A Return to Majesty at Dallas’s Hall of State

The Dallas Hall of State was recently restored courtesy of the local Gensler architectural firm. Among the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in Texas, the structure was largely designed by architect Donald Barthelme and debuted in 1936. Courtesy Alicia Spaete

If you were to make a list of the most emblematic buildings in Texas mythology, the Dallas Hall of State would top the list alongside the Alamo, the state capital, and, if you’re a sports fan, the Astrodome. Built for the state’s 100th anniversary exhibition in 1936, it is the centerpiece of Fair Park, a 277-acre National Historic Landmark that has the largest collection of intact Art Moderne buildings in the United States.

The Hall of State was also a wreck until last year, its majestic halls collapsing from water damage, and its once light-colored Texas stone facade covered in dirt accumulated over decades. One of its wings had been put into service as a storage container. This was only the beginning of his problems. A table called the “priority matrix” was done for pages at the end.

This document was prepared by Gensler’s Dallas office, the architectural firm overseeing a $ 14.4 million restoration project completed in December. The restoration has restored the building to its original splendor and once again made it an “outstanding architectural monument to the greatness of Texas, past and present,” as the front cover of the Dallas Morning News declared on its debut. This remains its main function and serves as a ceremonial tourist destination and event space.

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An integral part of the project was the addition of a wheelchair accessible entrance ramp on the main facade. The exterior is lined with a frieze naming dozen of important personalities from Texas history. Some of these names form a partial acrostic of Barthelme’s name. Courtesy Alicia Spaete

It is perhaps even more gorgeous as it is now accessible to all thanks to a subtly introduced entrance ramp that runs along the north wing of the front facade. “It’s a hidden function that fits right into the landscape,” says Brian Nicodemus, project manager and head of work at Gensler. “In 1936, accessibility wasn’t even a wink.”

Determining what exactly the original craftsmen were thinking was an ongoing challenge. “Every day it was like turning up at an archaeological excavation where something new was found and researched,” says Architect Felicia Santiago.

Such a discovery: the interior of the terrace behind the facade colonnade was painted cool blue. “When we first looked at it, we were the first to see this color in the colonnade in 80 years,” Santiago recalls.

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The Great Hall is the majestic centerpiece of the building with marble floors, towering columns, murals depicting Texas history, and arched steel doors. The room is presided over by a massive gold seal of the state. Courtesy Alicia Spaete

Much of the restoration work has been carried out nearby at a former Ford automobile plant that houses the factory of conservation specialist Michael van Enter. “He’s a rock star,” says Nicodemus. Where car workers once assembled the Ford Fairlane, van Enter from South Africa carefully dismantled the ceremony doors in front of the hall so that their fittings could be completely reconstructed.

Disassembling the doors also enabled a cleanup that revealed their true beauty, with counter-rotating metals – brass, bronze – contrasting with Texan details of longhorns, horse heads, rattlesnakes, and oil rigs.

Steel doors lining the interior of the Great Hall of Texas, the main ceremonial room of the building, were also removed and thoroughly cleaned. The newly designed room, which culminates in a wall-sized, lonely star in gleaming gold, is as grand as it was in 1936.

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Blue tiles, limestone pillars, and an 11-foot archer sculpture adorn the entrance to the Hall of State, which is formed by a curved exedra. Courtesy Alicia Spaete

So does the facade, which shines brightly again and illuminates a hidden message in the code that runs along the decorative frieze of the building. It was placed there by the building’s architect, Donald Barthelme, the father of several well-known authors, who had taken on the project during the design and felt that it was not receiving adequate recognition. His solution, the names of the Texan heroes placed on the frieze, were arranged so that their first letters spelled his name.

Unfortunately, he’s run out of heroes whose names begin with E, so the trick only takes you to BARTHELM.

This was a point the restoration team didn’t try to fix.

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