The Elegant Municipal Building — 1914

by Paula Bosse

ciA very un-Dallas-looking building … and one of its finest

by Paula Bosse

Appearing in the May 7, 1914 issue of Municipal Journal was a short article on Dallas’ then-under-construction Municipal Building and a drawing of what it would look like when completed.


Dallas Will Have Modern Municipal Building
Dallas, Tex. – The new municipal building of the city of Dallas is nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy in a few months. It will house all of the city departments and in addition will have a modern emergency hospital in the basement and public rest rooms for both men and women. The building is said to be a radical departure in architectural design from the usual type of public buildings in the South; it is constructed along simple but dignified lines. The structure will be of steel construction covered with blue Bedford stone, the five stories, basement and sub-basement will be a home worthy of the city of the hour, as Dallas people like to call their town. Ventilating and heating systems are being installed together with vacuum cleaners. The building, without furnishings, will cost about $550,000. C. D. Hill and Company are the architects. The structure was started by the Fred A. Jones Building Company, which failed just as the steel was up, and it is being finished within the estimates by the city under the supervision of the architects.

This new City Hall, located at Main, Harwood, and Commerce, was designed by Dallas architect C. D. Hill. Construction began in late 1913 — by January of 1914, its steel frame was in place.

municipal-bldg_dmn_010114Dallas Morning News, Jan. 1, 1914

The cornerstone was laid in a Masonic ceremony on Valentine’s Day, 1914.

municipal- bldg_FWST_021514-cornerstoneFort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 15, 1914

As the construction was winding down, workmen complained of an “intolerable” swarm of mosquitoes flying around the site. Apparently an underground spring was flooding the sub-basement and providing palatial digs for endless cycles of constantly-hatching mosquitoes. (I wonder if the basement still floods on occasion?)

municipal-bldg_dmn_091014-mosquitoesDMN, Sept. 10, 1914

The building was officially opened on October 17, 1914. Here’s a grainy photo that absolutely does not do that beautiful building justice.

municipal-bldg_dmn_101714DMN, Oct. 17, 1914

When the doors were finally opened to the public, it was expected that a few thousand people would show up to tour their new municipal building — in actuality, the much-larger-than-anticipated crowd numbered somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 curious Dallasites.

municipal-bldg_dmn-101814DMN, Oct. 18, 1914 (click for larger image)

The beautiful exterior was faced with granite and stone, and the interior boasted marble, mosaic tilework, and wood paneling. All of the furniture used in the building was made in Dallas. In addition to the mayor’s office, fire, police, and other municipal departments, the building also housed an emergency hospital, a sub-basement shooting range (!), and, on the 3rd floor, an 1,100-seat auditorium, with a 4th-floor gallery. (The auditorium was designed so that if, in the future, it was determined that it was not needed, it could easily be converted to office space by adding a few columns and beams — a renovation which obviously happened at some point.) Interestingly, the northern half of the top floor was left unfinished as the space was not needed at the time.

ALSO included in the new building’s amenities were much-needed public restrooms (or as they were euphemistically referred to back then, “comfort stations”). A men’s restroom and a women’s restroom (“positively divided with heavy walls”) were located under the Main Street sidewalk, accessible down stairs on either side of the building’s entrance. Up until this point, there was only ONE public “comfort station” in the city (for women and children) — at Fair Park. So for most downtown visitors, this might well have been the most exciting aspect of Dallas’ newest landmark.

The building referred to as both “City Hall” and “the Municipal Building” was considered to be one of the city’s finest and most elegantly imposing. But there are always a few people who just don’t like nice things, and there was a surprising amount of vandalism to the building in its first few weeks.

municipal-bldg_dmn_111014-vandalismDMN, Nov. 10, 1914

This is one of the truly great buildings in Dallas, and it just recently celebrated its 100th birthday. It is a Dallas Landmark and a Texas Recorded Historic Landmark. No longer a city property, it is now part of the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law campus (along with the old Titche’s building). UNT is currently working to restore and renovate this beautiful historic building. Thank you, UNT!


A few images of the building over the years. Here it is in its pristine early days:


Then there was a weird middle-age-crazy period when someone thought that the addition of awnings would be a good idea (that person was incorrect).


And, today, it’s back to looking distinguished and lovely. Thanks to the wonderful new open park in front of it, it has been given the stately space it deserves — what may be Dallas’ most beautiful building is finally able to be fully admired from a respectful distance.

municipal-bldg-today_wikipediaJoe Mabel, Wikipedia


Sources & Notes

Top photo from the book Historic Photos of Dallas by Michael V. Hazel (Nashville: Turner Publishing Co., 2006).

Quote from Municipal Journal, Vol. XXXVI, No. 19 — May 7, 1914.

Photo of the old Municipal Building today by Joe Mabel, from Wikipedia. (And, yes, the parking garage of the Dallas Municipal Building is where Ruby shot Oswald.)

Newspaper photos and clippings as noted.

For a detailed description of the architectural details, design elements, and description of office and department locations within the building, see the article “Municipal Building Handsome Structure” (DMN, Oct. 4, 1914), here.

I’d love to know more about the little “aluminum trays, bearing a picture of the building” mentioned as being given away on opening day in an article above. There were FIVE THOUSAND of them given away. Surely there are some still around. Has anyone seen one of the these?

municipal-bldg_dmn_101814_aluminum-traysDMN, Oct. 18, 1914

municipal-bldg_c-d-hill_tx-almanac_19141914 Texas Almanac ad for C. D. Hill & Co.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.