Fair Park Deco: Art and Architecture of the Texas Centennial Exposition Jim Parsons and David Bush TCU Press (2012)
“Fair Park Deco” is the third book by this author duo on Texas Art Deco. It follows “Houston Deco” and “Hill Country Deco.” The writers originally set out to write about Art Deco in Dallas and Fort Worth but changed course once they realized that Fair Park’s collection of Art Deco buildings, murals, sculptures, fountains, and landscape design are unrivaled nationally — and all conveniently clustered in the only remaining intact example from the 1930s heyday of world’s fairs. Dallas’ Fair Park is a National Historic Landmark, defined as a “nationally significant historic place that possesses exceptional value in illustrating the heritage and culture of the United States.” A look through this book — or better yet, a site visit — clearly demonstrates why Fair Park is one of fewer than 2,500 properties nationwide to have received this designation. This intact collection of Art Deco resources is that good. And it remains unknown to many, despite previous books on the subject. Beautifully illustrated with current and historical photos, biographies, quotes, ephemera, and architectural drawings, the book is organized as one might have experienced the fair on opening night in June of 1936. The book sets the stage with a description of the planning (during the Depression!), its historical context, the opening spectacle, and the commercial, governmental, trade, and agricultural exhibitors.
A description of the opening light show fades to subsequent chapters describing the entrance and grand plaza, and then moves ceremoniously down the Esplanade of State culminating at the Hall of State, one of the most important buildings in Texas. Pat Neff, governor of Texas from 1921 to 1925, said of this building, “Like the Alamo, San Jacinto Battlefield, and other sacred spots, this is not the property of the Centennial or of Dallas, but is held in trust by them for all the people of Texas.” The Hall of State is open to the public, and a pilgrimage there is as mandatory as a visit to the other Texas shrines Neff mentions. Beyond its architectural and cultural significance, Fair Park is also an outdoor classroom and a brilliant tool for teaching about Texas history. The Esplanade of State, the central spine of the site, is a series of six monumental pavilions representing the six flags over Texas. Each entry portico features a statue of a woman, also Art Deco in style, symbolizing one of the six flags that reigned over the state: Spain, the Confederacy, Texas, France, Mexico, and the United States. The walls of each portico are covered with WPA-style murals depicting the dawn of a new age of transportation, scientific advances, industrialization, agricultural mechanization, and the promise of the new century. Subsequent chapters are dedicated to the agricultural and civil exhibits, the Cotton Bowl,
and The Midway, described as the “back forty” with its barkers, themed amusement areas, and popular, yet controversial, nudie shows. Another delightful detail is the book’s end papers — a map and an alphabetical listing of the fair’s exhibitors and principal features — that give the reader a handy reference and map to navigate the 1936 complex. The State Fair of Texas is held at Fair Park for 24 days every year. Despite this, far too few Texans visit, understand, celebrate, or boast of the cultural and architectural importance of this site. Fair Park Deco successfully serves as an important introduction to those uninformed about this historical Texas landmark, a reference and celebration for those familiar and passionate about it, and a coffee table book every Texan can proudly display. Anna Mod
Texas Architect 19