The Best Thing To Do with Fair Not-Really-A-Park Is Tear That Mother Down

Some readers, not a whole herd of them but a few, objected recently to my suggestion on our Unfair Park news blog that the city should bulldoze Fair Park — a 277-acre expanse of city-owned land in old South Dallas — because no one knows what it is.

I thought maybe we could turn 277 acres of disused land in the center of the city into something that had a purpose. My suggestion offended some readers who felt that Fair Park already boasts two important purposes: 1) world's largest collection of art deco buildings and 2) park.

So, to be fair, I thought I should check out both of these. It has been so hot out lately that I decided to look into the art deco thing first, since I could do that one indoors.

The world's largest art deco claim is about the large number of buildings at Fair Park that were put up as temporary exhibition halls for the 1936 Texas Centennial, all in the style called art deco. They were never torn down afterward as intended by the people who put them up.

The people who don't like my bulldozer idea say the art deco buildings must be preserved because they are now the world's largest or best or most significant collection of art deco. I got to wondering where that came from.

Who first made the determination that Fair Park is either the world's or the nation's largest or best collection of art deco buildings? Was there a contest?

I started digging my way backward through public references over time to see if I could find the tap root. I found the same phrases, almost word for word, repeated like a mantra in newspapers and wire-service stories here and around the country going back for years and years:

"Nation's largest collection of art deco buildings," news story, The Dallas Morning News, October 9, 2011. "World's largest collection of art deco exhibit buildings, art and sculpture," column by Robert Miller, The Dallas Morning News, May 27, 2011. "A National Historic Landmark that boasts the world's largest collection of art deco buildings, art and sculpture," news story, The Dallas Morning News, May 26, 2011.

But where did it all start? Who first suggested there was something globally special about a bunch of run-down state fair exhibit halls in Dallas? I think I found it.

On April 13, 2003, the following line appeared in The Dallas Morning News: "Fair Park really is a treasure — one of the most important collections of art deco buildings in the world." Author, Steve Blow.

I was very proud of myself for digging my way back to that, but the next part of my research was not so happy. For this chapter, I employed that favorite investigative tool of 12-year-olds worldwide, Google.

Five minutes on Google told me that Fair Park in Dallas definitely is not the world's largest collection of art deco. That distinction belongs to the city of Mumbai, India. Nor has Fair Park ever been considered even the nation's largest collection of art deco architecture. That honor seems to be disputed between Miami Beach and Jersey City, depending on whether we are talking about old original art deco or recent reproduction art deco.

So what do we have? Look, I hate to say it, but I think what we may actually have is the world's worst collection of art deco buildings — not the kind of thing you want to put on a billboard on the way into town.

So what about the park thing? I looked that up too and ... wow! Fair Park ought to be the fanciest, best park in Dallas.

The city park department spends $8 million a year operating and maintaining Fair Park as a park, and that doesn't even include the month-long run of the State Fair, when the State Fair of Texas, a private nonprofit, runs it and keeps it up. Plus, the city spent $60 million from its capital budget last year fixing it up. Fantastic! How could I not know this? Fair Park has got to be the city park of all parks!

It was about 2 p.m. on a Wednesday when I made this discovery. I immediately packed up a little wicker basket of picnic things wrapped in a crisp red and white checked tablecloth with a long skinny loaf of French bread sticking out of one end and a frosty bottle of O'Doul's in a cunning little picnic cooler sleeve thing. I headed straight for Fair Park for a bit of dejeuner sur l'herbe.

The first few times I tried to enter the park through its main entrances off Robert B Cullum Avenue, I was dissuaded by the presence of armed guards at checkpoints. I drove around to the back of Fair Park at Pennsylvania and Gaisford streets, and there I found several unguarded open gates.

From there I drove my pickup truck down narrow winding dust-blown lanes through a post-apocalyptic landscape of dirty bleachers stacked in disheveled mountains, padlocked service entrances and buckled asphalt.

I was looking for that nice fountain by the Music Hall. I thought I could have some dejeuner on the grass there without disturbing anyone. But, sadly, when I got there the fountain was surrounded by some kind of 8-foot-tall steel riot fence, and there was nowhere to park anyway. Then to my great relief I drove up on the Old Mill Inn.

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20 comments
ThunderChicken
ThunderChicken

I completely agree and I'm glad I'm not the only one that is creeped out by Fair Park.

