In 1986, Fair Park was recognized by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark due to its significance as the site of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. Although this event established the importance of Fair Park as a national treasure, it did not come with funding for the continued restoration efforts that are necessary to preserve a historic complex of buildings.
By the 1990s, Fair Park’s age was obvious. Plaster façades were cracking, foundations heaving, important artwork was painted over or missing and, in some instances, roofs were ready to collapse. Due to these conditions, in 1994 and 1995, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Fair Park as one of the “Eleven Most Endangered Neighborhoods in America.” This was the beginning of a long and difficult process toward the eventual preservation and revitalization of the site.
Before restoration work was initiated, preparations were made. First, restoration master plans were prepared for individual buildings that would include a condition assessment, prioritize needs and provide a cost estimate. Historic paint analysis was conducted to ensure the colors chosen matched the original 1936 scheme.
A shining example of renovation and reuse is the 1910 State Fair Livestock Coliseum, which was renovated in 1935 as the Hall of Administration for the Centennial Exposition. This beautiful structure was rehabilitated and is now home of the Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future. Nine additional buildings at Fair Park have been restored to their 1936 appearance.
Following years of insensitive and historically inaccurate over-painting, the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition color scheme has been substantially reinstated at Fair Park. 6 monumental murals lost in a fire in the 1940’s (but had been photographed) on the Automobile Building were reproduced on their original walls in 1999. As this website shows, 12 original monumental murals by Carlo Ciampaglia that were painted out were uncovered and conserved in 2000 – 2002 by Fine Art Conservation Laboratories and today comprise the largest collection of historic public outdoor art in the United States. The six sculptures along the Esplanade were conserved in 2004, along with the Fountain Pylons. When combined with the conservation of large bas-relief sculptures and six animal heads on the Sheep and Goat Building, and the reconstruction of the Woofus and Federal Eagle sculptures, Fair Park is a veritable outdoor museum of public art from the 1930s.
Within a decade, Fair Park has seen the reinvestment of over $100 million in public and private funding that has ensured its preservation and revitalization as one of most important public places in the Southwest. As further evidence, restoration work has received a number of preservation awards from local, state and national preservation organizations including the prestigious National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award.