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Money Tight, the Dallas Historical Society Now Needs to Charge Admission to the Hall of State

At present, the Hall of State in Fair Park is closed to the public whilst it breaks down the "Texas!" exhibit that went up in time for, and lingered well after, the State Fair of Texas and attracted some 120,000 visitors during its run. But when it reopens at the beginning of the year, there will be a major change in store for visitors to the landmark building constructed for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936: You will now have to pay to walk through its heavy bronze doors.

Not all the time, not for every event. But one week from tomorrow, the Dallas City Council will vote to alter its long-standing management agreement with the Dallas Historical Society, allowing the DHS to charge $4 for adults, $2 for children. The reason, says DHS Executive Director Jack Bunning: "the economy." For starters.

"Not only the general economy, but as more and more park-wide events happen out here at Fair Park, we are having to spend a lot more on security, supplies, etc., so we need to find a way to recoup some of that because of the economy," he tells Unfair Park. "We will work with some of the larger events -- marathons, Irish Fest, Taste of Dallas, Earth Day -- which are using our building, and there will be free admission. And for Fourth of July and the tree lighting, depending on how it works, we'll offer greatly reduced prices or make it free. But we needed to have the ability to charge based on the economy being tough and donations being down."

The agreement the council's scheduled to vote on does state the Dallas Historical Society "will provide free admission to the Hall of State for Dallas residents for one day a week." Right now that one day will be Thursday, from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Also, says the council agenda item, "Any future adjustments to the admission fee to reflect inflation, additional programs or specific fees required for temporary exhibitions, or changes in the free day would be coordinated with and approved by the Office of Cultural Affairs."

Bunning says there will be some bonuses added to the structure to, you know, justify the admission fee -- like, say, cases filled with items from the DHS's collection, sort of "super-mini-exhibits." And the DHS is going to install some interpretative signage for those on the self-guided tour, and not a moment too soon. The fee, he says, will take effect the moment the council OK's it next week.

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"We'll look at the calendar to see how we'll do this, and it will vary by event," he says. "If some events use or don't use the building or want us to be free, we'll see." But on most days, he says, "We will charge up to the amount to recoup some of our expenses."

Speaking of money: While I had Bunning on the phone, I asked him about those long-standing plans to reissue the out-of-print Dallas Rediscovered: A Photographic Chronicle of Urban Expansion 1870-1925, about which he and I last spoke two long years ago. And, sure, it's still very much a priority. But without the money ...

"We're still trying to find the money to do it," he says. "And part of the issue is, it was done before the newest technology, let's say, so what we'd want to do is re-edit it. We're not sure we even have the files electronically. So that's where we're starting. Money's tight, and for somebody to fund that, it's not high on their list. It's high on our list. We are perhaps going to get some interns in here to maybe start typing stuff out and reading it over for where updates might happen. We also don't know how much any of it would cost."

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