Dallas Park and Recreation Director Willis Winters grew up going to the State Fair of Texas. Now it’s his job to oversee Fair Park where the fair is held every year.
Winters is an architect and historian by training, and in 2010, he published the book “Fair Park” about the state fair’s history and architecture.
“The importance of Fair Park, which is considered a National Historic Landmark, is that it is the only, basically, intact exposition site during this great era of World Fairs during the 1930s,” Winters says. “It’s basically one of the most significant sites for Art Deco architecture, not only in Texas and the United States, but possibly in the world.”
Recently, Fair Park recreated the lights that shone above the Hall of State building in the 1930s.
“At night, entire fairgrounds were transformed dramatically, again, by the nighttime lighting,” Winters says. “This spectacular fan of searchlights, skylights … fanned out from a central point directly behind the Hall of State. Those lights could be seen, I’m told, as far as 90 miles away.”
Winters says going to the state fair can be an overwhelming experience for newcomers. It’s easy to be distracted by all of the attractions to even notice the buildings, he says.
“There’s so much decoration and banners, then the vendors and booths,” Winters says. “Most people really don’t notice the buildings very much, and only when they come back during non-fair times, when it’s just the architecture, I’ll hear them say, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know that was there.’”
Winters says one of his favorite buildings on the fairgrounds is the Magnolia Lounge, a small hospitality space built in 1936 and designed by famed Swiss-American architect William Lescaze.
“That was built by the Magnolia Petroleum Company so that tired, weary and hot visitors had a place to go in and sit down and recuperate from walking around all day,” Winters says.
He says it was also home to a burgeoning theater scene in the middle of the 20th century.
“Several very important world premiere plays were staged there back in the 40s and 50s,” Winters says.
Written by Antonio Cueto.