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First Exposition Building

First Exposition Building

The first Fair Park exposition building was a wooden structure that measured 200 by 300 feet and boasted 140,000 feet of exhibit space. Work on the structure began during the summer of 1886. It was completed just in time for the opening day of the Dallas State Fair, Tuesday, October 26. That morning, some four or five thousand people filled the building to witness the Opening Day ceremonies. There, they saw the Busch Zoaves of St. Louis perform a series of military movements before listening to the Mexican National Band play a medley of lively tunes. When they were finished, State Fair President Simpson addressed the gathered throng, followed by Dallas Mayor Brown who closed his brief speech by turning to the Mexican band and welcoming them in Spanish. Ex-governor of Texas Oran Roberts also addressed the assemblage. A most diplomatic man, Roberts had also spoken at the opening of the rival Texas State Fair in North Dallas the previous day!

The exhibits that could be seen in the building during that first state fair were numerous and varied. The Daily Dallas Times Herald reported there were "a great many exhibitors of commercial wares including books, trunks, carriages, liquor and cigars, coffee mills, jewelry, pianos and organs, clothing for gents, millinery, harness and saddles, hardware, seeds, plumbers, shoes and boots, perfume, sewing machines, tobacco, [and] soap." The Ladies Department had some 1,500 entries which included 150 "crazy quilts". The newspaper also reported a geological exhibit set up by a Professor Cummings which was "complete" and "very interesting indeed". Another exhibit of note was "Morey's Negro Log Cabin, which is true to nature and which will be a leading feature of attraction." The cabin was in fact an exhibit of the Ligget and Myers Tobacco Company. Its intent was to show "how the negroes live who raise tobacco." The newspaper also reported that the "figure of a woman made out of different cereals, bonnet and all, at the Pleasant Valley Nursery Exhibit attracts much attention."

Probably the last major event to take place in the old wooden Exposition Building was a national Confederate Reunion, held in April 1902. A few short months later, during the early morning hours of Sunday, July 20, 1902, the structure caught fire. By the time the fire department had been called out there was little they could do to save it. The blaze was so intense the light from the flames could be seen for miles around. By dawn there was little left but a smoldering heap of ruins. An adjoining Music Hall also burned down and the fire even spread to the poultry exhibit buildings, three implement "pagodas," and the W.C.T.U. (Women's Christian Temperance Union) Rest Cottage. All were completely destroyed.

A new, more substantial exposition building, which was later incorporated into today's Centennial Building, was constructed three years later.

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