Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (and More) About the Dallas Pegasus

Date: October 31, 2019
This neon Pegasus originally debuted at the New York World's Fair in 1939. It was on display at a Mobil gas station in the Casa Linda neighborhood for many years and is now in the lobby of the Old Red Museum.

All uncredited photos are my own work. Many thanks to the photographers whose work is shared here.

Our Pegasus has a rich history and more than a few writers have told his story. Some of them get it right, a few mix up a few of the details, and most of them end too soon. That's because it isn't just one story. Its a collection of stories with a few that have yet to unfold.

I may not have captured the whole story (does anyone ever?) but I've tried to tell the stories within the stories with a few extra thrown in for good measure. Read on for details, pictures, references, fun facts, and links to a deeper dive.

Or check out the TLDR timeline version and skip to the photos and locations where you can find beautiful Pegasus art in Big D.

The Pegasus Timeline, TLDR Version

Skip to photos and locations of Pegasus art around Dallas.

1922 - The Magnolia Petroleum Company opened its headquarters in Dallas.

1934 - The company raised a two-sided, 32-foot tall red Pegasus sign on top of the building.

1959 - Magnolia Petroleum Company merged with Mobil/Socony and kept the Pegasus logo.

1974 - After 40 years on top of the building, the Pegasus stopped rotating.

1977 - Mobil Oil, as the company is now known, moved their headquarters, leaving the building vacant.

1978 - The building was sold to the city of Dallas in 1977 and added to the National Historic Register.

1994 - Pegasus Plaza opened. It was built as part of a Main Street district restoration project.

1997 - The previously vacant building was refurbished and opened as the Magnolia Hotel.

1999 - The Pegasus sign was removed from the top of the building for restoration, but could not be restored.

2000 - A new Pegasus sign was built and was lit up on top of the hotel on New Years Eve (the arrival of Y2K).

2001 - 100 Pegasus statues were decorated by local artists and placed around Dallas.

2015 - The original Pegasus was found, restored, and installed in front of the Omni Hotel.

2016 - Local store changes its logo under threat of trademark suit by Mobil Oil.

Present Day - Pegasus continues to appear around Dallas as an enduring icon of the city.

Magnolia Petroleum Company

The story most Dallas Pegasus fans know began when the Magnolia Petroleum Company opened its headquarters in a newly constructed building next to the Adolphus Hotel, which until that time had been the tallest building in Texas. At 400 feet tall, the oil company’s $4 million-dollar jewel was the first skyscraper in Dallas, and was now taller than any other building in Texas or west of the Mississippi River.

Fun Fact: It was the air-conditioned skyscraper in the United States.

Deeper Dive: Visit Flashback Dallas for more photos and stories of the Magnolia Building and Pegasus in their early decades.

Reference source: Dallas Gateway

The Ascent of Pegasus

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr
Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 2.0

About twelve years after moving in to the glorious new facility, the company decided to have their trademark, a flying red horse, made into a larger-than-life sign for the top of the building.The 35- by 40-foot, two-sided, porcelain-enameled sign, outlined in neon, perched on a 50 foot-tall oil derrick outfitted with a revolving mechanism.  The raising of the sign was timed to coincide with the American Petroleum Institute’s annual meeting being hosted in Dallas for the first time ever.

Before taller buildings in Dallas obscured the view, Pegasus was visible from up to 75 miles away at street level. Airline pilots en route to Love Field Airport could spot its red glow from as far away as Hillsboro and beyond. In the decades that followed, the iconic sign gave birth to countless childhood memories of spotting the flying red horse from the family car. (I have "spot the Pegasus" memories from the late sixties.)

For almost 40 years, Pegasus soared high in the sky, endearing himself to the people of Dallas.

The Mobil Oil Logo

Oil company and service station signs and collectibles are quite a draw for nostalgia buffs. Permission to use this photo of Krueger's Vintage in Crandon, Wisconsin was graciously provided by photographer Tom Mortensen via Flickr. Kreuger's has a "garage" that houses service station memorabilia from the local area from the 1920s through the sixties.

©Tom Mortensen, all rights reserved

The Dallas Pegasus story begins with an image of a red-winged horse used as a logo by Vacuum Oil and its Mobilgas product. It endured as the company’s logo through multiple mergers involving Magnolia Petroleum, Standard Oil of New York, Socony, Mobilgas (later Mobil) and Exxon. Today, the company is simply called Mobil Oil, and its logo is one of the most recognizable in America.

The flying red horse we’ve all grown fond of is equally representative of Dallas. Per an exclusive agreement with Mobil, the city of Dallas has permission to use the logo as an iconic symbol for the city. While there are local businesses with Pegasus in their name or branding, any imitation of or resemblance to the Dallas Pegasus is potentially subject to trademark litigation.

Pegasus Breaks Down

The spectacular flying red horse depiction created in 1934 was never intended to be on permanent display, and after years of exposure to the elements, Pegasus stopped rotating. Perhaps this was a harbinger of things to come. Just three years later, in 1977, Mobil Oil moved its headquarters and vacated the building.

The City of Dallas purchased the building and successfully applied to have it listed in the National Register of Historic Places.It sat vacant for the better part of 20 years.

Hope Springs Eternal

Despite the fate of Pegasus in the late 70s, Dallas never lost its affection for its beloved icon. Dallas never gave up on its downtown either, and would never stop trying to make it a vital place for people to live, work, and play. In the 90s, the two passions merged in an extraordinary way.

