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In Context: Hall of State
A reservoir of Texas history, the Hall of State recently underwent an overdue renovation. Led by the architecture firm Gensler, the preservation project addressed site drainage and restoration of exterior doors and windows.
The Hall of State and Fair Park have a long heritage of conflict and protest, with the seeds sown in Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico in 1836. As the young republic moved toward joining the U.S. in 1845, Texas pursued Anglo immigration. When the railroads arrived, its growth accelerated. Fast-forward almost 100 years, when the Depression gripped the nation: One of the best economic drivers was celebratory infrastructure for fairs, exhibits and expositions. In 1932, when Texas solicited proposals from cities to host an exposition, Dallas won partly for already being home to the State Fair of Texas. And so begins the story of the Hall of State.
Later that year, George Dahl was hired to plan Fair Park. In his design, the Hall of State sat as a crown jewel at the esplanade. Then the state stalled for two years on hiring an architect.
Feeling responsible for the endeavor’s success, Dahl kept sending design drawings to the state. This angered many Dallas architects, who, wanting the design and economic opportunities, banded together. They succeeded in getting hired in 1934, bestowing upon themselves the title of Centennial architects. In 1935, they submitted two designs, which the state rejected. Only after the group brought on Donald Barthelme, 29, was the design approved and construction started. The federal government funded the Hall of State as a gift to the City of Dallas.
With a grueling schedule to get the job done, workers went on strike and stalled construction even further. When the Texas Centennial opened, the Hall of State was still being built. It was only in the Centennial’s the last couple of months that the building welcomed visitors.
Despite the turmoil, all involved celebrated the Hall of State and took pride in its symbolism. And all patted themselves on the back, especially the Texas Centennial architects. But Barthelme, who supervised the job, wasn’t singled out for praise. In a glorious act of protest, he coded his name on the decorative frieze that ran along the facade of the building. He arranged the names of Texas heroes — Burleson, Archer, Rusk, Travis, Hogg, Ellis, Lamar, Milam — so that together the first letters spell BARTHELM; he’d run out of heroes for the last “E.”
The Texas Centennial Exposition welcomed largely Anglo crowds, with African Americans allowed in one day a month — despite the fairgrounds being in South Dallas in an African American neighborhood and many of the support staff being Black. Starting in 1955, Juanita Craft brought children from the NAACP Youth Council to the gates, where they were consistently turned away until the State Fair fully desegregated in 1967.
The fairgrounds and the Hall of State were back in the news in February 2021 after Texas’ big freeze. The Hall of State, where the $14.4 million renovation had been completed in December, flooded when a sprinkler pipe burst in the attic. Display cases and artwork in the East Texas Room were damaged, and the Hall of Heroes was also affected. Flooding also occurred in the Cotton Bowl and the Tower Building.
The Hall of State remains a crowning glory and a celebration of Texas. As the repository of our collective memory, it deserves our advocacy for its full restoration and maintenance. The same can be said for many Fair Park buildings. They all have complex, rich stories, but will we listen?
Shahad Sadeq, Assoc. AIA is executive director at AIA Springfield.
Photos: Alicia Spaete
- ARCHITECT/ HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Gensler
- GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Phoenix I Restoration
- ART CONSERVATION: Van Enter Studio, R. Alden, Marshall & Associates, John Canning & Co, and Hull Historical
- CIVIL ENGINEERING/LANDSCAPE: Pacheco Koch
- CONCRETE: Master Construction & Engineering
- COST CONSULTANT: Eudacorp
- ELECTRICAL: Integrus Electric
- MASONRY: PSA Management and Dee Brown Inc.
- MEP ENGINEERING: MEPC
- PAINT CONSERVATION/ANALYSIS: Source Conservation
- ROOF: Texas Roof Management
- STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING: Walter P. Moore
- WATERPROOFING: Jeans Waterproofing