Dallas’ Thanks-Giving Square

Spiritual Gathering Place is a Haven of Beautiful Stone & Remarkable Architecture

Dallas has long been a major hub for commerce and innovation, but one of the truly remarkable things about this city is that, in many ways, it also has a history of being rather ahead of its time. Spirituality and inclusivity are concepts that seem to be a permanent topic of conversation these days, but in the 1960’s – when Thanks-Giving Square was still in its planning stages – these ideas were only just edging their way into the minds of the public at large. So why, during a decade marked by anti-war protests and the rise of counterculture, did Dallas real estate developer Peter Stewart dream of building a monument to gratitude?

After the square was completed in 1976, located at 1627 Pacific Ave, Dallas, TX, Stewart stated that he “wanted to build what America lacked, a worthy Thanksgiving national shrine” – but that’s only the most simplistic answer. Belonging to a commission that was interested in revitalizing downtown Dallas at the time, Stewart wanted to build a park with a worthy theme, and had the epiphany that he should dedicate it to gratitude. He felt that a quiet, contemplative space where people of every faith could gather would not only provide a welcome contrast to the hectic hustle and bustle of Dallas, but that it could also open up a cultural dialogue and help unify the city. After JFK was assassinated downtown in 1963, uniting the citizens had never been more important.

A Refuge for All Faiths & Cultures

The plan, when Stewart and his three business partners founded the Thanks-Giving Foundation in 1964, was to raise money for a park project that would not only elevate Dallas into a “world city” – with early comparisons being made to Union Square in San Francisco and Rockefeller Center in New York City – but also provide a spiritual outlet for the people. The city itself ended up chipping in as well, making the endeavor Dallas’ first public-private venture in history, and ground finally broke for construction in 1973. Three years later, the finished chapel was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, and the gardens opened a year afterward. When he visited in 1978, president Gerald Ford recognized the site as a “major national shrine”.

The square boasts a number of individual elements and displays that, when put together, are all integral to the monument’s message of gratitude. Still, the Thanksgiving Chapel and its famous stained-glass “Glory Window” are by far the most well-known. Peter Stewart was actually the one who insisted on building a non-denominational chapel within the park, but architect Philip Johnson is responsible for dreaming up its unique, spiraling exterior of white marble aggregate – one which still catches the eye today. Inspired by the Great Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, the chapel is meant to embody the infinite, upward reach of the human spirit.

Once inside, visitors are encouraged to leave a personal statement of gratitude at the chapel’s stunning 7,000-pound cube-shaped Carrara marble altar, which sits on a base of Texas Red granite. The altar’s beautiful pairing of natural white and reddish-pink stone is a theme present throughout the rest of the park, as well. Even more likely to drop jaws than anything else in the chapel, however, is the otherworldly, sixty-foot-tall stained-glass Glory Window. A coveted sight for travelers from all over the world, the window contains 73 panels of faceted glass designed by Frenchman Gabriel Loire, and is likely recognizable to those who saw Brad Pitt’s 2011 movie The Tree of Life. It is meant to symbolize the ascent of human praise and worship.

Plenty More to Offer

Like the chapel, the rest of Thanks-Giving Square is also lacking in any overt religious symbolism, emphasizing that people of all faiths are welcome. At the western end of the park is a ceremonial entryway known as the Court of All Nations, which features a portion of Psalms 100 on the Wall of Praise, and Norman Rockwell’s poignant “Golden Rule” mosaic. Further along are some more notable art installations, including the Ring of Thanks, a 23=karat-gold-covered aluminum ring mounted inside the Circle of Giving, made of gray granite. Easily wide enough to walk through, this display is meant to echo the complementary natures of thanks and giving. Straight ahead are the Great Bells of Thanksgiving, which ring out the importance of living with gratitude, and are modeled after the Liberty Bell.

The Center Court of Praise, a public gathering place, is located in the middle of the garden. This area of the square is frequently used to hold special events, but if you’re more interested in finding a quiet place to pick up a good book, then you’ll have to head deeper into the Grove. With tranquil waterfalls and an abundance of greenery, this little oasis manages to be restful despite the skyscrapers that loom overhead. Finally, a visit to the Hall of Thanksgiving can provide incredible insight into the American tradition – but for a multi-cultural perspective, it’s worth taking a look at the three, 7.5-ton Sierra granite monoliths that mark the square’s perimeter. These are inscribed with messages of gratitude that originate from a multitude of global religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and secular sources, too.

Stonework in Thanks-Giving Square

Notable among the stonework you’ll encounter at this Dallas landmark is the Thanksgiving Chapel’s one-of-a-kind Carrara marble and Texas red granite altar. Constructed from nearly four tons of marble carved into the shape of a cube, as well as a circular dais of polished granite, the piece is masterful in its simplicity. Quarried in the city of Carrara, Italy, which is the only source of this white or blue-gray stone, it is a sought after and expensive material. Mostly used to furnish bathrooms and kitchens, in sculpture work, and to enhance the interiors of important buildings, Carrara marble is famous for its beauty, and has been popular since the times of ancient Rome. Its coloration is often due to a presence of serpentine, resulting from high-magnesium limestone, or dolostone with added silica.

The altar’s base is made of Texas Red granite, also called Sunset Red, which is often a bit of a misnomer as the stone generally leans toward a pinkish hue. In this case, however, the granite’s coloring falls closer to red because of the high content of potassium feldspar it contains. The state of Texas has two major quarries that produce Texas Red – Granite Mountain, which is a solid dome of stone known as a bornhardt that rises 860 feet above the ground, and Enchanted Rock, a granite mountain that covers 640 acres and is steeped in local legend.

Also worth mentioning are the three enormous, Sierra granite monoliths that mark the outer edges of the park – each weighing more than twice as much as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  These inscribed slabs of polished granite are quarried from the Sierra Nevada Batholith, which forms the core of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California. Primarily composed of quartz (milky white), feldspar (opaque white), and grains of amphibole (black), this stone is a classic that can fit in just about anywhere. Like Texas Red, Sierra granite is an excellent building and sculpting material that is even more durable and long-wearing than marble.

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