White Rock Lake, Dallas

The State Fair of Texas was interesting, but before long you get tired of crowds. Such as in the main indoor food court of the fair.

State Fair place to feed your faceOn October 19, a very warm afternoon, I sought out someplace a little less crowded: White Rock Lake.

White Rock LakeLess crowded with humans, that is. There were plenty of birds and some insects, too. The manmade White Rock Lake in northeastern Dallas, created by damming White Rock Creek in the early 1910s to supply water to the city, covers 1,015 acres. These days it’s for recreation. All around the lake is a city park, White Rock Lake Park, which includes a nine-plus mile track around the water, boating ramps, a dog park, picnic areas, and the Bath House Cultural Center.

Bath House Cultural CenterThis is the back of the Bath House, facing the lake. As the name implies, it used to be a bath house that served a beach on White Rock Lake, but swimming has been prohibited on the lake for decades. The building, originally built in 1930, was renovated in 1980 and now offers exhibits by artists and holds various concerts, workshops, lectures and other events. Since I visited on a Monday, it was closed.

White Rock Lake has a long and varied history. For instance, I’ve heard that the lake, and the White Rock Lake Pumphouse, were featured in the low-budget Mars Needs Women (1967), which was shot in Dallas. I’m not sure I’ll ever be in the right frame of mind to watch that movie, but who knows.

I’ve seen the pumphouse before, but I wasn’t close by this time. Mainly I walked on the walking-jogging-cycling path near the edge of the water.

White Rock LakeOn October 12, somewhere along the path around White Rock Lake, a jogger named Dave Stevens was murdered, apparently at random, by a lunatic armed with a machete. Seems that the perpetrator was known to be mentally ill, but not violent. While walking on the same path a week later, you try to puzzle that one out, but of course it can’t be puzzled out. Death just shows up. The crime had a sad coda a few days ago: the victim’s wife seems to have committed suicide.

White Rock LakeTo avoid ending with a sad story, I turn to Sol Dreyfuss Memorial Point, a small rise near the lake. At the foot of the rise is a short wall, and on the wall is a plaque. That was my cue to stop and read it, take a picture, and later find out about it.

Sol DreyfussAccording to the Texas State Historical Association: “Sol Dreyfuss, merchant, was born on August 12, 1885, in Dallas, the son of Gerard and Julia (Hurst) Dreyfuss. His father, a native of France, owned several chains of stores before Sol’s birth, including one with his wife’s father founded in 1879 and called Hurst and Dreyfuss… On August 11, 1910, the doors opened to the first Dreyfuss and Son clothing store, a one-story building on Main Street. By 1950, at the time of Dreyfuss’s death, the store was a six-story building at Main and Ervay streets.”

Besides being a merchant, “Dreyfuss owned the Dallas Baseball Club from 1928 to 1938, when the team was known as the Steers. He was a director of Hope Cottage. He was active in the Community Chest and Red Cross and was a member of the Salesmanship Club, the Citizens Charter Association, the Lakewood Country Club, the Columbian Club, and B’nai B’rith. He was also on the board of directors of both the Republic National Bank and the Pollock Paper Company.” No wonder he had a lot of friends.

Hall of State, Fair Park

At one end of the Fair Park Esplanade is the Hall of State, a stately hall indeed. “The Hall of State, a museum, archive, and reference library, was erected in 1936 at a cost of about $1.2 million by the state of Texas at Fair Park in Dallas to house the exhibits of the Texas Centennial Exposition and the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition of 1937,” explains the Texas State Historical Association.
Hall of State, Fair Park“The structure, designed by eleven Texas architects, is characterized as Art Deco… The front is 360 feet long, and the rear wing extends back 180 feet… The walls are surfaced with Texas limestone. A carved frieze memorializing names of historical importance encircles the building. Carvings on the frieze display Texas flora.”

