Built in 1886 to host the annual Texas State Fair, Fair Park has a long history as a large and diverse public space and venue for events. The site served briefly as a U.S. Army camp during World War I before becoming the home of the Cotton Bowl in 1926, hosting the eponymous annual college football game. It was also, for a time, the home of the Dallas Cowboys professional football team.
Inspired by the City Beautiful movement, the park’s first planner, George Kessler, designed a space featuring tree-lined boulevards, monumental public art, fountains and other elements intended to create a beautiful and soothing. After hosting the 1937 World’s Fair, the park has retained more than half of the structures from the World’s Fair, making it the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. One hundred years after its construction, Fair Park was declared a National Historic Landmark. Today, the park is home to several museums and institutions, including an aquarium, a music hall, the Dallas African American Museum, and the Dos Equis Pavilion.
Despite its colorful history, the space languished, underutilized, for decades. While about five million people attend events at Fair Park each year, primarily for the annual Texas State Fair which takes place over three weeks in the fall, it has remained underutilized, with a large part of the fenced area and without amenities to make it a pleasant place. space for daily recreation. During this time, the city used eminent domain to acquire local properties from residents and build surface parking lots where homes once stood.
In 2019, the site came under the management of a public-private partnership, Fair Park First, which is looking to reactivate the site and build a new community park that will bring more events, amenities and much-needed green space to the area. After a series of missteps from former operators, the new partnership hopes to regain the trust of the community and return a valuable and welcoming public space and everyday destination to surrounding neighborhoods.
Scheduled to open in 2024, the new plan features “a state-of-the-art community park with interconnecting parklets and trails across campus, all with regular programming.” Access to the park will be improved for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The master plan envisions restoring and preserving historic park structures, enhancing community inclusion, and attracting new tenants and events to park facilities. The site for the 11-acre community park, which was selected after an extensive public engagement process, will replace an existing 14-acre surface parking lot. The park will be surrounded by a bike path that will connect to regional trails and stormwater management facilities. Although the design of the park has not been finalized, according to Fair Park First, “Community input for the master plan update identified a desire for wading pools, multiple play structures for children ages and capacities, Wi-Fi, a performance pavilion, picnic shelters, game tables, food and beverage offerings, fitness trails, a dog park, and flex lawns .
The park’s designer, Los Angeles-based Studio-MLA, has worked on projects such as Vista Hermosa Nature Park and the Natural Gardens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The project is privately funded and will remain open during events such as the State Fair of Texas as a public park outside the event boundaries.
Developers hope the new master plan will bring the historic site to life and reweave the community with new amenities in an accessible, welcoming and vibrant space.