The Texas State Building: J. Riely Gordon's
Contribution to the World's Columbian Exposition
LET TEXAS OUTDO HERSELF AT CHICAGO. IT IS THE OPPORTUNITY OF A
lifetime.... Texas has more to gain at Chicago than any other state
in the Union."'
With those words, the editor of the Dallas News implored the citizenry
of Texas to support a state presence at the 1893 World's Columbian Ex-
position in Chicago. For James Riely Gordon, who would be the archi-
tect of the Texas State Building for the Exposition, it was truly the
opportunity of a lifetime. Designing the Texas pavilion for the great
World's Fair would garner national attention for the up-and-coming San
Antonio architect, and publicity surrounding the Fair probably did more
to raise his countrymen's awareness of architecture than any other sin-
gle event. This commission may well have been the most important of
his celebrated career, even though the structure had a functional life
span of only four months. It may also be viewed as a focal point for both
Gordon's stylistic and professional evolution. The story of the building
itself, and the civic-minded Texans who made it possible, provides a
glimpse into the mostly forgotten realm of the Fair beyond its famous
Court of Honor.
The great fairs of the latter half of the nineteenth century were impor-
tant vehicles for promoting commerce. In an era before broadcasting,
they afforded an opportunity for leaders of business and industry to pre-
sent their wares and resources to an international audience. As a matter
of national pride, each host country attempted to provide an exposition
that excelled previous fairs. The Philadelphia World's Fair of 1876, cele-
brating the nation's centennial, was a success by Victorian quantitative
standards. It set records for fairground size, attendance, revenue, and
* Chris Meister is a partner in a graphic design firm in Houston. He holds a B.F.A. degree
from Central Michigan University and has authored survey reports on historic architecture for
the State of Michigan. His interests include the study of architectural subjects using historical
Dallas News editorial as reprinted in Austin Dasly Statesman,July 2, 1891.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed May 25, 2015.