Since I.M. Pei’s upside-down cake of a modernist building first opened in 1978, people have complained about Dallas City Hall. Much of the decades-long jeremiad has centered on the vast, mostly useless—or, at least, underutilized—expanse in front of the building. The 6-acre plaza was part of Pei’s design, even though it’s more a shrug than an actual plan. To its credit, the city realized this early on and commissioned author and urban sociology professor William H. Whyte to study the plaza and recommend a fix. On June 15, 1983, Whyte delivered his presentation to the City Council. His idea: a pavilion with a food kiosk at its center and trees all around it, something that would provide sustenance and shade, somewhere to sit. He wanted to “bring down the scale of the plaza to the individual dimensions”—to make it “a place” (emphasis his). Apparently, the City Council was made up entirely of Alpha Betas from Revenge of the Nerds, because Whyte eloquently put forth all of these ideas, and all anyone heard was “BEACH PARTY!” A year later, in June 1984, the city trucked in tons of sand, and everyone put on their OP shorts. Lynn Lennon, who was working on a project about public spaces for the Dallas Public Library, captured the event for posterity. Lennon, whose work is in the permanent collection of SMU’s DeGolyer Library, was kind enough to dig up some of those photos for us.
Growing up in Fort Worth, I would never imagine something like this ever transpiring in the Cowtown. But in Dallas? Of course Dallas would throw a Beach Party at City Hall. The original photograph above was developed in 1984, which is apparently a part of the DMA’s permanent collection. According to this June 1987 issue of Texas Monthly, it appears to have been an annual event for some time:
I wonder when the Beach Party stopped being an annual thing. Here’s a couple of fun images from D Magazine (disclaimer, these were photographed by my friend, Kyle Pennington. An excellent food photographer, and musician):
I happened to come upon these on accident. Seeing a historical photo on Reddit had me searching for more historical photos of Dallas. As it turns out, D Magazine loved doing these Ghosts of Dallas segments a while back, so there’s some amazing gems in their archives if you’re interested.