by Paula Bosse
The building seen above turns 100 this year. You know it — you’ve probably said, “I love that building!” at some point in your life. It was built by the Magnolia Petroleum Co. on the triangular piece of land where Commerce Street, Jackson Street, and Cesar Chavez Blvd. meet (Cesar Chavez was originally Preston Street). Before the building’s construction, this intersection was known as “Five Points” — after its construction, it was known as “Pershing Square” (notable for its inconveniently placed middle-of-the-street horse- and dog-watering fountain, which I will write about in the future).
This distinctive brick and terra cotta “semi-Gothic” building was built in 1920, with two stories and a basement; Magnolia service station #110 was on the ground level, and regional offices of the company were above (the massive Pegasus-topped Magnolia Building had not yet been built). Lang & Witchell, Dallas’ premier architects, designed the building.
After the 10-pump service station opened, The Dallas Morning News noted that there were 64 gas stations in Dallas (18 were Magnolia stations) — this station was the largest and most expensive to build. Cost of the land and construction was estimated at $175,00 — the equivalent today of about $2.5 million dollars.
Businesses seen in the photo occupying the three-story building across the street at 2114-16 Jackson are Service Truck Co. of Texas, Tigert Printing Co., and Merchants Retail Credit Association. That building was sandwiched between residences (the house on the left is out of frame). All the way at the right of the photo is a glimpse of rooming houses. Across Commerce was an entire block of auto dealerships and auto supply houses (not seen in this photo). See the service station and environs on a 1921 Sanborn map here.
Let’s zoom in on this great Frank Rogers photo to see some of the details. First, a better look at that three-story office building on Jackson. (All photos are larger when clicked.)
Pulling back a bit, you can see the rooming houses through the arches. You can also see details of the gas station as well as decorative elements of the exterior of the building, including sculptural depictions of magnolias. (I love this cropped detail. Taken out of context, you’d never guess you were looking at Dallas.)
Moving up, you can see the word “Magnolene,” the Magnolia Petroleum Co.’s brand of motor oil; you can also see the words “Commerce Street” (“Jackson Street” is carved into the Jackson side of the building — see here).
Here’s a closer look — “Magnolene” is, I think, long gone (as are those cool windows), but “Commerce Street” and “Jackson Street” live on today. Also, check out that very appealing street light.
And another, closer look at the gasoline pumps and customers. There is so much incredible detail in the design of this building — when was the last time you saw such an aesthetically appealing gas station?
Here’s a photo from a 1922 ad for Atlanta Terra Cotta Co., which supplied several Magnolia stations in Texas with building materials — this was taken from the Jackson Street side (see the full ad here).
Here’s the building a couple of decades later:
And here it is as many Dallasites remember it, as the studios of KLIF radio, “The Mighty 1190,” where the DJ’s booth was at the “point” and passersby could watch from the street. Later it was the home of the Dallas Observer for many years. (I’m not sure of the original source of this photo, but if anyone knows or has a better quality image, let me know!)
Today the building is part of an “adaptive reuse” development called “East Quarter” — I read that the building was slated to house a restaurant (or two), but I don’t know what the current status of that project is.
It’s nice to know that a favorite building from my childhood is still around. Happy 100th!
Sources & Notes
Top photo is titled “Magnolia Filling Station, Pershing (Dallas, Tex.): exterior view of front entrance, corner perspective” by Dallas photographer Frank Rogers; it is from the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company Architectural records and photographs, 1914-1941, Architectural Terra Cotta, Alexander Architectural Archives, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin; more info can be found here.
The same photo appeared uncredited accompanying the Dallas Morning News article “Filling Stations of Dallas Are Finest” (DMN, April 10, 1921).
The photo taken from the Jackson Street side is from an ad for the Atlanta Terra Cotta Co. which appeared in Manufacturers Record (Dec. 14, 1922). (The Atlanta Terra Cotta Co. of Georgia and the Atlantic Terra Cotta Co. of New York were separate companies but were under the same management.)
The photo from the 1940s/1950s is “[Pershing Square in downtown Dallas, Texas]” — I have cropped it; from the Ford Motor Company Building Collection, Dallas Public Library (call number: PA85-39/16).
Here is another photo from the same collection as the main photo in this post — this shows another Magnolia filling station in Dallas, this one a smaller, more traditional station (more info here).
Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.