I went inside for a look, and soon was face-to-face — or maybe face-to-plinth — with six statues of early Texas luminaries: Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar, James Fannin, Thomas J. Rusk, and William B. Travis. Here’s Lamar (1798-1859), second president of the Republic of Texas, among other things.
MB LamarPompeo Coppini did the sculptures. I’d run across his work before at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. If it’s a monumental sculpture in Texas done in the early to mid-20th century, odds are he did it.

Then I entered Great Hall.
Hall of State, Great HallThe TSHA again: “The Great Hall, or the Hall of the Six Flags, in the central wing, has a forty-six-foot-high ceiling. Murals on the north and south walls depict the history of the state and its industrial, cultural, and agricultural progress. These were painted by Eugene Savage of New York.” I’d run across him before as well.

Great Hall, Hall of StateDuring my visit, the Great Hall happened to be sporting an exhibit about Texas musicians, and I will say that I learned that Meat Loaf was from Dallas, something I didn’t know. Actually I didn’t know much about many of the Texas musicians mentioned in the exhibit, such as various bluesmen and Western swing players and Tejano bands.

On the back wall of the Great Hall is a gold-leafed medallion with the Lone Star emblem of Texas surrounded by representations of the six nations whose flags have flown over the state.
Gold leaf!The United States and the Republic of Texas are at the top; the Confederacy and Mexico in the middle; and France and Spain on the bottom. The six together are a persistent theme in symbolic representations of modern Texas.

A Stroll Down the Fair Park Esplanade

My afternoon at the State Fair of Texas wasn’t the eat-it-now experience that the Wisconsin State Fair was. I ate two things: a fried chocolate pie like the kind to be found near the Texas-Oklahoma border, and a cheese and jalapeño corn dog, the best corn dog I’ve had in years, maybe ever. It’s the thing to eat at the fair, which is one of the claimants for introducing the food to the world.

Mostly I looked around. I spent some time in the animal barns, for example.

State Fair of TexasState Fair of TexasI missed the pig races, but I did see some riding acrobatics.

State Fair of TexasI also saw a temporary exhibit at the former Museum of Nature & Science, which left Fair Park a few years ago to become the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The exhibit was called Canstruction, featuring structures made of cans. Such as “Big Reunion,” a model of Dallas’ Reunion Tower by JHP and RLG, two Dallas architecture firms, made out of 3,064 cans — carrots, spinach, mixed vegetables, tomatoes, and beans — plus wiring and LED lights (all that info is on the sign).
CanstructionI liked this one too.
Canstruction“St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow,” by Humphreys & Partners Architects, using 2,090 cans: corn, jalapeños, tomato sauce, chilis, and mandarin oranges, among others.

I also got a good look at Fair Park itself, one of the deco marvels of the world. I’d been to the park before, but barely took the opportunity to walk around and gawk at the likes of this.
Fair Park 2015That’s the South Entrado of the Centennial Building, featuring a statue of the Republic of Texas, complete with the lone star and cotton flower. It’s part of Fair Park’s grand Esplanade, with buildings and sculpture on either side of a long reflecting pool. There are six monumental statues along the Esplanade.
The Republic of TexasFairpark.org says of the Esplanade that “the principal axis of the Texas Centennial Exposition was developed along the existing layout of the State Fair grounds. [Head architect] George Dahl strengthened the formal axis by adapting existing, unrelated State Fair exhibition halls with new, monumental facades and projecting porticos on each side of a 700-foot-long reflecting pool.

“The porticos establish the visual framework of the Esplanade and accentuate the grand perspective leading up to the Hall of State. Monumental artwork deftly combines with additional site features to complete the visually complex – and dramatic – spectacle.”

Each of the six statues represents the six nations that have asserted sovereignty over Texas or parts of it — what the Six Flags Over Texas refers to — namely Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States. France, Mexico and the U.S. were by Raoul Josset, a French sculptor (remarkable how many Euro-sculptors were active in Texas), while Spain, the Republic, and the C.S.A. were by Lawrence Tenney Stevens.

