Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Diesel Era History: 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition

It was 1936 and the Great Depression was spreading poverty and starvation across the world. Black clouds from the Dust Bowl were blasting across the American plains. North America was wilting from one the worst heat waves in recorded history. Evil had gained power in Germany. However, it was also the 100th anniversary of Texas’s independence from Mexico and the Texans weren’t going to let these problems spoil their celebration. They called their massive party the Texas Centennial Exposition.

Built on the traditional Fair Grounds in Dallas, the Exposition, which many have compared to a World’s Fair in size and scope, ran from June 6, 1936 to November 29, 1936. Over 50 new buildings, designed by architect George Leighton Dahl, were built along with the needed infrastructure, costing $25 million. During the construction of the Exposition, the Italian artist Carlo Ciampaglia created 11 different enormous paintings totaling 5550 sq. ft. covering the sides of several buildings. In addition to the amazing wall paintings, artist Lawrence Tenney Stevens created a collection of unique Art Deco sculptures for the Exposition. One of the most bizarre was The Woofus, which was an Egyptian style statue consisting of a sheep’s head with chromium-gilded longhorns, the neck of a horse, a body of a pig, duck wings, turkey feathers and draped in a Mexican blanket.

A parade of high profile figures appeared at the Exposition. On June 12, President Franklin Roosevelt visited the Lone Star event. Other famous attendants were Amelia Earhart, Gene Autry (who filmed his movie The Big Show during the Exposition), Ginger Rogers as well as the fan and bubble dancer Sally Rand.

The Exposition brought in $50 million dollars into the local economy and created 15,000 jobs, which helped lessen the pain of the Great Depression for those living in the North Texas area. Over 6 million people visited the Exposition during its run in 1936. When the Exposition officially ended, it was temporarily reopened as the Greater Texas & Pan-American Exposition in 1937. Afterwards, the location returned to its traditional role as the Texas State Fair as well as the home of numerous museums and special events.

Many of the buildings from the Exposition still stand and are in use today making the location the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the United States. Over time most of Ciampaglia’s massive art was painted over and literally forgotten. However, time began to wear down the painted covering and exposing Ciampaglia’s art. Thanks to a combination of Federal, State and local grants along with charitable donations, Ciampaglia’s magnificent art has been restored to its original glory. In addition, at some point in time the Woofus mysteriously disappeared. No one seemed to have noticed its absence because history failed to record when or how it became missing. In the course of researching the lost work of Ciampaglia in photographs and rare films, researchers rediscovered the prior existence of the Woofus. In 2003, the artists also recreated the Woofus and once again, it sits in its original place of honor.

Now known as the Dallas Fair Park, the location is definitely worth a visit by any Dieselpunk.

1 comment:

Lord K said...

Great mural, Larry. Thanks!
My previous comment was intended for this post, of course.