When the city embarked on a major downtown renovation, an urban park was planned as its centerpiece. The park would be built in a vacant corner lot almost directly beneath the Pegasus sign above.The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture suggested a concept celebrating the mythological creature, and Dallas sculptor and landscape artist, Brad Goldberg, brought it to life.

Fun fact: 70% of the cost of Pegasus Plaza came from private donations, including a gift of $500,000 from Greer Garson Fogelson, a golden-age Hollywood film star who lived in Dallas.

Several of the park’s features reflect the story of the mythological Pegasus. A quote from Dr. Gail Thomas, inscribed on the fountain, captures it best. "Where the hoof of Pegasus hits the ground a well springs forth and the muses come to dance and sing."

Deeper Dive 1: Dr. Thomas deserves more than a blurb for a bio, and connections between the park design  and the Pegasus myth deserve their own story too. To my delight, I found a 1996 Dallas Observer article - one of its long-form pieces - that provides both. Writer Mary Malouf Brown, now the editor of Salt Lake City Magazine did more than the just tell the stories of Pegasus Plaza and all the players. She's basically captured the essence of Dallas in a few thousand words. It's a must-read for anyone who wants to understand Dallas's strengths and its struggles.

Deeper Dive 2: See more (and better!) pictures of Pegasus Plaza, during construction and after completion, at artist Brad Goldberg's website.

The Magnolia Hotel

In 1997, developers purchased the Magnolia building and converted it into a luxury hotel with large rooms and apartments. Some of the luster had returned to the grand Beaux-Arts building  as downtown Dallas was coming to life again. In 1999, the hotel owners attempted to bring back the luster to the Pegasus sign as well, but after removing it from the roof found it to be beyond repair.

The idea of beginning a new century without the iconic sign in downtown Dallas seemed wrong, so a duplicate was commissioned. It was installed and ready to light up for New Years Eve. Over 40,000 people celebrated the arrival of Y2K in downtown Dallas, and national television stations broadcast lighting of the new Pegasus at midnight.

Fun Fact: Even though the Magnolia building is no longer the tallest building in Dallas, it's still a mighty building.. According to The Dallas Whisperer, "if you placed the Magnolia building in 15 other states it would be the tallest building in those states, so suck it Idaho.  Also it's taller than any building in Finland in case you’re interested. " This is from a blog post in 2013, but I checked, and it's still true.
Reference source: Inspire Art Dallas

Dallas Soars - Pegasus x 100

Pegasus art from the Dallas Soars project, near the Starbucks at Preston Royal

Celebrating the new life of the Pegasus didn't end right away. In 2001, the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs launcheda project to place 100 Pegasus statues around Dallas. Businesses, organizations, and individuals sponsored local artists to put their own spin on the blank canvas of a 3-D winged horse.

The finished art pieces were unveiled at an event at the Dallas Museum of Art and later delivered to locations all over Dallas. I read somewhere that the intent was to auction them off after a period of time, but I can't confirm that an auction ever took place. Some of them are still in their original locations. The Dallas Morning News did a Curious Texan piece about where they all went. They've published a full list of the 100 original locations, sponsors, and artists, but the current whereabouts of the vast majority of them is unknown.

I've taken pictures of some of the ones that are still on public display. I've also looked for internet references to others. In addition to the full list (without current whereabouts) above, I found a public Facebook page called Finding Pegasus. It's not a very active page, but it invites anyone and everyone to share their sightings and photos of these and other Pegasus art.

I also found an archived photo gallery from Pegasus Flyers, an inline skating group that's been around in Dallas for decades. They did at least one skate with the intent of photographing the statues. Check out dozens of Pegasus art photos here.
Fun Fact: Dallas artist Ken Robison designed the statues and created the molds for the two styles of Pegasus for this project. If that name sounds familiar it's because Robison's work is seen every year in signage art, carpentry projects, and recognizable objects on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas. He was also the sculptor for the butter sculpture from 2014-2018.

Deeper Dive: On Robison's website, he talks about his design process for the Pegasus statues.

The Return of the OG

Pegasus on the lawn of the Dallas Omni in a photo taken from Reunion Tower.
Remember the sign that was too damaged to repair 16 years ago? It was placed into storage, but its destiny was not to rest in peace. When a project to restore it was launched, it took a little effort to locate it. Once it was found in a facility at White Rock Lake, it was restored and installed on the lawn in front of the Dallas Omni Hotel, where it looks great from any angle.

Deeper Dive: The architectural signmaker in charge of the project talks about recreating the sign.

Latest Sightings

Pegasus likenesses continue to roam around town. Most recently Pegasus appeared costumed as a calavera for Dallas's first Dia de lost Muertos parade and festival. Before that, he was last sighted in multiple locations visiting some of the winners of the Dallas Observer's Best of Dallas 2019.

Where to Find Pegasus Art

Framed art in a guest room at the Magnolia Hotel Park Cities.
Art commissioned by Downtown Dallas, Inc. on display in Pegasus Plaza
Pegasus art from the Dallas Soars project, at Preston Valley Shopping Center
Metal sculpture by Dallas Artist Stuart Craft and students from Booker T. Washington High School. The school, whose mascot is the Pegasus, is a magnet school for visual and performing arts. It's home is a historic school building in the Dallas Arts District.
Keep Pegasus Flying Initiative in a display window at Neiman Marcus in 2018
Painted on the wall at Village Burger Bar, Uptown

More Photos Coming Soon