The Esplanade also featured a lot of murals, such as this bas relief mural by Pierre Bourdelle. This was one entitled “Man and Angel.” One source tells me it symbolizes air transport. It’s one of many murals along the Esplanade, each about three stories high.

Fair Park 2015At the eastern end of the pool are two large figures, the striking David Newton replicas of Lawrence Tenney Stevens’s 1936 sculptures, “The Tenor” and “The Contralto.” The originals were lost, maybe melted down for their metal during WWII, but exact replicas were created in 2009.
Fair ParkFair Park 2015As I was taking pictures of “The Contralto,” a group of boys came up to the statue. “Hey, is that a chick?” “Yeah, that’s a chick.” Some laughter. Yep, it’s an aluminum deco chick, companion to the aluminum deco dude nearby.

The State Fair of Texas 2015

Since I happened to be in Dallas during the State Fair of Texas this year — which is held in October, because August would be insane considering the high heat — the thing to do was attend the State Fair of Texas. Especially since I’d made it to the Wisconsin State Fair not too long ago. I took the No. 60 bus to Fair Park and spent the afternoon of October 16 at the fair.

State Fair of TexasThe event has it origins in the late 19th century as a moneymaking venture, but according to the Handbook of Texas online, “the Texas legislature banned gambling on horse races in 1903, thereby eliminating the fair’s main source of income, the association faced a financial crisis. To protect this valuable community asset, the Texas State Fair sold its property to the city of Dallas in 1904 under an agreement that set aside a period each fall to hold the annual exposition.”

Sounds like one time to visit would have been not long after that: “President William Howard Taft visited the fair in 1909, and Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech in 1911. Automobile races and stunt flying exhibitions became the top attractions. Attendance passed the one million mark in 1916.”

More was to come. “In 1934, largely through the efforts of civic leader R. L. Thornton, Fair Park was selected as the central exposition site for the proposed Texas Centennial celebration. No state fair was scheduled in 1935, and construction began on a $25 million project that transformed the existing fairgrounds into a masterpiece of art and imagination. The 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition attracted more than six million people during its six-month run.”

My mother, who turned 11 that year, went to the Centennial Expo with her family, coming from South Texas. Separately, my father, who was 13, attended with members of his family (not sure which ones), coming from Mississippi. It was a big to-do.

Robert Lee Thornton (1880-1964), a banker who also did stints as the president of the State Fair and as mayor of Dallas, is now a bronze in Fair Park.

RE ThorntonHis plaque says: For more than forty years an inspired leader and a powerful force in the development of the city he loved from village to great metropolis.

Mayor Thornton’s not the best known statue of the fair. That distinction belongs to Big Tex.
Big TexThe figure’s been at the fair since 1952, standing at more than 50 feet and weighing three tons, held up by a cage-like skeleton of 4,200 steel rods. Originally a giant Santa Claus in the town of Kerens, Texas, he was remodeled for the fair to wear cowboy duds, including a “75 gallon” hat, though the details of his clothes have changed over the years. A voice appears to come from his mouth, extolling the amusements of the fair.
Big TexBig Tex is a popular fellow. A lot of people besides me were taking pictures of him.

Big Tex 2015Along with selfies with Big Tex in the background.
Big Tex 2015 Two years ago, he caught fire and burned up while the fair was on.

I’m a little sorry I missed that. The one I saw this month is, of course, a phoenix of a Big Tex, rebuilt because the show must go on.

The Full Flush of Autumn

Time for a fall break, as the leaves reach for their peak and get ready to dive to the ground. Back to posting around October 25 or so.

Fall, Ann StriblingProduct recommendation: Trader Joe’s Fig Butter. In the convenient 11 oz. jar, which is careful to tell consumers — Trader Joe’s is a wordy place, anyway — that “there is no butter in it! To be a butter, a spread must have more fruit than sugar.” Yessir, fig paste is the very first ingredient, followed by water and then sugar. Goes well on toast, if you like figs or even Fig Newtons.

Speaking of products, I encountered the following at a Seattle market in August, which I drank sitting near the Fremont Cut (the canal in the background).

