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History Ingrained in Signage and the Flying Red Horse

History Ingrained in Signage and the Flying Red Horse

Considering the rich and impressive history of architecture, arguably going back thousands of years, the history of signage (as we know it) is relatively brief. In our business and industry we mostly look ahead as we appreciate, learn and apply new signage technologies, materials, and graphic methods, for a wide variety of applications. However, as time moves forward we encounter more opportunities to view signs from a historical perspective, and in some cases signs can tell the story of the evolution of a company’s brand or the growth and development of a city.

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This brings us to the story of “The Flying Red Horse”, how it became a brand of sorts for the city of Dallas, and based on the Greek mythological creature “Pegasus”. Pegasus is viewed as a very strong, loyal and inspirational figure in Greek mythology, known as “The Winged Horse”, “Horse of the Muses”, carrier of thunderbolts for Zeus, and for his ability to make springs flow with the stomp of his hoof. So, in summary, he is viewed as one heck of a good horse.

A red version of Pegasus served as a logo and brand within the oil industry as early as 1911 in Cape Town, South Africa. In 1931, the company that eventually became Mobil Oil adopted the red Pegasus as its logo, as did its affiliate by the name of Magnolia Oil, based in Dallas, Texas. The Magnolia Oil Building was built in 1922 as the first skyscraper in Dallas and initially was the tallest building (29 stories) west of the Mississippi.  In 1934, Magnolia Oil had a large red Pegasus sign installed on the top of the building as a way to welcome attendees to an oil conference, so it was only intended as a temporary sign. The Pegasus sign was constructed as two identical panels measuring 40 feet wide by 32 feet high, and the two panels were spaced 14 feet apart, with a total of a quarter-mile of red neon tubing used for illumination. The 15-ton structure rotated on a revolving platform making one full revolution every 40 seconds. The following gives a good perspective of how it appeared in its early days:

 

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The “Flying Red Horse” quickly endeared itself to Dallas residents and businesses, and became an iconic landmark and steadfast part of Dallas’ identity. Given the size and distinctive red illumination, this was the landmark that people traveling to Dallas would see first when approaching Dallas at night via land or air. The sign fell into disrepair in the 1974-1999 timeframe, and in 1999 it was determined that the sign could not be restored and was removed. A new Pegasus sign was then built with individual and corporate donations totaling $600,000, and the new sign was installed and lit in time for New Years Eve 1999, to bring in the year 2000 and the new Millennium. What began as a temporary welcome sign has become an important iconic symbol that helps to tell the story of an industry and the growth and evolution of the city of Dallas. The Magnolia Building is now occupied by the beautiful Magnolia Hotel, with the Flying Red Horse atop the building in his proper place along the downtown Dallas skyline.

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Even the story of the original Pegasus sign built in 1934 has a happy ending. In 2011, 12 years after the original Pegasus sign had been last seen by the public, an elderly woman, whose father owned the sign company (Texlite) that built the original Pegasus sign, told the sign’s story to artist Jeremy McKane, who was captivated by the story and led the mission to locate the original sign. The sign had been crated and was moved to different storage locations in Dallas over the years, with a limited paper trail that made it difficult to find. Then, in 2012, McKane found the old sign in a storage shed at White Rock Lake in Dallas. The old sign even had bullet holes that could not be explained. However, the decision was quickly made to restore the sign for $200,000 and place it in front of the Omni Dallas Hotel in downtown Dallas. The sign was restored, installed and re-lit in May of 2015.peg4

So the strong emotional bond between the city of Dallas and its endearing landmark has rewarded Dallas area residents and visitors with not one but two Pegasus signs, giving us the opportunity to appreciate the history they represent and their continued role as beautiful and beloved Dallas landmarks.

Click here for Dallas’ Pegasus story with lots of great images and videos

Click here for a detailed story of the search for the original Pegasus sign

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