The Dallas Athletic Club, 1920s
by Paula Bosse
Dallas’s premier architects Lang & Witchell designed the Dallas Athletic Club building. It was built between 1923 and 1925 on a triangular piece of land located at St. Paul, Elm, and Live Oak, its entrance facing St. Paul. It was one of the city’s top private clubs, catering to Dallas’ businessmen. Aside from sports and recreational facilities — swimming pools (for men and women), gymnasiums, games courts, billiard rooms, etc. — the club also offered meeting rooms, a dining room, a ballroom, and lounges. It also offered use of hotel-like “rooms” to members and their guests. (If it was anything like old movies from this period, I assume it was a handy place to stay if a DAC member was in the doghouse with his wife — or in the midst of divorce proceedings. “If the VP from the home-office calls, Miss Klondike, I can be reached at my room at the club.”) The building also housed a variety of non-DAC-related businesses and offices — my great aunt had a hat shop there in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The Athletic Club was a major social and recreational spot for years and was something of a landmark in the east end of downtown. In the 1950s the membership opened a country club and golf course near Mesquite but kept the downtown facility open as well. But with suburbia’s surge and downtown’s decline, it was only a matter of time until the club closed the downtown facility. The DAC finally sold the building in 1978, and it was demolished in 1981 to make way for the 50-story 1700 Pacific tower. It had a good run.
Before construction began, an artesian well was dug on the property.
DMN, March 17, 1922
When it was finished five months later, “water sufficient to produce 300,000 gallons of water every twenty-four hours was reached” (Dallas Morning News, Aug. 20, 1922).
Photo by Charles Erwin Arnold showing construction in progress:
via Dallas Historical Society
The progress made to date on the new home of the Dallas Athletic Club Building, which is under construction. […] The picture was snapped from an upper floor of the Medical Arts Building. […] The facing for the three lower floors is of gray Bedford stone. The exterior walls for the upper floors will be of dark red brick. The large openings extending from the fourth to sixth floors will contain the massive windows over the men’s swimming pool. The men’s gymnasium will be on the south side of the fourth floor. When completed, the building will cost approximately $2,000,000, and it will be the most modern athletic club in the United State, according to club officials. (DMN, Nov. 25, 1923)
Ad for “Berloy Floor Cores” from 1924. Great photo!
Work is nearing completion on the concrete framing for the five upper floors of the thirteen-story Dallas Athletic Club building at Elm and St. Paul street, and bricklaying will be started probably this week. The five upper floors will be used for office purposes, with the club quarters on the eight lower floors, except for some storerooms facing the two streets. (DMN, Nov. 16, 1924)
1946-ish (click for much larger image)
The above pictures portray some of the many features of one of Dallas’ greatest civic assets, the Dallas Athletic Club. The club’s home is the modern thirteen-story club and office building, facing St. Paul Street, bounded by Elm and Live Oak streets. It was completed in 1925 at a cost of almost $3,000,000.
The Club utilizes the basement and eight floors of the building. The first five floors are devoted to facilities for the services of members and their families, including clubs and private dining rooms, game rooms, swimming pools for men and women, gymnasium, etc. Three floors are given over to living quarters for members and their out-of-town guests. On these floors are eighty bedrooms and suites, all decorated and furnished in accordance with the highest standards of modern hotels. The Club’s year ’round program of cultural and recreational activities for members and their families play an important part in the business and social life of Dallas. Membership is by invitation. (“So This Is Dallas,” a guide for newcomers to the city, circa 1946)
Aerial view from 1938, looking east; the DAC is in the center, with Elm Street to the right. (SMU)
1950s matchbook, via SMU
In March, 1981 it was announced that the building would be imploded.
The former Dallas Athletic Club building, which for 53 years served as a health club and meeting place for Dallas businessmen, will be imploded. […] A 50-story office building will be constructed on the site. The 57-year-old building has been empty since the club moved from the building in 1978. (Dallas Morning News, March 22, 1981)
And on March 22, 1981…
DMN, March 23, 1981
The end of an era.
But let’s remember happier times for the Dallas Athletic Club building and gaze at this idealized version from Lang & Witchell’s original drawing (circa 1922).
Sources & Notes
Bird’s-eye view of the construction site is by Charles Erwin Arnold and is from the Arnold Photographic Collection, Dallas Historical Society; its ID number is A.68.28.17.
Aerial view is a detail from a photograph taken by Lloyd M. Long in 1938; it is from the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, Southern Methodist University. The full photo can be seen here; the same photo, with buildings labeled, is here.
Lang & Witchell drawing from The Yearbook of the Dallas Architectural Club, 1922.
Dallas Morning News clippings and photos are as noted.
Live Oak used to cut through the block bounded by St. Paul, Elm, Ervay, and Pacific. To get an idea of where the building was, here is a 1962 map of the area (the full map can be seen here).
The Dallas Athletic Club is still around. Their website is here.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.