Photo credit: Iain Farrell via Flickr Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 2.0
Right in the heart of the central business district in downtown Dallas lies a hidden gem with an identity problem. The idyllic park is called Thanks-Giving Square, but its not actually a square at all - it’s a triangle. More about that in a minute. On the other hand, "hidden gem" can be taken quite literally. Much of the park cannot be seen when passing by on the street. That too is intentional. Follow me into the "square" I'll show you some of the treasures you'll find inside.
Sculptured lawn areas bounded by stone walls and water channels lead to a center court and a spiral-shaped interfaith chapel designed by Philip Johnson. Not a single one of these geometric elements echoed throughout the park is a square.
Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons License CC BY 3.0
I think in this case, we have to interpret “square” as a gathering place. The park's founders would be pleased to hear that; it's just as they intended.
Deeper Dive: Learn more about the purpose of the park and the four Dallas businessmen who founded it.
Each section of the park is designed with visually stunning features. I'll show you a few of them.
The Ring of Thanks is in the Court of Praise, one of the entrances to the park. The 14-foot tall ring is covered in real gold leaf. Behind it is a bell tower with three bronze bells modeled after the Liberty Bell.
There are water features throughout the park including a large waterfall wall (the Wall of Presidents), a cascade over rocks, and channels of water over stones. The sound of the running water is soothing and quite unexpected in the middle of a busy cicty.
When I worked in Thanksgiving Tower in the 90s, I'd often sit on one of the low walls like this one to eat my lunch. It was a great place to escape and recharge. I suppose at some point I saw the spiral chapel, but somehow I never wondered what it was or whether I could go inside.
The spiral-shaped interfaith chapel is the centerpiece of Thanks-Giving Square.
Fun Fact: The interfaith chapel was designed by Philip Johnson, the Pritzker Award winning architect who also designed the JFK Memorial. His work in Dallas includes the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope and The Crescent hotel. He also designed the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the downtown Water Gardens in Fort Worth.
To really appreciate the chapel, you have to go inside. There is no admission charge, so don't miss out on this joyful experience. Take the stairs and cross the bridge to enter. There is also accessible entry at street level by way of a winding ramp you can enter at the corner of Ervay and Bryan. When you get to the entry door, look up to see an etched art window above the entryway. I missed this completely when I visited.
Countless people have walked by Thanksgiving Square and never entered the park. Even more have wandered through the garden and fountains and never been inside the chapel. I was one of those people for almost 30 years. For most of those years I didn't know French artist Gabriel Loire's "Glory Window" was inside.
Inside the chapel, you'll find a small worship area. When you look up, you'll see an awe-inspiring art installation of 73 stained-glass panels along the tall spiral. It's one of the largest horizontally mounted stained-glass works in the world.
In order to capture the entire spiral in a photo, you may have to lie down on the floor with your camera. It's a wonderful feeling to observe the display from that perspective. There were no other visitors when I went on a Saturday afternoon, so I took time to soak in the experience.
Fun Fact: The Glory Window appears (quite briefly) in the 2011 movie, "The Tree of Life." It was also featured on a postage stamp in the year 2000.
There are quite a few other features at Thanks-Giving Square including a museum detailing the history of Thanksgiving. They're detailed in this self-guided tour provided by the Thanks-Giving Foundation. Scroll through the guide online or download a PDF from the same page before you visit.
The park is open every day from 7AM to 11PM. The chapel is open daily from 11AM to 3PM. Currently, the Hall of Thanksgiving (museum) is only open by special appointment.
A visit in November may make your Thanksgiving season more meaningful. Numerous events are hosted at the pak throughout the year. My favorite is the annual Tuba Christmas held at noon on Christmas Eve. Last year over 240 tuba and euphonium players turned out to play Christmas carols on their instruments.
The park is just steps away from the DART light rail Akard Station. All four rail lines (blue, green, red, and orange) stop at Akard Station.
If you're driving, and coming on a weekend, you may find street parking. There's a convenient parking lot on Ross between Market St and Lamar. It's just across the street from West End Station, so you can either ride the train for one stop or walk the short distance to the park.
Parking can be challenging in downtown during the week. I find the lot at the 6th Floor Museum to be pretty accessible. Walk from there to the park or walk to West End Station and ride the DART rail (any line) for one stop.