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.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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