DP&L’s Twin Smokestacks
by Paula Bosse
An unusual view of the smokestacks from 1939 — in color!
by Paula Bosse
I got to thinking about those two smokestacks that used to be such an important part of the Dallas skyline when I came across this rather forceful 1928 Dallas Power & Light Company ad:
“More than twenty thousand ways” to use electricity, “your tireless mechanical slave”! (To see a larger image of the ad’s illustrated inset, click here.)
According to The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Power & Light Company power plant had been in use at the location at “at the foot of Griffin Street … since 1890, with additions in 1905, in 1912 and in 1914. In 1922 work started on the most recent addition, which when completed will cost over $2,000,000, and will provide additional generating capacity of furnishing 20,000 kilowatts” (DMN, Oct. 14, 1923).
Construction on the new addition — including the first of the two new smokestacks — began in the summer of 1922.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 28, 1922
By the summer of 1923 the first smokestack was partially built.
DMN, July 13, 1923 (click for larger images)
The new addition was completed in 1924 (although improvements and construction were constantly ongoing). The new giant smokestack can be seen in this photo, alongside the old and new parts of the generating plant:
DMN, Oct. 12, 1924
And, another view, this one with the 8-acre “spray pond” in the foreground:
In 1928 DP&L announced that it needed a further addition:
Another large chimney or smokestack, a new boiler room and other plant enlargements will be required in the North Dallas generation plant to house the new addition. (DMN, Oct. 20, 1928)
And in 1929 … voilà — the second smokestack!
Those two smokestacks (which actually emitted steam rather than smoke) were almost as much a part of the iconic Dallas skyline as Pegasus. You’ll see them in any wide shot of the skyline taken between 1929 and the late 1990s, when the plant was demolished to make way for the American Airlines Center (the design of which actually is reminiscent of the building it replaced). You could see those smokestacks from miles away, and, even though they’ve been gone for more than 15 years, I still expect to see them standing there. RIP, smokestacks!
1930s, via DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
Photo by William Langley, 1945 (with the twin stacks AND Pegasus)
via Squire Haskins Collection, University of Texas at Arlington
Aerial photo by Lloyd M. Long, 1948 (detail)
Sources & Notes
Color image is a screengrab from the short 1939 color film of Dallas which you can watch in full, here.
Ad is from the 1928 Terrillian, the Terrill School yearbook.
William Langley photo of the cowboy on horseback is from the Library of Congress, used previously here.
Lloyd M. Long aerial photo is a detail of a photo cataloged as “Downtown Dallas — looking west,” from the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; the full photo and its details are accessible here.
For an unexpectedly enthusiastic essay about the design and cultural/aesthetic significance of the plant and its smokestacks, architecture critic David Dillon’s “Getting Up a Head of Steam: DP&L’s Power Station, Recalling an Urban Past, Is a Function of Triumph” (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 7, 1983) is well worth searching for in the Dallas Morning News archives. This is the first paragraph:
The Dallas Steam Electric Station on Stemmons is nearly a century old and for most of that time it has been a commanding presence on the downtown skyline, its soaring white smokestacks rivaling anything that modern skyscraper designers have come up with. In Pittsburgh or Detroit such a structure might pass unnoticed but in Dallas, never a factory town, it stands out as a romantic symbol of our earliest industrial aspirations.
(My favorite piece of trivia from Dillon’s article is the revelation that the “tapering white shafts and gold caps [were] touched up every few years by daredevil painters lowered from a helicopter…” (!)).
More about this plant (and how it lives on in the design of the American Airlines Center which now stands on the same land) can be found in the Flashback Dallas post “A New Turbine Power Station for Big D — 1907,” here.
As always, most images are larger when clicked. When in doubt … CLICK!
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
That is where the mythical Frog town began and the old town dump, dating too the 1870s, Flynn Brothers owne the land at one time and Frog Town moved by the late 1880s to the Law street area and so by 1900, the town dump continued until the 1908 flood, while the second plant was built around 1919,while the rivers edge was in that area until the mid 1930s.
