Fair Park

By: Sarah Hunter

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1995

Fair Park, the site of the State Fair of Texas, is located in east Dallas near the downtown business district. It is owned by the city of Dallas and is jointly operated by the Dallas Park and Recreation Department and the State Fair of Texas Association. In 1986 the 277-acre site was home to the State Fair, the Cotton Bowl, and five museums. Fair Park houses one of the greatest concentrations of early twentieth-century Art Deco exposition buildings in the United States.

The original eighty-acre site was purchased by Capt. William H. Gaston from the Thomas Lagow league and the John Grigsby league for $16,000 in 1886 and deeded to the newly chartered Dallas State Fair and Exposition Association. In return Gaston received 140 shares of stock, which he later donated to the fair organization. The Dallas Exposition opened its first fair on October 26, 1886.

A rival organization, the Texas State Fair, headed by C. A. Keating, opened its fair on October 25 of the same year on a section of John Cole's farm in north Dallas. Both fairs were successful and together drew over 35,000 people a day. Eventually, the two groups decided to merge and form the Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition. The eighty acres in east Dallas were chosen as the site for future fairs of the new organization.

In 1899 the organization changed its name to Texas State Fair. The fair had financial difficulties even before 1902, when the exposition buildings burned. Furthermore, it lost its biggest source of income when the Texas legislature outlawed track gambling on horse racing. Still the directors refused an offer of $125,000 for the fairgrounds, which would have turned the site into a residential subdivision. Instead they offered the grounds to the city of Dallas as a park in 1904, in return for the payment of their outstanding debt and the agreement that the State Fair board would run the annual exhibition and pay the city a percentage. This arrangement worked well, and the Texas State Fair became one of the most successful in the country.

Fair Park was expanded in 1936 when it became the site of the Texas Centennial Exposition. At the persistence of a group of Dallas businessmen incorporated as the Texas Centennial Central Exposition Corporation, Dallas outbid San Antonio, Austin, and Houston for the celebration. Utilizing the grounds and buildings of the Texas State Fair, and obtaining additional land for expansion to 180 acres, Dallas also assured the Centennial Committee $5.5 million of public and private money.

Local architect George L. Dahl, of the firm of Greene, LaRoche, and Dahl, was selected as chief architect and technical director of the $25 million Texas Centennial Exposition, which opened on June 6, 1936. Construction began in October 1935, and in eight months an exposition site equivalent to a city was constructed. Twenty-one of the fifty buildings were permanent.

The main entry gate, which remained in the same location as for earlier fairs, opened onto an esplanade flanked by exhibit buildings. At the terminus of the esplanade was the magnificent Hall of State, built by the state of Texas. Other major exposition buildings still standing are the Agriculture Complex and the Civic Center, a museum complex built by the city of Dallas around a man-made lagoon. Ford Motor Company spent over $2 million on a temporary exhibit building and entertainment. Buildings constructed by Magnolia Oil Company, Lone Star Gas, and Continental Oil remain on the grounds. The United States government constructed a $1.5 million Federal Building and a Hall of Negro Life.

All construction plans had to meet the approval of George Dahl, who insisted that the entire plant follow his architectural theme. Building in the contemporary style later known as Art Deco, Dahl wanted to combine architecture and art. His design featured broad, low buildings with smooth expanses of sun-colored walls, brightened with murals in bold colors and accented by massive sculpture. Dahl dubbed his style "Texanic" and described it as "strong and bold, a quality possessed to an unusual degree by the majority of the residents of Texas."

After nearly fifty years of neglect the art and architecture of Fair Park was renovated. The city of Dallas initiated improvements in 1985, and Friends of Fair Park, a support group, was formed to ensure that restoration continued. In the fall of 1986 Fair Park was entered on the National Register of Historic Places as a national landmark. In 1993 the African American Museum was built and renovations were completed on the Cotton Bowl. In addition to the State Fair, Fair Park has also hosted other events, including the World Cup and the International Gold Cup Games.

William L. McDonald, Dallas Rediscovered: A Photographic Chronicle of Urban Expansion, 1870–1925 (Dallas: Dallas County Historical Society, 1978).
  • Architecture
  • Other Structures
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Venues
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Sarah Hunter, “Fair Park,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fair-park.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

Fair Park
Currently Exists
Place Type
Town Fields
  • Has post office: No
  • Is Incorporated: No
Belongs to
  • Dallas County