DALLAS, Texas — First off, let’s dispel of a few stereotypes Canadians might have about residents of Dallas.
Not every Dallasite talks with a Texas twang or incorporates “Y’all” into their everyday conversation.
Every second vehicle is not a pick-up truck. From a casual two-day observation, Dallas has about the same number of pick-up trucks on its streets as Vancouver and I saw none with gun racks.
If Dallasites wear cowboy hats, they kept them in the closet on the weekend I visited. Didn’t see one Stetson.
Vegetarian restaurants do exist and the one I wanted to try for Sunday brunch had a 30-minute wait. Opted for a food truck instead.
Dallasites like their hockey. It was almost a full house at the American Airlines Centre for a Stars vs. St. Louis Blues game on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Now that my oversimplified views of the Lone Star State have been proven wrong thanks to finally visiting the Big D, let me share what surprised me about Dallas — Texas’s third largest city after Houston and San Antonio and a four-hour flight from Vancouver.
Its museums, abundance of art and big ideas.
The Dallas tourism slogan is “Big Things Happen Here” and indeed they do. That Dallas is home to a high concentration of Fortune 500 companies might help make those “big things” come to fruition faster than in most cities. There is big money in the Big D. Or perhaps well-heeled Dallasites are simply more philanthropic than the rest of us. Whatever the reason, the city continues to be going full tilt on a downtown makeover.
Recent large-scale additions and concentration of the arts into one area combined with an expanding rapid transit system are clear signs the city is on a mission to transform its downtown. Anyone who hasn’t visited in five years will see a marked difference.
A key part of the plan is the recently opened Klyde Warren Park. Before the park officially opened in October 2012, Dallas’s downtown and uptown were separated by a recessed eight-lane freeway. Some big thinkers in and out of government and people with deep pockets pooled their resources and came up with an idea that can only be described as pure genius — they built a 5.2 acre deck over portions of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway to connect both parts of city and create what locals hope will become Dallas’s town square.
When it opened in October, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Dallas Morning News, “I’ve said we need to dial up the fun, and this is the headquarters for it.”
The streets of downtown Dallas were strangely quiet on the weekend I visited (does everyone vacate to the suburbs when 5 p.m. hits on a Friday?), but Klyde Warren Park was in full swing with couples, families, dog owners (the park has a dog zone called My Best Friend’s Park no less), impromptu dancers and food truck patrons taking over the many tables and chairs sprinkled throughout the park. The Jim Burnett-designed park features an enclosed kids playground, a putting green, chess tables, foosball and ping pong tables, a large stage, a soon-to-open restaurant, meandering paths, free Wi-Fi and 322 trees, which hopefully will provide much-needed shade during Dallas’s scorching hot summer months when temperatures can reach 36 C.
Walking around the park, you’d never guess an eight-lane freeway lay metres beneath your feet. The park, by the way, is named after the 10-year-old son of energy entrepreneur Kelcy Warren, who donated a reported $10 million to the project. Fingers must be crossed that young Klyde grows up to be a fine young man forever worthy of having a park named after him.
The topography around Dallas is flat, featureless and, at this time of year, brown, which may be another reason Dallas is so rich in art. There are no mountains or ocean to compete for people’s attention like in Vancouver, a city that many say is overly reliant on its natural surroundings. Dallas, however, makes up for its lack of grand vistas with its 19-block (68-acre) pedestrian-friendly Arts District that is home to the must-visit Dallas Museum of Art (free general admission), Nasher Sculpture Centre (admission $10 for renowned works by Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Rodin among others) and the Crow Collection of Asian Art to its architectural award-winning performance spaces. (As well as the Sculpture Centre, the Nasher family owns a mall called the NorthPark Centre, which they’ve also outfitted with major art acquisitions.)
With the recently opened Perot Museum of Nature and Science, there is plenty to keep locals and visitors entertained and enlightened (OK, Dallas/Fort Worth does support four professional sports franchises so it’s not only about art, but art was the purpose of my visit.)
The 180,000-square-foot, five-storey Perot Museum (admission US$15), which opened Dec. 1, 2012, is conceived as a large cube floating over a landscaped plinth (or base) and is designed to inspire awareness of science through an immersive and interactive environment that actively engages visitors. It’s chockablock full of things to see, learn and do here — for people of all ages — including learning about the origins of the universe and life, experiencing a magnitude 10 earthquake (scary), touching a tornado, racing a T-Rex, flying like a bird, programming a robot and comparing your athletic form to pro athletes. The museum is named in honour of Margot and Ross Perot, the result of a $50 million gift made by the couple’s five adult children. The museum is such a hit, visitors are encouraged to get entry tickets in advance due to sell-outs most weekends.
