by Cynthia Mulcahy that culminates in an evening of musical performances on Sunday, October 25th,
set amidst the historic Japanese Garden of Kidd Springs Park, a public city park located in the North
Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas.
and civic history of the public park’s Japanese Garden, originally
established in the late 1960s. The
artist-led public art project is funded by a new artist grant from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.
Portrait of Oklahoma oil heiress Ethel Buell (c. 1920s), whose
collection of Japanese antiquities now resides at Kidd Springs Park
because of the efforts of her daughter,
Bradstreet (young woman in right photograph with her mother c. 1930s).
Photographs courtesy of Liz and Rob Mulford. Middle: 17th century Buddhist sculpture
in Kidd Springs Park, Dallas (1979). Courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives.
Japanese Garden at Kidd Springs Park in 1971, the year it was officially dedicated. Courtesy Dallas Park and Recreation Department.
Nota bene: A printed broadsheet detailing the history of the Japanese Garden (with a
Spanish translation) is available for free
for self-tours inside the Kidd Springs Park recreation building. About the Grant
The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs inaugurated a new artist
grant in 2015 to support Dallas-based
artist-led public art projects. Artist Cynthia Mulcahy was recently
chosen as one of five artists to receive the
inaugural round of OCA Cultural Projects Program Special Support Grants for her socially-engaged public
artwork proposal for Kidd Springs Park. Additional monetary support provided by Judy Vetter and David
Durham. Translation services provided by Intercultural Translations.
Kidd Springs Park History
Before the City of
Dallas purchased the spring-fed lake and lush surrounding land for a public
city park from the
estate of Dallas banker Wirt Davis in 1947, Kidd Springs was
already a popular privately owned green space
with hugely attractive swimming, boating,
and fishing facilities. Fiddle contests, political campaign rallies, orchestra
concerts and large Labor Day celebrations were held in the park in the early
decades of the 20th century. An
especially popular draw in the 1940s
were the enormous outdoor carnivals put on by the Texas Variety Club in
of the American Federation of Labor featuring MGM and Universal stage and
screen star acts, circus
performers, the annual Turtle Derby and fireworks
lasting until midnight.
Once Kidd Springs
became a public city park in 1947, Saturday night square dances, fishing
rodeos, and city-wide
softball continued to make Kidd Springs Park one of the
most popular destinations around, however the city park
remained segregated throughout the 1950s. Although the city never officially made racial
segregation a law in public
parks, conventions of dominant culture were rigid
enough to enforce and privilege “White only” use of public facilities.
In 1964 plans were
made by the park department to build a modern recreation building. That same
year, the daughter
of Ethel Buell, an Oklahoma oil heiress, offered her
mother’s collection of Japanese antiquities to the Dallas Park
Department. Ethel Buell’s husband, J. Garfield Buell, had built a vast fortune prospecting for
oil and buying land and
leases in the early 20th century capitalist
tradition, sometimes by nefarious means as a
string of court cases involving
the Creek Nation and other plaintiffs detail.
By the Roaring Twenties, the Buell fortune allowed Ethel Buell to indulge
love of all things Japanese. In 1928 she had expert Japanese craftsman build
traditional architectural structures
for her ten-acre garden in Muskogee,
Oklahoma and she used her connections in San Francisco, Chicago and New
collect Japanese antiquities for her garden.
When offered the
Japanese art collection in 1964 by Ethel Buell's daughter, Betty Buell Bradstreet, the Dallas Park
Department was able to acquire the entire
collection through a monetary donation from Oak Cliff citizens Dr. & Mrs.
Jack Edwards. With extensive landscaping and stonework designed by storied
Dallas landscaping firm Lambert’s,
a public dedication of the Japanese Garden
was held in the spring of 1971. In a sign of the times, the garden was
regrettably referred to as an "Oriental Garden" for the early part of its history in the manner of other public Japanese
gardens that changed their names to "Oriental Garden" because of Japanese-American discrimination during World
War II and the following decades.
