The Southland Center: Mid-Century Cool — 1959
Welcome.… (photo by John Rogers, via the Portal to Texas History)
by Paula Bosse
When it opened in 1959, the Southland Center (the Southland Life Building and the Sheraton Dallas hotel) boasted the tallest building west of the Mississippi. It was obviously a huge, multi-million-dollar construction project, but it was also a very costly decor project in which no expense was spared on the interior design of the buildings. An admirable amount of attention was paid to artistic elements such as site-specific commissioned artwork, and input from artists and designers was welcomed. It was an interior decorator’s dream job in which absolutely everything was NEW and modern. I love this period of design. Here are a few photos from the new Southland Center which I could look at all day.
I love all the glass and the sharp, crisp lines of the furniture. (All photos are by John Rogers — see the link below each photo to go to its Portal to Texas History page where you can zoom in and see details more clearly.)
This is a fantastic shot — you can see a couple of the commissioned artworks. At the left, extending from the ceiling of the second-floor lobby of the Sheraton to the ground floor is a “stamobile” kinetic sculpture titled “Totem” by Richard Filipowski. In the background at the top center of the photo, above the registration desk, is a Venetian-glass-and-broken-marble mural by Lumen Martin Winter.
Speaking of art, another commissioned work can be seen in this detail of a photo: at the back, barely seen, is “Texas Sunburst,” a glass-tile mosaic mural by Gyorgy Kepes with additional work by Robert Preusser, located on the second-floor lounge concourse. Kepes designed the vibrant tile mosaic on the St. Jude Chapel downtown (the recent restoration of which I wrote about here), and he was also a contributor another wonderful mid-century architectural landmark in Dallas, Temple Emanu-El. (I spotted a brief glimpse of a bit of this Sheraton mural in color in a WFAA clip from June, 1974 in a story about, of all things, an ESP convention.)
Here’s a jewelry kiosk, which is sort of Deco-futuristic — like something you’d see in a 1930s movie set on a spaceship. (Is that the “rocket” of the Republic Bank Building seen outside the window at the right? It was practically right next door, as seen in this photo.)
This shows a couple of ground-level retail shops, with more wonderful floor-to-ceiling glass “walls” (the glass-cleaning must have been an ongoing nightmare!). If you needed a stuffed tiger toy, a game of Risk, paint brushes, or stationery… this shop was made for you. (In the background is the entrance to the Minute Chef, an informal restaurant which also featured original artwork by Gyorgy Kepes.)
And, lastly, a shot of the neighboring Southland Center towers, high above everything else on the edge of downtown.
Sources & Notes
All photos are by John Rogers, from the John Rogers and Georgette de Bruchard Collection, provided to the Portal to Texas History by the UNT Libraries Special Collections, University of North Texas; see all 25 of Rogers’ photos of the Southland Center, taken in 1959/1960, here.
See a list of the permanent art as well as exhibited art at the Southland Life Building/Sheraton Dallas in the scanned 1959 catalog “Made in Texas by Texans.”
See photos of the Southland Center under construction in the Flashback Dallas post “On Top of the World: The Southland Center.”
Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.