by Paula Bosse
Thursday night I attended a very entertaining Dallas Historical Society presentation at the Hall of State in Fair Park: “An Evening With Jim Parsons: Lost Fair Park,” in which the author of Fair Park Deco and DFW Deco talked about many of the buildings constructed for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936 which are no longer with us.
One of Jim’s asides was that there are very, very few color photos of the Centennial buildings and murals taken in 1936. If you’ve seen a Centennial view in color, it’s probably a colorized postcard. Kodachrome film was introduced in 1935 and was, sadly, not in wide use by visitors to Fair Park in 1936 (or by the Centennial organization).
When he said that, though, I remembered an ad I had come across that I thought was pretty cool, simply because it shows the interior of one of the Centennial buildings when it was brand new (…well, it was sort of new — more on that below). The ad is for Armstrong Linoleum and it features a color photo showing one of their custom linoleum floors installed in the Centennial Administration Building, an interior I’d never seen. And it’s in color! (Check out the furniture and the recessed lighting!) Here’s the full ad, which appeared in national magazines in 1936 (click for larger image).
And — hallelujah — I found another photo of the interior — also from the helpful Armstrong people (I don’t know if they had the concession to outfit all the Centennial buildings, but, if so, I’d love to see all of their designs). Unfortunately this one is not in color, but it shows a fantastic Texas-centric custom design, laid down in fabulous linoleum.
Imagine that floor in Cadet Blue, White, Orange, and Dark Gray. This is from a trade publication called Armstrong’s Floors and Walls for Homes and Public Buildings, published around 1950 (and fully scanned here). A cropped version of the photo of the top is also included here (that floor, by the way, is in White, Dark Gray, and Cadet Blue), with handy swatches (which, reproduced below, lose some accuracy in color).
The Centennial Administration Building — which housed the hundreds of office workers and executives behind the running of the Texas Centennial Exposition — was actually the very first Centennial building completed (at the end of December, 1935). Most of the Centennial buildings were newly built in 1936, but the Administration Building was actually an old building given a new stucco façade and completely remodeled — it even acquired a second floor inside the huge structure. This building was originally known as the State Fair Coliseum, built in 1910, designed by architect C. D. Hill (who designed many buildings in Dallas, including the still-standing Municipal Building downtown (built in 1914) and the Melrose Hotel (1924).
It was BIG. It had a seating capacity of 7,500.
This was the first building you’d see as you entered Fair Park, as it was right inside the front entrance on Parry Avenue (after you entered, the building would be on your left).
It was the city’s first official municipal auditorium, and it hosted everything from livestock shows, conventions, large civic gatherings, and the occasional opera.
A photo of the building from 2014:
photo: Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress
See a Wikimedia photo of this building in 2016 here — click it again (and again) to see it really big, and linger on the mural by Carlo Ciampaglia and the sculpture by Raoul Josset. See interior photos of the space in 2009 during its time as the Women’s Museum here and here. I’m not sure if the exposed brick and steel are from the original 1910 building, but I certainly hope so! And, lastly, exterior photos from 2009 showing the side of the building here, and here
Sources & Notes
This building can be seen on this aerial Google view, here. It is currently the Women’s Building, and it is available for special events — more about this building from the Friends of Fair Park, here.
Black-and-white postcard showing the interior of the Coliseum is from Flickr.
Black-and-white photo “Coliseum and Art Building” is from Report for the Year 1914-1915 of the Park Board of the City of Dallas, With a Sketch of the Park System (Dallas: Park Board, 1915), which can be accessed as part of the Dallas Municipal Archives via the Portal to Texas History, here.
And since this whole post was spurred by Jim Parsons’ talk the other night, here’s a link to the book he and David Bush wrote: Fair Park Deco: Art & Architecture of the Texas Centennial Exposition.
Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.