78194; -96.76556Coordinates: 32°46′55″N 96°45′56″W / 32.78194°N 96.76556°W / 32.78194; -96.76556
Area 277 acres (1.12 km2)[1]
Built 1936
Architect Dahl, George L.; Et al.
Architectural style Art Deco
NRHP Reference # 86003488
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 24, 1986[2]
Designated NHL September 24, 1986[3]

Fair Park is a 277-acre (1.12 km2) recreational and educational complex located in Dallas, Texas (USA). The complex is registered as a Dallas Landmark, National Historic Landmark and is home to nine museums, six performance facilities, a lagoon, and the largest Ferris wheel in North America. Many of the buildings on the complex were constructed for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936 which drew over six million visitors. Most of the buildings built for the exposition still survive and it is recognized as a significant example of Art Deco architecture.

Fair Park has been designated a Great Place in America by the American Planning Association. The American Planning Association (APA) “is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities.” The Great Places in American program helps to celebrate areas with “exemplary character, quality, and planning.” Being designated as a Great Place in America, Fair Park was one of only ten cities chosen in 2011.[4]


The site was established as an 80-acre (320,000 m2) fairground on the outskirts of East Dallas for the Dallas State Fair in 1886. In 1904, after a fire and financial loss by the fair association, voters approved the "Reardon Plan," which strove to keep the site out of the hands of real-estate developers.[5] It became Dallas' second public park and became known as "Fair Park."

An important player in the development of Fair Park was landscape architect and city planner George Kessler. In 1906, he was responsible for the first formal plan for the park which was influenced by the City Beautiful Movement. The City Beautiful Movement advocates well planned public spaces, tree-lined boulevards, monuments, public art, and fountains which would ‘beautify’ the city. All of these aspects and more can be found in Fair Park. Kessler’s work also incorporated buildings within site boundaries.[6]

A milestone year in the history of Fair Park was 1936, when the Texas Centennial Exposition was held on the site. In preparation for the six-month long event, the appearance of the park was dramatically altered by architect George Dahl and consulting architect Paul Cret. The park was transformed from an early 20th-century fairground into the Art Deco showcase it is today. While many of the exposition's buildings were meant to be temporary, several have survived and are now restored. Over the years the park was expanded to its current 277 acres (1.12 km2).

Fair Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986 [1][3] and in 1988 administration of the park was transferred to the Dallas Parks Department. Today, the cultural facilities and annual events attract 7+ million visitors each year.

Restoration and future[edit]

Hall of Religion awaiting restoration

The City of Dallas, State Fair of Texas, and Friends of Fair Park have plans to further restore Fair Park to its 1936 appearance and schedule programing to promote the park.

Many of the existing art deco buildings have been restored visually to their 1936 appearance and upgraded to modern building standards. In anticipation of DART's light rail service in September 2009 the historic Parry Avenue entrance gates were restored in 2009. The four cameo reliefs on Centennial Building underwent a professional conservation treatment in 2000 and the Esplanade fountain pylons and six monumental sculptures in 2004.[7] Several adjoining lost sculptures are being reconstructed and will feature a dramatic light and water show also scheduled to open in 2009. Future plans include reconstruction of several demolished 1936 structures, renovation of remaining buildings and addition of green space. The Hall of State and aquarium buildings began renovations in 2009.

In 2003, the Fair Park Comprehensive Development plan was produced by Hargreaves Associates. This comprehensive plan included recommendations for the physical site, park programs, activities, funding options, and management alternatives. The park received a $72 million city bond in 2006 for repairs and improvements. This is a great investment considering that Dallas’ economy receives $300 million annually from Fair Park events and the park has received over 25 honors and awards since 2000.[8]

As of 2007, the old neighborhoods just north of Fair Park such as J.D. Herndon's subdivision and the Richard Lagow Estates have begun to be revitalized with new housing. A good example of this can be seen across from the Northern ticket entrance to the State Fair on Fletcher Street, where duplexes are being built by Jubilee Park Properties.

Cultural district[edit]

Many Dallas cultural institutions call Fair Park home. Several of the buildings were constructed for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, loosely organized around a naturalistic water feature named The Lagoon.

The Leonhardt Lagoon
The Cotton Bowl
African American Museum
Music Hall at Fair Park
Hall of State
Main article: Hall of State

The Hall of State is managed by the Dallas Historical Society, which hosts exhibits inside about Dallas history and culture. The building can also be rented for private events.

Old Mill Inn

The Old Mill Inn was one of the few Texas Centennial Exposition buildings not to incorporate Art Deco styling in its design. Clad in fieldstone and incorporating heavy-timber construction, this was the exhibit building for the flour milling industry. It now serves Fair Park as a restaurant.[9]

Magnolia Lounge and (former) Hall of Religion

This little-known project by New York architect William Lescaze introduced European Modernism to Texas in 1936. The design of this hospitality lounge for the Magnolia Petroleum Company included elements commonly found in Art Deco architecture. However, the building’s overall image was radically different from that of any other structure at the Texas Centennial Exposition.