That wasn’t it for my whirlwind art and museum tour. Would you believe the Dallas Cowboys Stadium employs docents? I met one. His name is Phil Whitfield. Before the Cowboys moved into their new stadium in 2009 in Arlington (just up the freeway from Dallas), Whitfield was head of stadium security. Then Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his wife Gene, who both envisioned a stadium that went beyond mere sports to appeal to fans of architecture and art, asked Whitfield if he wanted to be a docent. Whitfield was more than bemused.
“I thought they were punishing me when they offered me the job,” a happy Whitfield told me. “I didn’t know anything about art. They took a chance on me and I’m happy they did.” Whitfield is an integral component to the stadium’s art program, touring visitors around to see a collection that consists of 46 contemporary works by 35 established and emerging artists. He got to know the art through the artists, specifically 14 who were commissioned for site-specific work, when they came to the stadium to install their large-scale pieces.
“The art is everywhere,” Whitfield explained during our 90-minute tour. “It’s here to be seen by everybody who comes into the building.” Indeed it is. Most of the pieces are massive.
Football fans fear not. There are plenty of archival photos gracing the stadium of Cowboys players going back to the early ’60s, including a hilarious publicity photo of quarterback Eddie LeBaron looking painfully uncomfortable atop a horse. And, of course, there are images of former coach Tom Landry with assistant coach Mike Ditka and QB Roger Staubach. Oh, and did I mention the jumbotron is 160 feet by 72 feet and that there are 3,500 TVs throughout the airy stadium and twice as many restroom stalls for women as for men, Whitfield said.
No visit to Dallas, however, is complete without visiting the well-patronized Sixth Floor Museum (jfk.org), which chronicles the assassination (and legacy) of John F. Kennedy almost a half century ago. I anticipated spending only 30 minutes on the sixth floor of the old school book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald aimed his rifle out a corner window and shot JFK Nov. 22, 1963, but I was instantly pulled into the event’s history thanks to the self-guided audio tours narrated by Pierce Allman, the first reporter to broadcast from the building on the day of the shooting. I stayed 90 minutes, many of those emotional moments. The museum is in the midst of year-long special programming leading up to the 50th anniversary, which includes a monthly living history series featuring people who were present that fateful November day, while the city is busy sprucing up the grassy knoll, which was cordoned off for repair when I was there (and much smaller than I thought ).
For more information on Dallas, go to visitdallas.com.
PLACES TO STAY:
I stayed two nights gratis at the Joule Hotel, a boutique hotel centrally located on Main Street in downtown Dallas that caters to what it calls the “urban explorer.” Its tall, narrow exterior is all 1920s heritage, but its interior is sleek, modern and artful and in keeping with with the theme of my Dallas weekend. Many art pieces are sprinkled throughout the hotel, which is also famous for its outdoor pool that overhangs the building and has sweeping city views. Very urbane indeed and well-suited to people looking for a more interesting hotel experience than what the standard large hotel chains offer.
Go to www.thejouledallas.com for more information.
PLACES TO EAT:
Dinner: The stylish Charlie Palmer restaurant attached to the Joule Hotel is perfectly situated for the “urban explorer,” who after a long, exhausting day of sightseeing, is not eager to have to travel outside the hotel for a meal. I’m not fond of eating alone, but the restaurant staff knew exactly how to treat the single traveller. I was seated in a perfect spot to scan the room, but not hidden away, and given choices for reading material to keep me occupied. Nice touch. After ordering, a lobster corndog amuse bouche arrived unexpectedly at my table. My quail entrée, the first one of my life, was mouth-watering.
Chef Charlie Palmer has a number of restaurants across the U.S. Go to http://www.charliepalmer.com/ for more information.
Breakfast: For a change of pace and immediately east along Main Street in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas, I had breakfast at the All Good Café, which offers Texas-style friendliness and typical cafe-style large breakfasts and endless cups of coffee at reasonable prices. Deep Ellum, which is apparently a corroption of Deep Elm Street, is largely an arts and entertainment neighbourhood.
Lunch: I had a tasty sandwich and soup at the popular Nasher Sculpture Centre’s Nasher Café by Wolfgang Puck. It was here I had my first Shiner Bock (with a sandwich and soup), the only beer brand to drink while in Texas I’m told. I can see why. It goes down mighty easily. For more information on the centre, go to http://www.nashersculpturecenter.org/