The guide for our walking tour in the Dallas Arts District, standing at the end of the barrel vault at the Dallas Museum of Art, gestured toward the towering spire of Postmodern granite, the Trammell Crow Building, and said, “in the eighties there was a building boom in downtown Dallas.”
That simple sentence brought the memories tumbling out of the cowbwebby recesses of my creaking old head. At that time, I was working at the old Cotton Exchange building, only a few blocks away, and I would look out of my office window every day and watch the progress of the Trammell Crow tower as it rose out the enormous hole where a cracked parking lot used to be. It went up fast, it grew like a weed. I was young then, I still gave a shit, and was fascinated with the construction techniques – pouring the concrete floors and support columns, the utilities, the dark glass, and the polished granite cladding. I did not know what it would look like when finished and watching it grow was like a slow-motion puzzle being solved right in front of me. The building was assembled inside-out and looking at it now, almost thirty years later, I still know its innermost secrets.
The Dallas Museum of Art was also built while I worked down there. Admission was free when it was new and I would walk over there almost every day at lunch and pick out one single painting or sculpture and stare at it until I felt that I possessed it completely.
Yesterday, I checked the Friday Newspaper (online, of course) to see if there was anything interesting to do over the weekend and I found a notice about a walking tour of the architecture of the Dallas Arts District at ten AM on Saturday. That sounded like a plan.
It was interesting… and although I’m pretty familiar with the Arts District, I did learn a few things.
At the turn of the century or so (1899, not Y2K) Ross Avenue was the street where all the wealthy scions of Dallas built their mansions. The only one remaining, The Belo Mansion was purchased and rebuilt by the Dallas Bar Association. Prior to that, for many years it was leased to a funeral parlor. In 1934, Clyde Barrow’s bullet-ridden corpse was displayed and attracted a crowd of thirty thousand macabre curious onlookers.
I was a little disappointed that the wonderful European sculpture was gone from the walk around the base Trammell Crow Building. Our guide said it had been moved to the Old Parkland Campus and that it would soon be replaced by a garden of Asian sculpture. That will be cool.
Of course, it’s common knowledge that the district features public buildings designed by four Pritzker Prize winning architects – I.M. Pei and the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center, Renzo Piano and the Nasher Sculpture Center, Norman Foster and the Winspear Opera House, and Rem Koolhaas and the Wyly Theater. At the east end of Flora street is the City Performance Hall (under construction) and the One Arts Plaza mixed-use development. It’s a bit sterile sown there on the east, but there is still a lot of construction.
We ended the tour there on the east end of Flora. I walked back taking some pictures. The Nasher was open for free, and I couldn’t resist a visit. The Trammel Crow Collection of Asian Art across the street is often overlooked – but it is always free and although it is small, there is always something wonderful to be found there. This time it was the art of Tenzin Norbu and Penba Wandu – they combine ancient techniques with a modern spin – the results are stunning. Norbu‘s painting, “Story of the Northern Plain” was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time.
The tour was fun. I guess they do these every now and then, if you find yourself in the Big D, I highly recommend it.