First Entrance Building
The very first Fair Park entrance portal was a wooden building which housed the State Fair Secretary's offices. Probably built in 1886 for the first State Fair, the old wooden entrance was certainly in place by 1888 when it could clearly be seen on an advertisement for that year's fair. This gatehouse stood just to the north of the present entrance. In order to reach it, visitors to the grounds had to first cross a wooden bridge over a shallow creek which once ran through the middle of Parry Avenue. Visitors on foot entered through the center of the building.
A few years after the building was constructed, a flagpole-topped cupola was erected on the roof. Immediately beneath the cupola was a painted sign depicting two hands clasped in friendship. This symbolized the 1887 union of the Dallas State Fair and the Texas State Fair. On the ridge of the roof there were signs on either side of the cupola reading "Texas State Fair" and "And Dallas Exposition." In the 1890s the organization became known simply as "The Texas State Fair" and the right-hand sign carried the dates of the fair each year. A large star with the word "Texas" spelled out T-E-X-A-S, letter-by-letter on each point of the star, along with a shield reading "State Fair," was attached to the front of the cupola in later years.
Upon entering the grounds through this building, pedestrians walked along a dirt path through a triangular-shaped garden featuring trellis-covered walks and lush foliage. It was popularly known as "Lovers' Lane." No doubt the name came from the garden being a popular place for courting couples to "spoon" and "pitch woo." Riders on horseback and in horse-drawn vehicles entered the park through a gate to the right of the wooden entrance building, about where the 1936 central pylon stands today.
In 1904 a financially-strapped State Fair Association sold the fairgrounds to the City of Dallas after a special bond election in which the citizens of Dallas approved the "Reardon Plan" (named for the Dallas banker who originated it). Under the provisions of an agreement between the Fair Association and the City, the City of Dallas bought the land for year-round use as a park but the Fair Association was to maintain the grounds. In return, they were permitted to use it once a year, in the fall, for the State Fair.
(This agreement continued in force until January 1, 1988 when the City Parks Department assumed responsibility for the park's administration. It's interesting to note that had the voters of 1904 not approved the park's purchase, the site of Fair Park would today be just a memory of a time gone by. It would also probably be covered with houses, in view of the fact that several early-day Dallas real-estate developers had shown an interest in the land.)
The wooden gatehouse was demolished shortly after the City's takeover of ownership, as part of planned improvements of the grounds, thereafter to be officially known as "Fair Park."
This website copyright © 1996-2012 (except where noted) by Steven Butler, Ph.D. All rights reserved.