Jim Wheat found the old Hengy Junk yard adds for that location…D.P.and L was a historic landmark, that had too go while it was ithe 1990s that they designed the present Victroy Arena area which was too come about by 1998…99, and completed by 2004.
Then in 1998 the 76 acres of land including the Frog Town area was removed too Lewisville too a land refill area and layed too rest the city history in old dump refuge, millions of artiacts were lost and the story of how did the city come too exist in archeologicl trash is now missing , oh well the images here tell of a great viewpoint that had for decades covered the skyline and when the freeways came in the view point was quite impressive, and yet toxic….
.great story because a new skyline now exist in the ever changing Dallas Texas,,…..more on this great story should be told because that was the most seedy part of town much like Deep for decades in the 19th century.
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Thanks, Alex. I was thinking about the Hengy post I did a few months back when I wrote this.
there is one Hengy landmark left in Fair Park across from 500/X gallery, as the electrical company. while they were the rag, bottle and metal junk men, their story is about frog town and they used too live in Little Mexico off Wolf street, their story is the character that tells all of carnival people from that era. as the Hobos lving inthe area up toothe 1960s by D.P. and L, there was a big hobo comp there for decades…..
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GARY DON GROOM,I OPERATED 7 350LB BOILERS ON THE OLD SIDE,1971 TO 1976.FOND MEMORIES, LONG CAREER 41 YEARS.IT WAS LIKE WORKING IN A MUSEUM .
Thanks for the comment, Gary Don. I would love to have seen inside there!
I started working at DP&L in March 1964 at that old old plant. I have actually rode a motorized two man Scaffold to the top of one of those stacks. There was a picture of me working near the top. It’s an awesome view from that high.
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Good to hear from you Ted.One stack was 351 ft tall the other was 361 ft tall is what I was told.
My Dad was a Turbine Operator in the U.S. Navy during the Korean Conflict. When dad came home in 1954 he worked for Lone Star Gas Company until 1956 when he applied for a job with Dallas Power and Light Company as a Steam Turbine Operator at the Mt. Creek Power Plant. He said that the Mt. Creek Plant was his preference but he would work at any plant that needed operators. Instead of a job as a Turbine Operator, DP&L offered him a job as a Junior Substation Operator in the Distribution Department. He was assigned to the East Dallas Substation where they generated 600v DC power for the electric trolley buses of the Dallas Transit Company. They had done away with the streetcars in 1956, but retained the trolley buses until 1966. Dad’s job was to basically watch over the substation, and add or remove generators as necessary for the power loads. There originally were five substations with generators – East Dallas, South Dallas North Dallas, Tyler Street, and Eighth Street. The Tyler Street and Eighth Street substations were closed in 1956 when the streetcars stopped running. The other three substations continued operating until the demise of the trolley buses in 1956. After the trolley buses ceased running and these substations closed, Dad was promoted to the position of Senior Substation Operator, and his job then was to travel all over the city as an inspector to check the different substations for any problems, or to help with power distribution switching, and other duties. He said that he used to have to go down to the Dallas Plant to check on the substation there, and to assist with switching, and other duties. He said that by that time, the original units had been retired and were not in use. There were either three or four units that were still used for “peaking” to help boost the power load during heavy usage i.e. summertime for example. He said that even though the original units in the “Old Side” were no longer in use, the interior of the building was spotless! He said the floors were polished, the equipment was maintained in operating condition, and it looked like they were ready to be powered up again at any time. Back then, DP&L took good care of their equipment and had a rigorous preventative maintenance program. Dad retired after 30+ years with DP&L. It was a good company to work for – more like a big family. I always wanted to go inside the old Dallas Plant just to see what it looked like inside. My Dad also had said that it was like a museum inside there – the oldest equipment there had been installed in the early 1900’s. Dad said it worked and did what it was designed to do, but was terribly inefficient. So it makes sense that the company used the plant only for “peaking” situations. Dad also said that the output of the plant was so minuscule as opposed to say the “Big Eight” unit at the Mt. Creek Steam Electric plant that produced 800mw.
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What an incredibly interesting comment, Stephen. Thanks so much!
Correction to the above response. The streetcars stopped running in 1956, while the electric trolley buses lasted until 1966 when they stopped.
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