The whole place seems strangely alien, sad and depressing. 

cesar39nt
cesar39nt

always have loved the fair, & fair park, and just because some foreigner  "gringo imitator" wants to tear it down is idiotic in itself! go back to mexico if you want vacant lots where you can stack tires to burn and make tacos 3-4-1$ and lay drunk all day without being harassed, we love our fair park it's a beautiful place to go with your family and just enjoy peaceful gathering, if we want to see fat, lazy,drunken, no goods, ask a mexican i believe he tries to write for some obscure paper in Dallas, if you're interested, we know where to find it and which part of that paper we want to skip over, or leave in the porta-can for someone else to use for tp

CityHallJunkie
CityHallJunkie

Missing from your column is the fact that the State Fair of Texas annually plows a lot of money back into the fairgrounds.  When I was on the board of Friends of Fair Park back in the 1990s (full disclosure here!), the number was about $2 million a year; I don't know what it is today.  And I don't know where the $68 million figure came from, but I'm quite sure that even if that was true for one year, "$68 million a year" is inaccurate.

davidwaynewebb
davidwaynewebb

Jim: Promoters of Fair Park have been touting it as the site of the best collection of art deco buildings for decades, long before Steve Blow wrote about it in 2003. I'm pretty sure I remember hearing that as far back as when I wrote for the Dallas Times Herald (at the same time you did) in the 1980s and later when I worked at the Dallas Observer. David Webb

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

perhaps you would be happier with Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, NYC, Buffalo...some FUN spots with NO art deco LEFT standing.....DLTDHYITAOTWO

joshWAH__
joshWAH__

The issue isnt fair park, its the area around it. You will recieve the hiv waiting in line at that mcdonalds acorss the street. I dont think the area residents are art preservationists... 

bungalowed
bungalowed

Ach.  Parsing.  How about the largest and most complete Art Deco fairground in the United States?  The Texas Centennial was not a representative international or world's fair in any regard.  The larger point in this is that they do, in whole, constitute an important (by architectural historians, preservationists, and those who actually get their information from  years of study and resources beyond Google) site which is comparatively little-known beyond Dallas.  Or within, for that matter.  Encouraging its obliteration for no purpose other than an unknown new development which looks like every other strip mall littering the suburbs is shortsighted at the least.  Your point is well made and taken on the other side of the issue, however.  The site is underutilized for a host of reasons.  That is not likely to change without a serious and strategic conversion of the bulk of the site to a new year-round commercial/residential use. To suggest such is impossible within the context of preserving something historic (yes, it certainly is for Dallas) as well as aesthetically interesting and arguably unique, is, sadly, nothing new for Dallas.  We've already lost far too many architecturally interesting sites to developers who want nothing to do with preserving the character of older buildings.  Let's just hope your "modest proposal for preventing Fair Park from being a burden on Dallas" is taken by the city or some future prospective developer as a provocative tongue-in-cheek advocacy rather than as a sound plan for homogenizing an amazing survivor of the Dallas blitzkreig to level and build anew.  

East tx Observer
East tx Observer

Laura Miller and the City of Dallas had absolutely no vote in the Jerry Jones debacle. That was totally a Dallas County decision. Try checking the facts not rumors.

Replay
Replay

Dallas Cowboys........Jerry Jones..........Laura Miller..........lost opportunity............forever lost..........yeah, that was shrewd and brilliant, wasn't it?

Lisa Merito
Lisa Merito

I'm not sure WHERE You went but my family goes to Fair Park often and it is always a perfect day. Did you visit Hall of State? The Aquarium? The Planetarium? Did you not see the kids playing in the fountains by the Old Mill?

Brian Enlow
Brian Enlow

so what do you want to build there? Don't skate around my question, man or woman up. A short paragraph or two well do.

Brian Enlow
Brian Enlow

so what do you want to build there? Don't skate around my question, man or woman up. A short paragraph or two well do.

Urbandweller203
Urbandweller203

Maybe you were dehydrated from the heat and saw people who were not really there.

Ken
Ken

If Fair Park were nothing but the setting of the greatest state fair in America, that would be enough. If it were only the largest collection of art deco architecture in the Southwest, that would be enough. Were Fair Park only the largely intact setting for the Texas Centennial, and for a world's fair, that would be reason enough to preserve it. There is currently a lot of effort to open it up and make it relevant. Although it lost the DMA, the Dallas Opera, and is in the process of loosing the Railway Museum and its focal point for the Museum of Nature and Science, efforts are underway to open a midway to be open throughout the carnival season. I wish them the best.

DeepEllumThroat
DeepEllumThroat

I ride my bicycle through Fair Park three times a week and pretend I am Chuck Heston from Omega Man. It's amazing space and I don't think it should be torn down, but I have no earthly clue what you could do to open it up. On another note, there are rumors that that block where the Meridian Room and such is going to get torn down. I have heard it from 3 very unreliable sources.

Born in Dallas
Born in Dallas

I love the Old Mill, we stop by every year at fair time. I order my drink from the 102 year old bartender and it takes him approximately 30 minutes to make it.

ruscle
ruscle

 @joshWAH__  how stupid can you be to even mention HIV, you're a stupid hick

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @bungalowed south dallas in its entirety is a burden of Dallas with NO return. No one would EVER attend a state fair in SD or Oak Cliff without bodyguards.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @bungalowed perchance the Art Deco has superior art qualities to a certain new bridge that looks like a textile loom creating a spider web.

tdogg
tdogg

That's the reason why South Dallas and Oak Cliff killed you crying-ass republicans with NO-WAY of winning anything!!!!!

 
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