On May 27, 2015 Mayor Mike Rawlings officially lit the neon on the original 1934 Pegasus and started it revolving on the lawn in front of the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas. In sight is the replicated Pegasus sign atop the Magnolia Hotel, the Pegasus’s original home. The Omni’s popularity, in part is due to its proximity to the Convention Center, the American Airlines Center, the original Neiman-Marcus and the Central Business and Arts Districts, all of which are stops on the free #722 DART Pink bus.
Credit for the reappearance of the high-flying two-sided Pegasus sign, (1934-1999) goes to Jeremy McKane, the overseer of the project that turned the Pegasus sign into a prominent piece of public art, Kay Kallos, a specialist in public sculpture for the City of Dallas and Jack Matthews who assisted in the financial support. Tony and Holly Collins, partners in their metal design studio constructed a copy of the derrick, a mechanism to revolve the sign and assembled the “horses,” DBG Glass made the glass panels to protect the derrick from graffiti and Van Enter Studios cleaned the damaged panels. I am the official historian because I grew up hearing my father say “Dallas doesn’t want to be known as a one horse town.”
In September of 1934, Texlite, run and owned by my father Harold Wineburgh was hired by the Magnolia Oil Company to create a sign representing the Pegasus to be anchored to the roof of the Renaissance Revival Magnolia Petroleum Building to commemorate the first annual meeting of an oil and gas convention. Until 1999, the Pegasus braced Dallas’s downtown skyline 450 feet above street level though it was intended to be temporary.
The 29-story Magnolia Building completed in 1922, Dallas’s first building in the skyscraper class, towered over the nearby Adolphus Hotel built in 1913. It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and Dallas’s tallest building until 1943. On the upper floors were the headquarters of Magnolia Oil. These mighty stallions, the winged horse of Greek mythology or colloquially the “Flying Red Horse,” a symbol of speed and power were used beginning in 1911 and continue to be the company’s trademark and logo.
Texlite goes back to 1879 when an Italian immigrant opened a tiny sign company on the future site of the Magnolia Building. In 1922, the company was purchased by my grandfather who lived in New York as a graduation present from Princeton for my father Harold Wineburgh under whose direction “Texlite” was coined and incorporated. Our family moved to Dallas in 1938. In its 75th year, it was the largest sign company in the world. Neon lighting became popular in outdoor advertising because of its visibility in daylight. Porcelain enamel remains the choice for signs and exterior sheathing for buildings due to its being impervious to the elements, exhaust fume acids and mischief.
Texlite’s furnace was so huge it could produce parts of B-29 wings during World War II, bomber fuselages during the Korean War and each panel of the two steel Pegasus measuring 40 feet in length by 32 feet in height and weighing 8,000 pounds. Standing 14 feet apart, the brackets and cables were shaped to resemble a supporting oil derrick anchored to a 50-foot metal tower and in between was a custom-designed three horse-power motor to turn the 15-ton structure one revolution every 40 seconds. It was considered hazardous and impractical to place a sign of this size, much less a revolving one where a strong wind blew most of the time. When the wind exceeded 30 miles per hour, for safety precautions, a device made the revolutions stop. 1,162 feet or about a quarter of a mile of red neon outlined the details on both sides of the silhouette and the sign glowed by means of 22- thousand volt transformers. For 20 years, at least two Texlite electricians took an elevator to the 27th floor of the building, climbed the equivalent of eight floors on ladders to take care of the maintenance.
Despite the treacherous height and the improvisational nature of the project construction proceeded on schedule. The Pegasus was completed in six weeks in Texlite’s third factory on Lovers Lane where 500 employees produced signs for the gas stations of companies ranging from Standard Oil of California, Gulf, Humble, Chevron, Esso, Mobil and Texaco. The discovery in 1901 of Spindletop, a giant oil field in East Texas solidified Texas’s claim as the oil center of the United States while the growth of the automobile industry in the early 30s contributed to the need of signs.
In 1959, Magnolia merged with other oil companies to form the Mobil Oil Company. In 1972, the Esso brand was replaced by Exxon followed by ExxonMobil becoming an international corporation with headquarters in Las Colinas in Dallas. In 1974, the Pegasus sign stopped revolving and three years later Mobil Oil moved out of the building. In 1976, Mobil contributed the Pegasus sign and the Magnolia Building to the City of Dallas, the same year, the Building was designated a Historical Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the years, the Pegasus’s panels became rusted, pitted and coated with city grime, the worn support braces caused the sign to sway in the wind and the neon tubing broke. In 1997, the battered sign was shut off. Even though the City had bolted down the horses, it was impossible to restore, so a gigantic crane was placed 50 feet above the roof and with the help of a helicopter disassembled and placed in storage.
In 1999, enthusiasts appeared on the scene to support the production of a new sign for the top of the Magnolia Building converted into a four-star business hotel. To duplicate the panels, the original ones were used as templates and fired using the same finishing processes Texlite had used. Sixteen-gage galvanized steel was used to deter rusting for the next 100 years, a computer-controlled weather station was designed and extra sets of red neon tubing provide for future repairs.
The new Flying Red Horse was ready in time for the Millennium New Year’s eve celebration. Over 45,000 people in Dallas attended and Mayor Ron Kirk led the countdown nationally in a CBS broadcast. Fireworks in the new $2.5 million limestone Pegasus Park celebrated the sign’s reinstallation. The source of the Park’s water fountains comes from 1,600 feet below the Magnolia Building.
In the 30s and 40s when Texlite was making and managing the original Pegasus, it filled other roles starting with its manufacture of brilliantly-lit porcelain enamel and neon Interstate Theater marquees in Texas’ major cities. In Dallas there were the Palace, Rialto, Tower and Capitol. The Majestic, the only theater not demolished in the 70s was Dallas’s first building on the National Register of Historic Places. The suburban theaters with Texlite marquees include the Inwood (1947), Highland Park Village (1935) and Lakewood (1938), each distinguishing its neighborhood.
Texlite’s emblematic sign on the roof of Dr. Pepper’s bottling plant (1946) is one more important sign by Texlite that was destroyed. In the 50s through the 70s, Texlite produced porcelain enamel turquoise curtain walls for building exteriors for the 20-story Statler-Hilton Hotel (1956), a mixed-use development (2015) on the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s list of America’s Most Endangered Places, 211 N. Ervay (1958), an office building remodeled in 2014, Southland Center’s three skyscrapers now the Sheraton Hotel and the green mosaic design that identified Love Field terminal (1957-1974) where after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States.
Even though the Flying Red Horse on top of the Magnolia Hotel is surrounded by taller buildings, it’s quite possible to catch a view of it while strolling the downtown streets looking up into the sky or from car windows while driving where Interstates 30 and 35 merge and split apart. The original Pegasus residing in front of the Omni Hotel, proudly part of the City of Dallas’s Public Art Collection, continues the tradition of creating memories and welcomes visitors to Dallas from all over the world.