In 1934 the original porcelain enamel and neon Pegasus sign was installed on the roof of the Magnolia Building in downtown Dallas. Installed in high winds, the Flying Red Horse atop its oil derrick foundation, was an engineering feat. The 29-story building, located at the northeast corner of Akard and Commerce Streets, was built in 1922. It was Dallas’ first skyscraper, as well as the tallest building in Texas, the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and was taller than anything in Europe. It also was the first air conditioned high rise.
The original Pegasus, the logo of the Magnolia Oil Company, was completed in six weeks in the Dallas plant of Texlite, Inc. The sign with its derrick base welcomed oilmen attending the American Petroleum Institute’s first annual meeting in November 1934. Although it was never intended to be a permanent structure, Pegasus still flies above the Magnolia Building.
The “Flying Red Horse,” as it was referred to by Dallas residents, became a landmark immediately. Standing majestically 450 feet above street, the Dallas icon was visible 75 miles away on a clear night. Pilots reported catching sight of it 60 miles south in Hillsboro, and some claimed to see it from as far away as Waco. Most North Texans of a certain age can remember driving into Dallas at night while the children watched to see who would be the first to spot the “Flying Red Horse.”
Constructed of twin horses spaced 14 feet apart, each horse measures 40 feet in length by 32 feet in height. A quarter of a mile of red neon tubing lights outlines the details on both sides of the silhouette. The two horses were installed to revolve on top of a 50-foot metal tower shaped to resemble an oil derrick. When referring to the two horses back to back, Harold Wineburgh, the owner of the Texlite sign company, would say “Dallas doesn’t want to be known as a one horse town.”
Each horse was baked in one piece in a huge kiln that was also big enough to produce parts of B-29 wings during World War II. A three-horse power motor turned the 15-ton structure one revolution every 40 seconds. When the wind gusts were over 30 miles an hour a braking system made everything stop and 22- thousand volt transformers kept the neon glowing.
Texlite Inc. designed, manufactured and installed the first Pegasus. The Pegasus was installed although consulting engineers felt it was hazardous and impractical to place a sign of this size, much less a revolving one, where a strong wind blew most of the time. Despite the treacherous height of the job site and the improvisational nature of the project, construction proceeded on schedule. Five days before the completion date a fire broke out in the Texlite plant and a quarter of a mile of the imported neon tubing was destroyed in the fire. To replace it, a makeshift neon department made the tubing from scratch. Parts of the construction were hauled up in the elevators to the penthouse to hand through the windows to the roof. The Pegasus was installed in time for the Petroleum Convention.
In the 1930s, neon lighting quickly became popular in outdoor advertising because of its visibility even in daylight. Although neon signage is considered quintessentially American, a Frenchman introduced the first neon sign in Paris around 1910.
Texlite brought neon and porcelain enamel to Texas. Its main business was manufacturing and shipping porcelain enamel and neon signs for service station signs worldwide. Customers included Magnolia Oil, Standard Oil, Gulf, Chevron, Gulf, Esso (now Exxon) and Texaco.
Wineburgh invented the name “Texlite” after he moved his family from New York City to Highland Park in the late 1930s, seeing the potential of living in this dynamic city. By 1949 Texlite had moved into its 135,000 square foot plant where almost 500 people worked and there were sales offices were in principal cites in the U.S. In the 1950s porcelain enamel became the sheathing of choice for architectural exterior panels in top quality commercial building applications because it was impervious to the elements and graffiti. Texlite was responsible for the panels for downtown Dallas’ Southland Life Center and the second remodeling of Love Field Airport (demolished) among many others.
When the Magnolia Company merged with Socony Mobil in 1959, the Pegasus became the symbol of the new Mobil Oil Company. The City of Dallas conferred the status of “Landmark Sign” to the Pegasus in 1973 and in 1976 it became the property of the City of Dallas. The Pegasus is now part of the City of Dallas Public Art collection. ExxonMobil Corporation continues to use the winged mythological Pegasus as its corporate logo.
Over the years the Pegasus’ porcelain-coated steel panels became rusted and pitted, and would not survive being remounted. The rotating base rusted, the worn support braces caused the sign to sway in the wind and the neon tubing that formerly glowed red in the night sky was broken. It seemed impossible to restore the old Pegasus so it was removed in 1999 and a new Pegasus was built at a cost of $600,000 donated by private and corporate sponsors. The old Pegasus has been restored and now is located on the grounds in front of the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas.
A gigantic crane was placed on the roof and was used, with the help of a helicopter, to disassemble the old Pegasus. The original panels were used as templates for the new Pegasus and were fired using the same finishing processes. Since there are no facilities with the capability to make each horse in one piece, the new ones are in sections. Galvanized steel was used instead of prime steel to prevent rusting for the next 100 years. A computer controlled weather station was installed on the roof to provide information on wind speed and direction. Two Dallas companies, American Porcelain Enamel and Casteel Associates, worked with specialists, engineers and computer programmers to get the new Pegasus up and running. Extra sets of neon were made for future repair and a new hydraulic revolving system was installed.
The symbolic icon was installed in time for New Year’s Eve 2000 when the unveiling was broadcast on national television channels— in the new millennium the symbol of Dallas was “aglow” again. The Pegasus was flying high again after its initial ascent to glory. Dallas celebrated the new millennium with the lighting of the new Pegasus and 45,000 people in downtown Dallas witnessed the event.
The new Pegasus received enthusiast support from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Dallas’ First Lady Matrice Ellis-Kirk and Mayor Ron Kirk. Original contributors to the Pegasus Project included the Mobil Corporation, the Magnolia Hotel Corporation, Southwestern Bell, D Magazine, the Hobitzelle Foundation, the City of Dallas and the Eugene McDermott Foundation.
Even though the Flying Red Horse is surrounded by taller structures it is still possible to catch a wonderful view of its red glow while strolling in downtown, or from new buildings like the Omni Hotel and Museum Tower, or by car where Interstates 30 and 35 merge and split apart. Pegasus symbolizes Dallas as the Empire State Building does for New York and the Eiffel Tower does for Paris.