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The Orris D. Brown Collection, no. 1 - Dallas Centennial Exposition, A Holiday on Treasure Island (1936, 1937)

Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Silent | 1936

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TAMI Tags
  •  Spirit of the Centennial 
  •  The Six Ladies of Fair Park at entrance of Hall of State 
  •  Centennial Expo Building 
  •  Centennial Expo Building 
  •  The Esplanade 
 
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This home movie from the Orris Brown Collection captures scenes of the Texas Centennial Exposition at the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas in 1936. It was the first world's fair south of the Mason-Dixon Line. At a cost of $25,000,000, the central exposition was built, occupying fifty buildings, including The Hall of Negro Life, the first recognition of black culture at a world's fair. Footage in this home movie includes shots of many of the art deco statues and buildings built for the Exposition, including the State of Texas Building, the Spirit of the Centennial, and the Six Ladies of Fair Park, as well as scenes of animatronic fighting dinosaurs, a marching band, and ice skaters. Later in the film are scenes of Bruin Bears in San Antonio and a family holiday on Galveston Island for Independence Day in 1937. Brown used intertitles and trick photography in these scenes. While on vacation in Galveston, "Treasure Island," the family acts out finding a treasure map that leads them to a magic stone which can make objects disappear, showcasing some of Brown's best film tricks. The digital preservation of this film was made possible by a grant to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Houston Public Library from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Orris Dorr Brown was born in 1890 in Henderson, Texas. He married Edna Myra Webb in 1923, and together they traveled domestically and abroad teaching cake decorating techniques using edible sugar. Brown became interested in filmmaking in the early 1930s and began filming scenery and sites as he traveled. Texas became the focus of many of his films, and he traveled extensively throughout the state to document historical figures and locations, most notably scenes of Uncle Jeff Hamilton, Sam Houston's personal slave (watch this film in the TAMI library). In 1936, Brown filed for a U.S. patent for a Moving Picture Machine through which to view films. He moved into professional filmmaking as an employee of Empire and Superior Studios in the 1940s and 50s to film full-length pictures. Orris D. Brown was a Shriner and a Free Mason. He passed away in 1965.
The Texas Centennial was a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Texas independence from Mexico. Events all over the state commemorated the milestone, such as the Texas Frontier Centennial in Fort Worth and Galveston’s Mardi Gras.  Several existing buildings were commissioned for the centennial, including the Texas Memorial Museum, The Sam Houston Memorial Museum, The Panhandle-Plains Memorial Museum, and the Alamo Museum, among others. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio all vied for the chance to host the main exposition, but Dallas won due to its financial commitment.
 
The Central Exposition in Dallas was heralded as the first World’s Fair held in the Southwest. It ran from June 6 to November 29, 1936, and again from June 12 to October 31, 1937. The festival’s most visited attraction was the “Cavalcade of Texas,” a pageant of Texas history. Another draw was the Hall of Negro Life, which was the first acknowledgement of black culture at any World’s Fair. In the midst of moralistic and educational efforts, the midway also served as a space for drinking, gambling, and strippers, a sure way to make money at the height of the Great Depression. One of the most appealing parts of the exposition was the nightly lightshow where 24 multicolored searchlights that could be seen from miles away. 
 
Famous visitors included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gene Autry. The exposition served as a filming location for The Big Show, a 1936 western in which Gene Autry played himself. Over 6 million people attended the fair, and while that was below the projected figures, organizers were ultimately pleased with the boost to the economy and the recognition it brought Dallas. 
 

The digital preservation of this collection was made possible by a grant to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Houston Public Library from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Orris D. Brown films, and many other interesting films about Texas are available on the Houston Public Library Houston Area Digital Archives website.

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