Decades of park visitors from young lovers and
elderly couples to mothers pushing strollers and weekend anglers have
what’s become a beloved public green space. Kidd Springs Park's Tōrō
Spring Lantern, the ten-foot talltōrō (lantern in Japanese) now residing in Kidd Springs Park is a wonderful example
of a tachidōrō (pedestal lantern), a traditional feature of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan. The intricate
carvings on the hexagonal box of these lanterns often depict deer, the moon and the sun. The Emperor of Japan's
government originally sent Spring Lantern to the Japanese Pavilion and Garden Exhibition of A Century of Progress,
the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1933. Ethel Buell was able to acquire Spring Lantern and another smaller lantern,
Snow Lantern, from the exhibition through her good friend Takashi Komatsu, President of the America-Japan Society
of Tokyo, who organized the Japanese Pavilion. Together the two lanterns weighed over four tons. Komatsu would later
organize the landmark 20th century Japanese House exhibitions in 1954 and 1955 in the courtyard of the Museum of
Modern Art in New York. Today only Spring Lantern remains in Kidd Springs. Snow Lantern, now missing from the
garden, was originally located next to the roofed entrance gate still standing near the recreation building. Snow Lantern
was a fine example of a four-legged yukimi-doro type of Japanese lantern, a low and wide design as traditional as the
tall pedestal design of Spring Lantern.
Kidd Springs Park’s Buddha
Two Buddhist statues that still exist in Kidd
Springs Park today have been identified as 17th century Japanese antiquities.
Made of granite stone like the garden’s lanterns, Buddhist statues are also traditionally placed at Buddhist temples
Shrines in Japan. Ethel Buell acquired these and three others in 1930 from George Turner Marsh, an early
authority on Japanese art and antiquities in San
Francisco. Marsh designed a Japanese Village with traditional
a strolling garden for the California Midwinter International Exposition, the
World’s Fair in San Francisco
in 1893. At the close of the fair, the San
Francisco Parks Department bought the entire much-loved exhibition house
gardens, which became the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate State Park, the
oldest public Japanese garden
in America and one of San Francisco’s most
beloved tourist sites. In 1911, railroad magnate Henry Huntington bought
Turner Marsh’s entire Japanese house and strolling garden in Pasadena for his
estate in San Marino, outside
Los Angeles, which eventually became The Huntington
Library in 1928, one of America’s great museums and botanical
When Ethel Buell purchased five stone Buddhist statues from George Turner Marsh in 1930, they came with
attesting to their age of at least two hundred years old (18th century)
or older. The two granite bodhisattva
statues that remain in the Japanese Garden in Kidd Springs Park represent either the patron of travelers and
or Bosatsu, a contemplative disciple of Buddha. Originally Kidd Springs contained three, possibly four, statues.
Kidd Springs Park's Bell, Gates, Bridge and Teahouse
Performance as Gesture: Songs for a City Park is also a lament for what has since over the years disappeared
from the Japanese Garden at Kidd Springs Park including a number of the original garden structures. A bell tower
with an irreplaceable Japanese Buddhist temple bell identified as Edo Period (1773), a twelve foot tall torii gate
once installed in the park's lake and an intricate bridge that spanned the creek are now missing from the garden.
The bell tower, the torii gate and the bridge were built by expert Japanese craftsman in Japan, then numbered,
disassembled and shipped to Ethel Buell's Oklahoma garden in 1928.
Aerial photographs of Kidd Springs' lake from the 1970s in archives show were the torii gate, based on the famous
original in Miyajima in the Inland Sea of Japan, was once installed. A beautiful red bridge that spanned the creek was
built based on the famous red bridge in Nikko all the way down to the intricate woodwork and brass finials. The bell
tower housing the Edo Period bronze bell was located on the hill above Spring Lantern in the garden. All that remains
of the 1928 structures is the roofed entrance gate, since heavily altered. A tea house added in later years to the garden
is also now gone.