Art Deep in the Heart of Texas Architects and Artists Overshadow Cowboys and Oilmen in Dallas and Fort Worth

By Rodeghier, Kathy | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 13, 2006 | Go to article overview

Art Deep in the Heart of Texas Architects and Artists Overshadow Cowboys and Oilmen in Dallas and Fort Worth


Rodeghier, Kathy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Kathy Rodeghier Daily Herald Travel Editor

"For most people, we are about Southfork and cowboys," says Dallas Mayor Laura Miller.

And they would be wrong, she's quick to add. "Our whole orientation about who we are and what we do is changing."

The hit 1980s TV series "Dallas," set on Southfork Ranch, ingrained the image of Dallas as a den of devious oilmen and folksy cowboys. In reality, Dallas never was an oil town or a cow town, but a financial center.

And now a center for arts and culture with the largest urban arts district in the U.S.

Surprised? Perhaps even more surprising, neighboring Fort Worth, which embraces its cow-town heritage, is right behind it. Its sprawling Cultural Arts District contains five major museums. "We are a city of cowboys and culture," says Greg Staley of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Between them, Dallas and Fort Worth boast more than 40 major cultural institutions.

So leave your cowboy boots and Stetson hat at home. Go to Dallas/Fort Worth prepared for a night at the opera, a walking tour of groundbreaking architecture and hours spent admiring jaw- dropping artwork.

Freeway city

Dallas doesn't have "a settled identity, it's a bouillabaisse," says David Dillon, architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News and author of several books on architecture. It's an in-between city, part Southern, part Western, part Anglo and part Hispanic, set between the plains and the piney woods.

"It's a freeway city," says Dillon. "It looks great at 60 mph with the top down." Dillon points to the dazzling skyscrapers that sprouted next to the highways, such as the Hyatt Regency. The glass building with geodesic dome Reunion Tower could stand in for Emerald City in Oz. It became an icon after it appeared on the opening credits of "Dallas." In some ways it epitomizes the city, says Dillon: "slick and spectacular, gaudy but fun."

Perhaps the best freeway building is Fountain Place, designed by I.M. Pei and opened in 1986. Dillon calls it "the greatest glass building in the last 30 years." The 60-story tower with acute angles is as much sculpture as structure, resembling a piece of cut glass. "It's like the whole building has been wrapped in Saran Wrap," says Dillon, so it appears to change shape and color as you zoom by. It's equally impressive at ground level where a six-acre water garden masks street noise and creates a cool sanctuary from summer heat.

Another I.M. Pei building symbolized the healing of the city's wounded reputation after President Kennedy's assassination, says Dillon. City Hall, completed in 1976, has a facade cantilevered at a 34-degree angle like the bow of a ship. It overlooks a plaza with a Henry Moore sculpture. "People either really like it or loathe it," says Dillon, adding that the plaza is too large and underused.

A more popular urban space is Pioneer Plaza with oversized bronze sculptures of 40 longhorns herded by three cowboys. People gravitate here, says Dillon, but it perpetuates the myth of Dallas. There isn't a ranch within 150 miles.

Art deco reigns at Fair Park, built for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and now a National Historic Site. It still hosts the Cotton Bowl and Texas State Fair and encompasses nine museums. The make-work project "pulled Dallas out of the Depression and enfranchised a whole generation of artists and architects," says Dillon. Many migrated here after working on Chicago's Century of Progress in 1933.

Color and simple geometric shapes mark the design of the Latino Cultural Center, which opened in 2003. Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta envisioned the entrance as an abstraction of a Mexican plaza. Its purple bell tower torques as it rises to a beacon on top. Inside, the center houses a theater, art gallery and sculpture garden. Simple and clean in design, it's a great lesson for young architects on what they can do with a small budget, says Dillon. …

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