KonbuchaIt was OK. I’d call it Kombucha Passable Drink, but that’s just me. The Mayo Clinic notes: “Kombucha tea is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Although it’s sometimes referred to as kombucha mushroom tea, kombucha is not a mushroom — it’s a colony of bacteria and yeast…

“Proponents claim kombucha tea can stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer, and improve digestion and liver function. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support these health claims.” Yep, it’s one of those things that’s good for you because a lot of web sites say that it is. Still, I can report that, anecdotally speaking, if it’s a hot day in August and you’re thirsty, you will be less thirsty after you drink it.

The other day I encountered a YouTube posting called Tim Curry Sings the Ballad of Davy Crockett. That alone was enough to get my attention, at least for a moment. Whoever uploaded it, one CBonesmith, asserts that “what you are about to hear is the single strangest musical experience you might ever have.” That’s surely an exaggeration, but it was the strangest musical experience I’ve had in recent memory. You be the judge.

Fruitcake Beef

I have nothing bad to say about the Collin Street Bakery’s fruitcakes, which come to mind because I got a catalog from the company recently. The fruitcakes themselves, that is. They are a sweet marvel, a dense delight, a bit of confectionery bliss.

Their price is another matter. I ordered my first fruitcake from Collin Street in 1985. A little looking around tells me that around that time, “the cake is sold in two-, three- and five-pound sizes, ranging from $9.15 to $21.45.” (NYT, Dec. 1, 1982; three years earlier, which is close enough).

And how much are they now? $28.45 to $65.50 plus $6.45 for shipping any sized order, according to the current catalog. I emphasize shipping because for years Collin Street didn’t change extra for shipping: it was a consideration that helped me be loyal. When did the company start charging? I don’t know. As recently as two years ago, there was no charge, because I ordered one that year, and probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Anyway, it’s damned annoying.

This year, a two-pound fruitcake would thus set me back $34.90 (almost — the size is actually 1 lb. 14 oz). The nominal 1982 cost of $9.15 would, adjusted for inflation, would now be $22.60, according to the BLS, plus zero for shipping. What’s the excuse for that? I’m skeptical that anything the bakery puts in their product has increased in cost by that much, and don’t tell me it’s shipping. Except for the USPS, the logistics of shipping is a lot more efficient than it was 30 years ago. As good as the cakes are, that’s a deal breaker.

Dust, Quicksand, & Late-Season Dragonflies

We enjoyed a warm weekend, following cooler days and almost cold nights. But no hard freeze just yet.

Today was windy, and it’s been dry a while, so dust kicked up from the baseball diamond was visible from my back yard.
Columbus Day Dust 2015By contrast, when it’s been raining a lot, patches of quicksand form, trapping unwary little leaguers. Well, maybe not. Apparently grade-schoolers aren’t even afraid of quicksand anymore, which means that people aren’t watching enough Tarzan movies.

Saturday we took walk at the Crabtree Preserve, which is a 1,000-acre unit of the Forest Preserves of Cook County that we’d somehow overlooked before, even though it’s only about 15 minutes away. It’s a pleasant place to walk on a warm October day, with trails that wind through woodland and restored, or mostly restored, prairie, and a small nature center with some exhibits.

I read that it’s been a boom year for dragonflies, but haven’t seen so many myself. Maybe that’s because I don’t live that close to lake-sized bodies of water. But as we followed the trail around Bulrush Pond and Bulrush Marsh, we spotted a few clouds — swarms — squadrons of dragonflies, especially ones with long red abdomens.

… And a Hell of an Engineer

I can’t say that I remember much about the Georgia Tech-W. Carolina game, but I was there 30 years ago. I was visiting a friend that I knew from Vanderbilt who lived in Atlanta at the time. Before VU, she’d attended Georgia Tech for a semester or a year or some time. It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon, so off we went.

