Thursday, October 9, 2014

The George W Bush Library

50% "W"  /   50% Oscar

Last week, while on a visit to Dallas, I visited the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern (One of New England's Starchitect residence designers to the 1%), is a square brick block surrounding a square brick lantern that pops up in the middle. The Bush library blends well into the brick collegiate architecture of the SMU campus. 

Only after leaving did I realize I was underwhelmed enough to have neglected to capture a single photo of the exterior. 

The first thing a visitor will note is a frustrating lack of parking. We went on a weekday, in the off season, and still had to join other cars in a fee lot waiting with motors idling until someone came to depart. Cars were idling in the lot before we arrived and when we left 6-8 cars where in the lot lying in wait to pounce on spaces as they came open. A very lovely white Aston Martin waited patiently for me to leave. 

Once you enter the library grounds you are met with a modest plaza from which you may enter the cafe 43, enter the gift shop or enter the library.

Once inside you must purchase your ticket in the main rotunda space. 

The rotunda IMHO is the most successful space in the building with its spectacular continuously looping jumbo-tron digital presentation that brings the space to life. It presents a sentimental series of Texas scenery and culminates in washington DC with a twilight flyover of the DC mall beginning right over President Lincoln's head and ending at the Capital lighting up at dusk. I stood in awe, watching it loop through two or three times.

The Living Rotunda

A Truly Wonderful JumboTron

The second thing you'll notice is it is relatively expensive to visit and it offers no free days. Whereas Austin's LBJ library offers free parking and, after 30 years of being free finally instituted a $8 admission, LBJ still offers free admission 8 times throughout the year. The Bush Library admission is $16 (seniors tickets are $13). Admission includes a little I-pod that narrates the visit. All three of the visitors in my party quickly gave up on the I-pod as it was hard to synch with our movements in the display area. 

In comparison to the other presidential libraries I have visited the display area in the Bush library was kind of small and a bit disappointing.

While most presidential libraries seem to present balanced displays that describe the challenges, achievements, of each presidency while not glossing over mistakes, missteps and errors in judgement, this library presents the Bush Presidency with a series of "this is my side of the story" exhibits. The worst example was the exhibit entitled the "Decision Points Theater". Here visitors are presented with a series of difficult situations encountered during the Bush presidency. But then are offered very limited information and a small menu of options that are clearly designed to manipulate guests into arriving at prescribed conclusions.

What is presented at the Bush Library was, however, very professionally executed. I think most visitors favorite display was likely the replica of the oval office.

Experiencing W's Oval Office

 Twisted Steel From the Twin Towers

The September 11 Exhibit

The balance of the exhibit space (roughly equal in size to the presidential exhibit space) seemed out of place. Although it contains some fashions worn by first ladies, it is hard to square why half of the Bush Presidential library would be devoted to a quirky, yet lovely, infomercial for the House of De La Renta.

The Formal White House

Oscar Does Hillary

Oscar Does Nancy

There is a large gift shop offering up everything from mugs to really expensive presidential dog collars and leashes. 

Roadboy's summation is that the Bush library is a couple of hours well spent, but take this one in after you have already visited Dallas' many other fine museums.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Expo Deco

The Texas State Fair

As a kid my family loved to go to fairs; county fairs, worlds fairs and state fairs. If, while driving around the country on our summer vacations, we'd come across a fair, there was a pretty good chance we'd make an unscheduled stop.

And stopping always paid off. We'd enjoy seeing kids all jazzed up with their 4H activities and exploring exhibit halls showcasing amateur arts and crafts. We'd enjoy local foods whether it was a good brat, fried chicken or whatever deep fried delicacy they were proffering.

To me, fairs are simply unfiltered Americana. They are color and light and midway screams all enjoyed with a hint of fresh horse / cow manure in the air.

Does life get any better than that?

He's Huge and He Talks Slowwww
Big Tex  Officially Welcomes 3,000,000 Annual Visitors to the Texas State Fair

Growing up in California I particularly loved California's old state fair in Sacramento. We returned to the capital city every fall. I loved walking those fairgrounds filled with huge shady trees. We'd  explore every one of its ancient brick and steel exhibition halls. There was even one esplanade that featured life-size photos of every Miss California since time began.

Then our first Hollywood governor decided we needed a year round "Expo" and built a treeless concrete nightmare and christened it Cal Expo. It was a place more appropriate for a rally of the Third Reich than a fair. And those old lovely state fairgrounds dissolved into a bunch of anonymous state office buildings and vacant lots.

But I digress.

This week while visiting Dallas I had the good fortune to spend an evening with old friends at the Texas State Fair.

The Texas Star Ferris Wheel

It had been more than a decade since my last visit to this fair, and I am delighted to report it is still (maybe more?) wonderful.

We visited on Dr. Pepper day, so we got in for half price by turning over one empty can each!

And, although this fair draws 3,000,000+ visitors a year, the same vivacious lady that welcomed us in through the turnstiles recognized us on the way out and bid us a warm "good night y'all". Everyone, rich or poor, is just the same at the fair.

So what is so special about this fair? First off, it is really big and it is really old.

It dates back to 1886, and over the decades it has overcome financial problems, catastrophic fires and closures during global wars.

Since 1929 the annual Oklahoma vs. Texas football game has been conducted during the fair. And, starting in 1930 they have all been played in the Cotton Bowl (which has been expanded from its original 46,000 seats in 1930 to today's capacity of 75,000).

Fair Parks Cotton Bowl Stadium

While I've not fact checked it...I suspect this is the only state fair that has also hosted a worlds fair.

In 1934, just two years after the spectacular Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, Fair Park was selected to host the 1936 Texas Centennial Exhibition. For two years the fair site was completely transformed by Dallas architect George Dahl and Philadelphia's Paul Cret.

The Archer on the World's Fair's Texas Pavilion 

George Dahl was a prominent Harvard educated Dallas architect who built a national practice that designed numerous commercial and civic buildings from 1927 until 1970.

The Former US Pavilion 
(Now the Food Court)

Paul Cret was well known in Texas due to his role master planning the University of Texas and consulting on the design of Austin's iconic UT tower. Cret, a graduate of Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts, designed the Eccles Federal Reserve Building in Washington DC and assisted in the design of Cincinnati's exquisite deco Union Terminal. Cret designed the Burlington Northern's celebrated streamliner; the Pioneer Zephyr and the Santa Fe's spectacular Super Chief. He won the AIA Gold Medal in 1938.

One of Four Cameo Reliefs 
In Front of the Centennial Building
Facing the Esplanade Fountain. 

In 1946 Neil and Carl Fletcher introduce the Corny Dog to Dallas fairgoers. And, in 1952 the fair debuted Big Tex. The year Roadboy was born 1956 Elvis performed at the fair. and in 1985 the worlds tallest ferris wheel (The Texas Star) was opened.



In 2012 the fair celebrated 125 years and Big Tex turned 60. Then, on the last day of the fair Big Tex caught fire and burned to the ground.

A Mural to Agriculture

Only one year later the 2013 season welcomed a new Big Tex.

A Bronze Costing in and Entry Door Casting 

We strolled, I ate a piping hot corny dog and Frito pie accompanied by an ice cold local pale ale.

Four hours (and about 50 years) of my life pleasantly melted away on a summer night this week at the State Fair of Texas.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014