George Dahl’s Sleek Downtown Library — 1955

by Paula Bosse


by Paula Bosse

This little 31-page booklet was issued to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Dallas Public Library. The library was built on the site of the old (beautiful!) Carnegie Library and was vacated when the current library (the J. Erik Jonssen Central Library) opened on Young St. in 1982. Unbelievably, the building has remained empty for over 30 years.

This is the only downtown building I have very distinct memories of from childhood. My mother took us to the library often, and I LOVED that place. I loved the building, the space, the books, the adventure of being downtown — I loved everything but that creepy sculpture of the kid standing in the hands that hung on the outside of the building!

This great library was designed by the legendary (and prolific!) Dallas architect, George Dahl. He moved easily from the streamlined grandeur of the Art Deco buildings of Fair Park to the sleek mid-century-modern-cool of this wonderful downtown library.

I know there are fans of this sculpture (“Youth in the Hands of God” by Marshall Fredericks), but I’m afraid I am not one of them. I loved art as a child (in fact, I can remember checking out framed art reproductions from this very library), but, as I said, even as a kid, I strongly disliked that creepy sculpture. The kid was fine, it was those giant disembodied hands. When the library moved to its current location in 1982, this sculpture was left behind to languish for years inside the empty building. It was eventually sold, and the boy and the hands are now resting comfortably in retirement, somewhere in Michigan.

3DPL_lobbybertoiaThere was a huge controversy about the Harry Bertoia sculptural screen seen above, hanging over the circulation desk. (I LOVED this piece as a kid!) The mayor — R. L. Thornton — HATED it, and the brouhaha-loving newspapers launched themselves into the fray by running apoplectic editorials which, of course, only fanned the flames of outrage. After the “scandal” died down, the art was eventually given the okay to stay, but not before a lot of people made a lot of noise about how the city of Dallas had wasted the $8,500 it had spent on the commission. Unlike the discarded hands sculpture, the screen was moved to the new library, where it remains today.


5DPL_familylivingThis is how I remember the library. Lots of space, cool furniture, and flooded with light.





10DPL_checkingoutI LOVE this photo!



14DPL_schiwetzcropA detail of the front cover artwork, by Texas artist E. M. “Buck” Schiwetz. I love the driver in the cowboy hat (he must have been awfully small or that car must have been awfully big to accommodate that hat). The energetic frisson of downtown Dallas in the Mad Men era is dampened a bit by those damn hands on the building that seemed to follow you everywhere you went!


Sources & Notes

All images from the booklet Five Years Forward: The Dallas Public Library, 1955-1960, compiled and written by Lillian Moore Bradshaw and Marvin Stone. Drawings by E. M. (Buck) Schiwetz. Photographs by C. D. Bayne. (Dallas: Carl Hertzog for Friends of the Dallas Public Library, 1961). (Photos from the archives of the Dallas Public Library.)

More on the history and construction of the Old Dallas Central Library (as well as tidbits about the ridiculous controversy regarding the commissioned art) is here.

Even MORE on the artwork scandals (the hands, the hands, the HANDS!) as well as photos of the beautiful Carnegie Library that was razed to build the 1955 library can be found here.

And just because it’s weird, here’s a postcard showing an early, possibly even creepier depiction of the “hands” sculpture (if those are the “hands of God”…). I guess they wanted to get a postcard out before the sculpture was finished and installed.


I’ve posted one further image from this booklet — a drawing of the 1961 Dallas skyline by E. M. “Buck” Schiwetz  — here.

UPDATE — Dec., 2017: The Dallas Morning News has moved its operations to the long-vacant library, insuring this wonderful building’s continued existence for many more years! More here.

Click pictures for larger images (some are MUCH larger — click twice!).


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.