A Fair Park, in Dallas
When Texans wanted to celebrate their centennial anniversary in
1936, government officials considered many sites around the state.
San Antonio and Austin seemed like perfect places to host this
momentous occasion, considering their history. Even Houston was in
the running. City fathers were convinced that their towns would get
the nod.  And then... the honor went to little ol'
Dallas.

By 1936, Dallas wasn't all that little, of course. But it definitely was an
"upstart" kind of place. Having been founded in 1844 as a supply
store on a bluff of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, it didn't have
many historical ties to the actual founding of Texas (though Sam
Houston was good friends with Dallas founder John Neely Bryan). The
Dallas Citizens Council, made up of prominent businessmen,
bolstered Dallas enough to make it the epicenter of the 1936
Centennial Exposition. This probably had something to do with the
Texas State Fair grounds.

Like all cities, Dallas boasted a number of county fairgrounds, where
festivals, agricultural expositions, and other entertainments were
staged. Since the 1880s, most of these events took place at the
privately held Texas State Fair, which the City of Dallas took over in
1904. The city then erected several permanent buildings, like the
Cotton Bowl Stadium and the Dallas Music Hall. And even though the
country was in the midst of the Great Depression for the fair of 1936,
Dallas was not afraid to spend money to make the Centennial
Exposition a fair to remember. Beautiful Art Deco architecture, mural
art, gold leafed statues, and spouting fountains appeared along new
boulevards that would showcase Texas history, agricultural
production, manufacturing innovations, and more. (The "more"
included nude dancing along the midway.) Most of the buildings that
lie inside Fair Park today are landmarks built purposefully for the
1936 Centennial Exposition. The only building from the 1936 fair that
was demolished was built by the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce.
Inside, displays of art, history, and industry of the black community in
Dallas celebrated the contributions of African Americans to the city.  
The building has been re-erected inside Fair Park and today hosts
the Dallas African American Museum.
For much of its life, the State Fair of Texas was segregated, and openly hostile to black fair goers. In the early 1920s, for example, Ku Klux
Klan Appreciation Days were held during the fair. Meanwhile, African Americans were only allowed to enter the fairgrounds on specific
days, and blacks were barred from enjoying certain entertainments, like carnival rides. The fair boasted a "Negro Achievement Day" which
citizens deemed patronizing; in the 1950s and into the 1960s, protests and demonstrations by civil rights leaders like Juanita Craft and the
Dallas Black YMCA gradually helped to
integrate the fair.

Because the city celebrates the State Fair pretty much every year (except for a few years during World War II), attractions keep evolving,
which has helped the State Fair of Texas to stay relevant well into the 21st century. In 1952, "Big Tex" debuted; he "died" in 2013 when he
caught fire, but was "resurrected" in time for the next year's fair. The Star of Texas, the largest ferris wheel in the western hemisphere,
opened in 1985. Fletcher's introduced corny dogs to the world in 1942; the Dallas Cowboys were "born" in the Cotton Bowl in 1960. The
Texas Skyway, which allows fair goers to leisurely soar above the Midway, debuted in 2007. In 2010, the DART Green Line began taking fair
goers to the grounds along the old street car routes.

Fair Park is worth an extended visit because, like Dallas, it just keeps getting better.
Quanah Parker visited the State Fair of Texas in 1909 (Dallas Morning News). Other illuminaries who have visited the State Fair include
Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Oprah Winfrey. I actually was asked to be in Oprah's audience because she needed more
people for the telecast. Special, huh?
The "new " Big Tex in 2015.
Dallas was home to Klan No. 66, with offices on South Elm Street, near
the north entrance of Fair Park. They also staged "Klan Days" that
included large initiation ceremonies.
Street cars ferry fair goers to the gates in 1906 (Dallas Morning News)
The Chinese Lantern Festival was staged for two consecutive years
during the fair (2012 and 2013).
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com