Dallas has its flying red horse and Denver has its shiny blue mustang. While Dallas embraced Magnolia Petroleum Company’s giant neon trademark as a symbol of the city’s legacy in 1934, Denver’s enthusiasm for its 32-foot landmark is debatable.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some residents think “Mustang” would look more at home in Jurassic Park than on the plains just east of the Mile-High City.
Created by New Mexico artist Luis Jimenez and installed outside Denver International Airport in February 2008, the public art commission was 15 years in the making and, tragically, Jimenez’s last. The 65-year-old sculptor was crushed by part of the 9,000-pound fiberglass monument as it was being lifted by a hoist in his studio.
Born in El Paso, TX to Mexican immigrant parents, Jimenez melded the influence of Southwest street culture, Depression era murals and Chicano culture into his artistic style. His use of neon-like lights, as in the red glowing eyes of “Mustang,” is a nod to his father, a nationally known maker of innovative neon signs.
Jimenez’s colorful sculptures are at home in many prominent museums, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Art, in Washington D.C., where his “Vaquero,” depicting a bronc rider atop a metallic blue horse, greets visitors as they enter the building.
Dallas’ famous icon was the trademark of Magnolia Petroleum Company, predecessor of Mobil Oil, who proudly erected a 50-foot by 30-foot rotating neon sign of a red Pegasus atop their corporate headquarters in 1934. The sign became a welcoming beacon for visitors and residents and for years was one of the most prominent features of the Dallas skyline. Some people claimed it was visible from 75 miles away on a clear night.
In 1976, Mobil Oil sold the Magnolia Petroleum building and donated the sign to the City of Dallas. When the neon lights died in 1999, it was taken down and found to be beyond repair. A completely reconstructed sign of the flying red horse was installed on top of the Magnolia Hotel (former Magnolia Petroleum building) in time for the 2000 Dallas new millennium celebration.