Ramblin' WreckSomething I do remember: after parking, and as we walked to the stadium along with a stream of other game-goers, we passed by street vendors. One of them, who was selling peanuts — guess that might be goober peas — had a sign telling everyone that they were now entering the Peanut Zone. It was lettered in imitation of the Twilight Zone font — which I just learned seems to be an actual font.

Tech took the game, 24-17. I had to look that up. In our time, that was amazingly easy.

Either before or after, we went to the Varsity to eat, since I’m pretty sure the Peanut Zone, while it made us chuckle a little, didn’t inspire us to buy peanuts. The flagship Varsity near Georgia Tech, that is. I probably had a chili dog. That’s the thing to do there.

John F. Tracy’s Plaque

I’ve seen some plaques in my time, such as ones commemorating the high-water mark of Hurricane Ike, a vintage Dairy Queen sign, the 25,000th 7-11 franchise, the site of Huey Long’s assassination, an outstanding civil engineering achievement of the 1980s, a Civil War veteran who died in 1947, Bill Murray’s footprint, even Addison Mizner’s pet spider monkeys. Guess I’m a sucker for words carved in metal trying to beat forgetfulness, though I think forgetfulness will eventually overcome such efforts.

Saw another plaque on Sunday, behind the Ridge Historical Society in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago. A curious thing, this plaque, placed right next to the back entrance and mounted on a short block. Though made of metal, it was well worn by years of weather — close to a century, it seems.

There was no one was around to tell me about it, but my guess would be that it had been moved there from somewhere else nearby. It said (in all caps, actually, but I’m capitalizing the lines that are particularly large on the plaque):

1852      1922
ROCK ISLAND LINES
Seventieth Anniversary
October Tenth
The memorial tree planted nearby
is dedicated
by the Rock Island in affectionate memory
of
JOHN F. TRACY
Who by industry courage and loyalty
through every vicissitude signally
aided in the development of the
CHICAGO ROCK ISLAND & PACIFIC RAILWAY
into a great transportation system
DEVOTED TO THE PUBLIC SERVICE

The Rock Island is remembered in later decades thanks to Alan Lomax and Leadbelly and others, though that’s fading too, and it was an important railroad in its day (and a client of Lincoln’s in its earliest years). It was also a link in the Grand Excursion of 1854, which is known to us Millard Fillmore fans.

John Tracy’s not so well remembered. My guess would be that he lived somewhere in Beverly, and was long dead by 1922. A small amount of checking reveals he was an executive of the railroad, including its president from 1866 to ’77. A Gilded Age railroad tycoon! His story is probably in an out-of-print volume somewhere, maybe at the Ridge Historical Society. A book that’s no one’s read in years, and a story that probably doesn’t involve diamond-tipped walking sticks and lighting cigars with $100 banknotes, alas.

An American System-Built Home

There are only a handful of American System-Built Homes in existence, about 15 by one count, though others might be spending their days in anonymity. Because I’ve been slapdash in my approach to learning about Frank Lloyd Wright, it was a thing I’d never heard of until Sunday, on the architecture walking tour.

Tourdeforce360VR has this description: “Between 1915 and 1917, Wright designed a series of standardized ‘system-built’ homes, known today as the American System-Built Homes, an early example of prefabricated housing. The ‘system’ involved cutting the lumber and other materials in a mill or factory, and then brought to the site for assembly; thus saving material waste and a substantial fraction of the wages paid to skilled tradesmen.”

World War I interrupted production, and it never started again. Turns out there two in Chicago, and one of these is on S. Hoyne Ave., and known as the Guy C. Smith House.
The owners of the house, David and Debbie — or was it John and Jill or Mark and Margo? I forget, but the names began with the same letters — came out to tell us about the house.
FLW homeownersThen we went inside. It was very nice of the owners to let us shuffle through their home. They’ve done right by Wright, too. This is the dinning room, for instance.
Nice dining room, eh?It’s a fine house, but I could never live in such a place and have it look like this. Soon, papers and books and other items would start to appear on the tables and other flat surfaces. Then they would take over, like kudzu.