Manhattan on the Prairie

Manhattan on the Prairie

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Lindsay Brisko
Contributed by:
Lindsay Brisko
Assoc. AIA

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Public Arts: Manhattan on the Prairie

Walking into Lark on the Park, it’s hard to keep your eyes off the colossal murals that adorn the walls of the restaurant. In its second year, nestled across from Klyde Warren Park, the restaurant is adorned with drawings that are changed seasonally, kept fresh by the likes of local and foreign artists imprinting their flavor on the city. Perhaps most intriguing is the chosen medium for the drawings, chalk on blackboards. It’s a combination that resonates with most of us, reminiscent of scribbling equations in front of the class or of Hollywood plots with brilliant mathematicians.

Scanning over the works of art, the eye catches a bustling streetscape perhaps of New York or Chicago. The mural—titled Manhattan on the Prairie by landscape architect Kevin Sloan—actually depicts Dallas from the early 20th century. The drawing has a specific dynamism; blurred headlights insinuate a bustling city on a Saturday evening. The drawing is punctuated by the accompanying quote, “Dallas Main Street once had so many theaters … it was called Manhattan on the Prairie.” The pungent use of “once” might be the most sobering fact as the familiarity between drawing and current streetscape might only be the word “Dallas.”  In observation, only a handful of clues in the painting are still present in the city today.  

Photo by Michael Cagle, Assoc. AIA

As evidenced by the canopy of cranes around the city, Dallas is growing to meet the demands of society. This growth includes new construction sometimes initiated by razing buildings. That’s conceivably an unavoidable circumstance in some cases—but at what cost? Perhaps architects are simply prone to this solution. From early on, children are trained to build new; a LEGO® set doesn’t come preassembled with intentions of adaptation or preservation. Possibly it’s the exponential rate at which technology is progressing or the volatile economy causing panic to simply keep architecture fresh, sleek, and thus relevant. However, in retrospect, have we determined if there is an associated cost to the destruction of the historic fabric? 

The drawing will unfortunately be replaced nearly as quickly as it was created; the antiquated skyline will be relegated to the digital realm and our collective memory. From the sidewalk, one final glance back, I’m struck by a compelling view of two radically different skylines. Layered in the glazing, a chalky foreign Dallas from years ago and the colorful reflection of our familiar skyline: both temporary, both changing.  

Photo by Anna Procter

Appreciate the artistic work that went into Manhattan on the Prairie by viewing a fast-forward video of its production. 


Lindsay Brisko, Assoc. AIA, is a project coordinator with Good Fulton & Farrell.