Exchange Park: 1950s Cutting Edge
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LOST + FOUND: Exchange Park: 1950s Cutting Edge
In 1956, only a few miles north of downtown Dallas, William Blakley opened Exchange Park, transforming 120 wooded acres near Harry Hines Boulevard and Mockingbird Lane into a mixed-use commercial development landscaped as a park. Blakley proclaimed that “Exchange Park will be a self-contained business community — America’s first completely integrated and weather-controlled commercial development.”
Architects and engineers at Dallas’ Lane, Gamble & Associates spent three years planning the project. It included office buildings, shops and services, two department stores, a hotel, and residential towers. The press labeled the development a “city-within-a-city” and the “city of tomorrow.” The development was never fully built, but the part that was constructed was ahead of its time and set trends for similar development across the country.
The 14-story Exchange Bank opened in 1956 with a clean-line modern design that featured continuous strips of windows with bright yellow spandrels, since painted a charcoal gray. Projecting sun visors, a new concept, were built into the facade to cut down on the heat load by keeping sun off the windows. The interior was just as cutting edge, with movable wall partitions that could be rearranged overnight to create new office spaces. Innovations included snap-in air outlets and light fixtures as well as floor construction that allowed wiring and outlets to be easily rearranged to meet tenant requirements. According to The Dallas Morning News, Exchange Bank was the first U.S. office building to incorporate such modular flexibility.
Exchange Bank was the first building constructed in the complex in 1956, followed by the Braniff Airways headquarters in 1958. The Frito-Lay Tower came later in 1966. // Postcard image from the late 1950s courtesy of Braniff Airways Foundation
The Braniff Airways headquarters, the site’s second office tower, opened in 1958. The 10-story building was strikingly similar to Exchange Bank and used the same sun visors on the main façade. But the Braniff building had bright blue spandrels, which still retain their original color, a rear façade with a different shading system and a top floor that featured a landscaped terrace that gave Braniff executives views of nearby Love Field. The interior featured the same flexible wall system.
The large office towers at Exchange Park were connected by “weather conditioned streets” of a mix of brick and exposed concrete with designs of varying shades and sizes of exposed aggregate. Originally shops, services, and restaurants opened up to the “street” and now those spaces are used by UT Southwestern Medical Center. / Photo: Michael Cagle
Connecting the two towers were 40-foot-wide “weather-conditioned streets.” The fully enclosed, air-conditioned area contained shops, services, and restaurants. The “street” had a mix of brick and exposed concrete, with designs scattered throughout in patterns of varying shades and sizes of exposed aggregate. Above, a series of large skylights provided natural light for the space, including planters with lush foliage. The concept served as a forerunner to the modern mall.
La Tunisia, one of Dallas’ most unique restaurants, opened in 1959 in Exchange Park. Guests entered through a loggia surrounded by an exotic garden of tropical plants and palm trees. / Postcard image courtesy of Dallas Heritage Village
Two establishments made their marks after opening in 1959. At La Tunisia, one of Dallas’ most unique restaurants, guests entered through a loggia surrounded by an exotic garden of tropical plants and palm trees into the main dining room. Hundreds of yards of hand-woven silk hung from the ceiling and adorned the walls to give the effect of being inside a huge tent on the Arabian desert. The Sheik’s Tent lounge and the private Pioneer Room bridged the divide between North Africa and Texas with calfskin and patchwork quilt covered walls with longhorns attached. Marco Engineering, the Los Angeles firm that supervised the building of Disneyland, designed the restaurant space, touted as having the “romantic charm of a North African desert oasis” and as “one of the best examples of interior design in the nation.”
The Mickey Mantle Bowling Center, also opened in 1959, featured 32 lanes, and the baseball great moved his family to Dallas to be near the new center. Over 10,000 people, including Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, and Dorothy Malone, came for the opening.
A garage and surface lots provided ample parking. Underneath the complex, a 3,600-foot-long tunnel system allowed trucks to unload and service vehicles to operate without being seen or interfering with traffic movement at ground level.
In 1965, sculptor Wilbert “Bill” Verhelst created a 35-foot-tall fountain to be the focal point of the new Frito-Lay building in Exchange Park. The sculpture resembles a huge stalagmite and is made of non-corrosive silicon copper which was hand textured and intended to oxidize to a blue-green color consistent with the forces of nature. // Photo: Michael Cagle
The third and final office tower at Exchange Park opened in 1966 as the corporate home of Frito-Lay. Lane, Gamble & Associates departed from the design of the earlier towers, forgoing sun visors for a clean glass-walled cube of 17 stories with a five-story projection. The building featured a private rooftop club, a medieval pub, and a large cafeteria. It also included an elaborately landscaped garden area with a 5-ton copper water sculpture by Wilbert Verhelst. The tower connected to the pedestrian mall and the parking garage, which was expanded to accommodate the new tenant.
Today, Exchange Park remains close to its original design, with slight updates for modern conveniences. But its use has changed dramatically. Braniff moved its headquarters to DFW International Airport in 1976, and Frito-Lay left for Plano in 1985. Exchange Bank was bought out and became Texas American Bank before it closed.
Photo: Michael Cagle
Arthur’s West restaurant replaced La Tunisia in 1972, and it, too, eventually closed. The Mickey Mantle Bowling Center is long gone. Exchange Park changed hands several times, and in 2008 UT Southwestern Medical Center purchased a large portion of the complex to expand its campus. Today the complex is mostly medical in nature, with offices for UT Southwestern Medical School and Parkland Memorial Hospital. J.P. Morgan Chase has taken over Exchange Bank’s lobby and motor bank. Medical offices and a food court replaced the mall, but the original skylights and street of brick and concrete remain.
Photo: Michael Cagle
When Exchange Park opened, it was cutting edge for its mixed-use concept of office and retail and the architectural design with its sun shading system and modular office flexibility. In 1956, Architectural South magazine heralded Exchange Park as “an entirely new concept of the business community of the future — a city within a city, containing all of the facilities necessary to provide goods and services under the most favorable conditions — comfort and convenience without congestion.” While the complex was never completed, what did get built was groundbreaking and served as a model for development across the country.
David Preziosi, FAICP, is the executive director of Preservation Dallas.