Dallas Architecture: Dallas Eclectic Style

by Douglas Newby

Architectural styles of Dallas in the first half of the twentieth century reflected the eclectic styles that swept the country. San Francisco and Dallas are the same age cities and they began with Victorian architecture. Prairie Style might be found in Dallas 10 years later than in Oak Park and Evanstan, Illinois, where it originated or Spanish colonial revival might have taken a few years to arrive in Dallas after its reintroduction in San Diego but generally the taste of Dallas reflected the taste of the country.

Between 1903 and 1907 Dallas saw an end of a style, the beginning of a style, the end of an era and the beginning of an era- one of planned development.

In 1905 the Alexander Mansion was the final mansion built on Ross Avenue. When the Munger Brothers opened up their new residence park in 1906, Dallas saw a new type of opulence, one more constrained and restrained like 5205 Swiss Avenue which was the first home built on the boulevard designated for mansions. These magnificent homes were sublimated to the restrains of the development. The architectural orchestration of these homes make the street far more splendid than any of the individual homes.

Just a few blocks away, C.D. Hill who had just left a prominent firm in Fort Worth built his own house on Junius in 1909. A year later in 1910 he was asked to design the first residence in Highland Park. The developers commissioned the home to create confidence and an architectural direction for this new community. This majestic home on the creek did just that. Two years later in 1912 C.D. Hill built the grandest city hall in Texas, a classic Beaux Arts style City Hall that now serves as the municipal building for Dallas. In 1924 Hill moved to Highland Park where he designed his new residence at 3318 Beverly.

The quality and diversity of Dallas’ architecture can be traced to its roots. Dallas originated as a trading post and prospered as a city of trade. The Cotton Exchange, the oil business and banking industry brought people here from the region and from all parts of the world. The Sangers and the Neimans and the Marcus’s brought sophisticated retailing to this new city and spurred a desire to for the best. Lang and Witchell Architects designed the Cotton Exchange and this elegant residence on Swiss Avenue boulevard for an oil man.

The European Eclectic architectural styles gave this Prairie town roots, a sense of history and permanence. There was an established order to the succession of developments that used quality architecture as beacons for their endeavors. Each decade the architectural mood might shift from Georgian to Tudor to Mediterranean or another fashionable style. The ceilings might become lower but the mass of the homes remain quite consistent up until the latter part of the twentieth century. An increasing population, prosperity and an abundance of land is the recipe for broad bands of residential developments reflecting the architectural sentiments of the country.

Despite the sudden academic shift in 1950 towards modernism lead by California architect Harwell Hamilton Harris at the University of Texas, the eclectic tradition remained vibrant in Dallas. As Dallas continued its love affair with homes rooted in the European tradition, eclectic architecture became more varied and the results more diverse.

Clients with eclectic tastes began hiring architects with modern sensibilities. One of three things would then happen: the architect would convert the client, he would acquiesce to the client or he would build a traditional home with modern materials, a liberated floor plan, and moldings and decorative elements reduced to a vestige of what they had originally represented.

There were also many good architects who were determined to further explore and refine the eclectic tradition. They traveled to Europe to painstakingly identify and then recreate details of period residences while adapting the new eclectic house to represent current lifestyles. There was no shortage of opportunities for these architects after 1950 as original eclectic homes were replaced by new eclectic homes representing the fashion of the time. Bungalows built in 1930 were torn down to make room for new Georgian style homes, Tudor style homes were torn down for larger, grander Tudor homes, and undeveloped land often became sites for French influenced mansions.

But a greater development impacting eclectic architecture was the renovation, restoration, adaptation, remodeling, and expansion of existing eclectic homes that became popular in the 1970s as historic districts were designated and older neighborhoods were reclaimed. These modifications could have been designed by an architect, construed by a builder or orchestrated by a homeowner directing carpenters and subcontractors to incorporate the elements of many styles they found pleasing and functional.

Eclectic homes post-1950 might also be an eclectic home designed by its owner, an artist, who incorporated modern elements or adapted homes also heavily influenced by their owners. They are also eclectic homes in the purest form of this tradition.