The lounge now serves as the offices for the Friends of Fair Park and also contains the Margo Jones Theater. Site of Theatre '47, the first professional, regional theater company in the United States, the small performing space pays tribute to the visionary founder of America's regional theater movement. Immediately adjacent to the Magnolia Lounge is the former Hall of Religion, future home to Texas! Music Center.[9]

African American Museum

The current museum building occupies virtually the same site as the Texas Centennial Exposition’s Hall of Negro Life. It boasts a permanent collection that consists of the works of such highly regarded African American artists as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Larry D. Alexander, John T. Biggers, Clementine Hunter, Benny Andrews, Edward Mitchell Bannister and Arthello Beck [9][10]

The Leonhardt Lagoon

South of the Midway, George Dahl arranged Dallas’s future cultural institutions informally around a tranquil lagoon. This offered Texas Centennial exposition visitors peaceful respite and a romantic, naturalistic counterpoint to the intense activity of the exposition. A major earth sculpture became part of the Leonhardt Lagoon in 1986.[9]

Museum of Nature and Science

The Museum of Nature & Science occupied two buildings around the lagoon (one named "The Science Place"[11]), and a planetarium next to the WRR building, before moving most of its operations to the new Perot campus at Victory Park in December 2012. The former History Building remains open on weekends as a secondary campus of the Perot Museum.[12] The IMAX theatre and planetarium at the Fair Park campus are no longer operating.[13]

The History Building, once the Museum of Natural History, was designed for the Texas Centennial Exposition as a monolithic, rectangular box with little architectural detail. The entrance features three vertical window bays with decorative aluminum mullions. Flanking it are paired pilasters with shell-motif capitals. The rest of the building is clad in limestone. In 1988, workers excavated the northeast corner of the building, creating a series of landscaped terraces.

Just east of the History Building is the former Science Building, once home to Perot predecessor The Science Place, and before that, the Museum of Fine Arts. The spartan building, clad in Texas limestone and shellstone, was built as the centerpiece of the lagoon area. It is located on axis with the plaza and entry to the Cotton Bowl on the opposite shore. It was also home to the museum's TI Founders IMAX Theater; the 1996 addition gave the building a new monumental entry.[9] The Texas Museum of Automotive History had hoped to move into the Science Building, but those plans were later dropped.[14]

Fair Park Band Shell

The concentric plaster arches of the Band Shell comprise an essentially Art Deco composition. Elements of the Streamline Moderne style are present in the reinforced concrete backstage building. Lighting pylons surround the sloping 5,000-seat amphitheater.[9]

Texas Discovery Gardens

This was the original Horticulture Building for the Texas Centennial Exposition. It has since been altered by exterior renovations and additions, including the minimalist glass Blachly Conservatory. In the gardens behind the main structure is a model home that the Portland Cement Company originally built for the exposition.[9]

The Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park and Education Annex
Main article: Dallas Zoo

The aquarium represents a highly complex building type still in its infancy in the 1930s. Many of the building technological advances, including the use of natural light over the exhibit tanks, are not apparent on the building’s exterior. Both Streamline Moderne and Zigzag Moderne elements are present on the building's entrance. The expanses of blank wall include a series of alternating brick planes and sculptural panels by artist Allie Tennant. Adjacent to the building is the aquarium’s Education Annex. This served as the Christian Science Monitor Pavilion during the Texas Centennial Exposition. Friends of Fair Park[9]

Cotton Bowl
Main article: Cotton Bowl (stadium)

The Cotton Bowl stadium was built in 1932 below-grade and originally known as the Fair Park Bowl. Subsequent expansions now put the capacity at 92,200. The Cotton Bowl Classic was played there from 1937-2009. Annually during the State Fair of Texas, it hosts the AT&T Red River Rivalry game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma and the Southwest Airlines State Fair Classic game between Grambling State University (Louisiana) and Prairie View A&M University. It was also home to the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1971 until their move to Texas Stadium in Irving. In 1994, it again expanded to host World Cup soccer; a 2008 expansion brought capacity to more than 90,000. It also hosts soccer tournaments, concerts and other festivals throughout the year.[9]

Music Hall at Fair Park

Music Hall, built in Spanish colonial revival style, was the General Motors Building during the Centennial Exposition. It underwent extensive remodeling in 1972. It was home of the Dallas Opera until 2009 and is the current home for Dallas Summer Musicals.[9]

Midway and other structures[edit]

Texas State Vietnam Memorial
  • The Texas Star, opened in 1985, is the largest Ferris wheel in North America.
  • The Texas Skyway, opened in 2007, is an art deco-styled gondola ride that transports visitors 65 feet (20 m) above the ground for a ride that is one-third of a mile long.[15]
  • The Top o' Texas Tower, opened in 2013, is a 500-foot (150 m)-tall observation tower ride.[16] The tower's base will eventually house a museum devoted to the State Fair and Texas Centennial Exposition collection.[17]
  • Located on the Fair Park grounds is WRR, Dallas's city-owned classical music broadcaster, which has the distinction of being the oldest commercially operated radio station in Texas, and second oldest in the United States.
  • Gexa Energy Pavilion is an amphitheater that hosts large concerts.
  • Fair Park is home to the Texas State Vietnam Memorial.

