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“Meet me at the Fair.”


The Fennimore Co. Agricultural Association would have been formed shortly after the founding of the county itself. Even by the middle of the 19th century, the county fair had been an American institution since before the Revolution, an event of greater significance to American culture than you might suspect. J. B. Jackson has written about this phenomenon in his 1980 collection of essays The Necessity for Ruins — which I heartily recommend.

In the 1980s, Jackson — known to his friends as “Brink” — was in demand as adjunct faculty, and it was in this capacity that I took one of his seminars at the University of Texas at Austin and encountered one of the finest educators it’s been my pleasure to experience. I came away from his lectures on “the county fair” with an appreciation for its impact of the gene pool: yes, the competitive selection of the best-of-breed among various types of sheep, pigs, and cattle was paralleled with a far less obvious improvement in the human gene pool; the fair was one of the few opportunities in rural America for young men and women to find mates beyond the limitations of the village where they lived and the church where they worshipped. I need to reread Jackson essay on fairs.

By a happy coincidence, I ran across this image of Delmar Gardens, an amusement park in Oklahoma City long since disappeared. I was interested, not only because I attended the University of Oklahoma in nearby Norman, but also because these festive stick-like buildings were designed by William A. Wells, an OKC architect who was the topic of my first published work in an obscure, defunct journal: “Towers in Oklahoma,” The Prairie School Review, Vol. 7, no. 4 (1971).

Wells had been the architect of the Colcord Building, a 1909 office building constructed just two years after statehood and directly inspired by the lush ornamental forms of Louis Sullivan. I was twenty-four years old when I researched the paper that became that article and possibly the first person to take an interest in Wells’s work, though at the time I didn’t know about these charming buildings. All these years that I’ve fretted over the design of the Fennimore Co. fairgrounds, the answer to my dilemma was here in this image.

Wells seems to have designed only a few of these structures, especially a dance and dining pavilion (hidden behind trees in this postcard view) and also the exotic pagoda-like shelter for the trolley that brought most people to the grounds at the southwestern edge of OKC. Will I be guilty of some crime for simply borrowing Wells’s scheme?

1 Comment

  1. […] “Meet me at the Fair” [2018.01.03] was one of several attempts at linking the problem with parallels, especially in my own experience. Here I wrote about William A. Wells, an early Oklahoma architect of my acquaintance who had designed several features at an amusement grounds in suburban Oklahoma City at the time of Oklahoma statehood. […]

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