STATE PARK WONDER
From Dinoland to Dinosaur Valley
1964 World’s Fair statues stand watch over state park.
For decades, two life-sized dinosaur sculptures have greeted visitors driving into Dinosaur Valley State Park. One is a ferocious T. rex, with sharp teeth and short arms. The other is a placid green-and-white brontosaurus that surely would have loved to munch on the plentiful trees in the park. While they may not really be millions of years old, these two have had quite the journey to end up watching over their namesake park.
In 1964, the New York World’s Fair attracted more than 50 million visitors to its many attractions, national pavilions and corporate exhibitions. Dinoland was one such display, sponsored by the Sinclair Oil Corporation. Sinclair gas station signs boldly featured a green brontosaurus, and the brontosaurus became the headline feature of the exhibit. The original exhibit had nine life-sized dino statues on display, all made with animatronics to move slightly.
The dinosaurs were created by Louis Paul Jonas, a sculptor and taxidermist well known for creating lifelike displays and exhibits for natural science
After the World’s Fair ended, the dinosaur menagerie went for a tour across the United States, eventually going into storage when the Atlantic Richfield Company purchased Sinclair.
About 1970, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began developing Dinosaur Valley State Park around the famous dinosaur footprints found in the riverbed near Glen Rose.
The park development team believed the park could benefit from a few more attractions. Texas Gov. Preston Smith took that as a challenge and made a call on the radio for donations of dinosaur artwork. Atlantic Richfield generously donated the statues, and they were installed on the grounds. Sadly, the animatronic features so enjoyed by World’s Fair visitors no longer functioned.
For decades the two giants kept watch over the quiet valley, until 1986, when an employee took issue with the head of the brontosaurus. The employee claimed that the head was “cartoonish” and presented an inaccurate view of how the creature would have appeared. As a result, the exhibit staff cut off the original head and put a newly constructed head in its place.
The new head was … different. Neither skin texture nor color matched the rest of the body. Even worse, the new head was substantially smaller than the previous one, making it look comically small on the statue. Visitors did not care for the modifications. Neither did staff, and after only a few months, the original brontosaurus head was put back in its place.
Since the 1980s, several restoration projects have preserved the condition of the two aging sculptures. A new repair project will soon restore the original paint color, finish and patterns, and stabilize the dinosaurs’ shells and structures.
The repairs will help ensure that the two largest residents of Texas State Parks are on hand to greet visitors for years to come.
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