Annual events[edit]

  • The complex's signature event is the annual State Fair of Texas, the largest state fair in the United States by annual attendance, which has been held there since 1886. It currently lasts 24 days and begins in the last Friday in September and runs to the third Sunday in October.
  • The State Fair also operates Summer Adventures in Fair Park, a beach-themed amusement park open from May to August that debuted in 2013; its attractions include midway rides and other fair features.[18]
  • One of the largest Irish festivals in the country, the North Texas Irish Festival, takes place the first weekend in March each year.
  • Earth Day Texas, one of the largest Earth Day events in the nation, takes place annually in April.[19]
  • Fair Park Fourth is the annual Independence Day celebration for the city of Dallas.

Other notable events[edit]

Dallas Grand Prix Circuit
Circuit Fair Park.svg
Location Fair Park, Dallas, Texas, USA
Time zone GMT -6
Major events 1984 Dallas Grand Prix
Length 2.424 mi (3.901 km)
Turns 14
Lap record 1:45.353, 133.300 km/h (Austria Niki Lauda, McLaren, 1984)
  • In July 1984, Fair Park was converted into a Formula One circuit for a weekend to host the Dallas Grand Prix. The event was conceived as a way to demonstrate Dallas' status as a "world-class city" and overcame temperatures of 100 °F (38 °C), a disintegrating track surface, and weekend-long rumors of its cancellation. The interesting tight and twisty course was laid out with help from Chris Pook, organizer of the United States Grand Prix West in Long Beach, California, and featured two hairpin curves. The event was attended by former US President Jimmy Carter and featured Larry Hagman ('J. R. Ewing' from the television series Dallas) waving the green flag to start the race's parade lap. Williams driver Keke Rosberg driving the Williams FW09-Honda turbo won his 3rd F1 Grand Prix, his only win of the 1984 season. Nigel Mansell, who led for over half the race after starting from his first ever F1 pole position in his Lotus 95T-Renault, famously collapsed from exhaustion while trying to push his car to the finish line after his gearbox failed on the last lap and was finally classified 6th.
  • The musical film State Fair was filmed in Fair Park in 1961.
  • In December 2013, the Chanel Paris-Dallas pre-fall show was held at the Fair Park


  • Fair Park is easily accessible from I-30, the major east-west interstate through Dallas.
  • Fair Park is served by several bus routes by DART.
  • DART's Green Line connects Fair Park to southeast and downtown Dallas with Fair Park Station and MLK Jr. Station. During the State Fair of Texas DART runs "special event" trains from the Red Line and Blue Line to Fair Park Station.[20]
  • Fair Park was once home to Trailblazer, the first commercially operated monorail system in the United States.


The Dallas Independent School District operates public schools.

Irma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School is in Fair Park.[21]


  1. ^ a b Stephen G. Snyder and James H. Charleton (December 24, 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Texas Centennial Exposition Buildings (1936-37) / Fair Park (Site of Texas State Fairs 1886-date" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-06-26.  and Accompanying 19 photos, from 1985 PDF (4.10 MB)
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  3. ^ a b "Fair Park Texas Centennial Buildings". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  4. ^ "American Planning Association". Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  5. ^ http://www.watermelon-kid.com/places/FairPark/fp-history/history-intro.htm
  6. ^ "American Planning Association". Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  7. ^ http://www.aegisrestauro.com
  8. ^ "American Planning Association". Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j http://www.fairpark.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=185 Friends of Fair Park
  10. ^ http://www.aamdallas.org/ African American Museum
  11. ^ Perot Museum website on Fair Park
  12. ^ http://www.perotmuseum.org/visit-the-museum/fairpark-victorypark.html
  13. ^ Perot Museum website on Fair Park
  14. ^ http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/02/blaming_city_museum_of_automot.php
  15. ^ http://www.fairpark.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=217
  16. ^ http://bigtex.ntelligentsystems.com/ns/PressRelease/ViewPressRelease.asp?PRelId=324
  17. ^ http://www.dfwandbeyond.com/destinations/summer-adventures-in-fair-park
  18. ^ http://www.fairpark.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=216
  19. ^ http://earthdaytx.org/about
  20. ^ http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/092309dnmetfairsafety.1a61a692d.html
  21. ^ "Our Schools." Foundation for the Education of Young Women. Retrieved on May 23, 2011. "The school is located in Fair Park at 1718 Robert B. Cullum Boulevard."
  • Rob Walker (October, 1984). "1st Dallas Grand Prix: Cool Keke". Road & Track, 178-182.
  • Mike S. Lang (1992). Grand Prix!: Race-by-race account of Formula 1 World Championship motor racing. Volume 4: 1981 to 1984. Haynes Publishing Group. ISBN 0-85429-733-2

External links[edit]