The Architecture of George Dahl
Famed architect's HP house demolished
01:07 PM CST on Tuesday, December 12, 2006
By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News
The buildings of famed Dallas architect George Dahl may stand for decades as monuments to his talent, but one of his most personal works was on its way to extinction Tuesday.
The current owner of an art deco house designed and occupied by Mr. Dahl during the late 1930s was issued a permit Tuesday morning to demolish the structure. A few hours later, workers had torn down half of the house.
Mr. Dahl’s Dallas firm produced about 3,000 projects, but he is probably best known for transforming Fair Park for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. He personally designed the signature Esplanade and the Tower Building.
He also designed the country’s first drive-in bank — at Hillcrest State Bank in University Park. Mr. Dahl died in 1987 at age 93.
The house on Bordeaux Avenue in Highland Park was the second of three houses that Mr. Dahl designed and lived in. Family members said the four-bedroom, brick-and-glass home was his favorite.
“I think it was the house he liked the best,” said Ted Akin, Mr. Dahl’s son-in-law. “As he got older, he became more interested in modern design. And this was the house that reflected it.”
The house’s current owner, Lynn G. O’Neil, did not return several phone calls seeking comment. But family members of Mr. Dahl said Ms. O’Neil told them she grew up in the house, that it was in poor repair and she wanted to replace it with something newer.
The house, which Mr. Dahl occupied from 1937 to 1941, was featured in The Abrams Guide to American House Styles, published in 2002, as an example of “American Deco.”
It will also be included in a still-untitled book, scheduled for publication next year, surveying Park Cities architecture. The book is being compiled by Dallas authors Willis Winters, Prudence McIntosh and Virginia McAlester.
Ms. McAlester, author of A Field Guide to American Homes, said the Dahl house is of particular interest because he designed it at about the time he served as chief architect of the Texas Centennial Exposition.
“The fact that he was working on it during that time makes it a very important house,” Ms. McAlester said.
The house is architecturally significant on its own, she said.
“There are very few houses of that style in the country,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything of that style anywhere, and I’ve seen historic districts nationally.”
Nonetheless, the house has no official historic status, and such a designation has never prevented demolition of a house in Highland Park, said Kirk Smith, head of Highland Park’s building inspection department.
Dahl family members were given a last chance to tour the house over the weekend, and they said afterward that they had mixed emotions.
“It kind of makes me sad, but I guess it’s progress,” said Gloria Akin, Mr. Dahl’s daughter. “I understand why people build these huge new homes; they want big rooms and big closets. That’s what they do these days, but I hate to see it, I really hate to see it.”
Mrs. Akin said she lived there from the time she was 4 until she was 9.
Though her father did most of his work at his office in what is now the Interurban Building downtown, he had a drafting table set up in the house that he sometimes worked at, Mrs. Akin recalled.
Mr. Dahl used a star motif throughout the house — with iron stars on the ironwork and stars on the blue-painted ceiling of the dining room. He also used glass blocks in the walls to provide diffused light.
The family left the house in 1941 to move to a colonial house that Mr. Dahl designed in Bluffview.
“He didn’t really like colonial, he just did it because that’s what my mother and I wanted,” Mrs. Akin said.
Family members described Ms. O’Neil as sympathetic and cordial during the weekend visit, but some still remained disturbed at the loss.
“It’s a sin, it’s like burning books,” said Ashley Akin, Mr. Dahl’s granddaughter.
“It’s one of those houses that’s unique. You can’t duplicate things like that.”
Born: May 11, 1894, in Minneapolis, Minn.
Education: bachelor’s degree in architecture, University of Minnesota, 1920; master’s degree, Harvard University, 1923; fellowship, American Academy in Rome, 1923-25
Arrived in Dallas: 1926
Family: Married Lillie Olsen in 1921; one daughter, Gloria Akin; second marriage, Joan Renfro, 1978
Died: July 18, 1987, in Dallas
Most famous designs: Titche-Goettinger building, Ferris Plaza, Downtown Neiman Marcus store, Hillcrest State Bank, Texas Centennial Exposition (general layout), Tower Building at Fair Park, Fair Park Esplanade, Cotton Bowl restoration, The Dallas Morning News building, Southwestern Life building, LTV Aerospace Center, former Dallas Public Library (SOURCE: Architectural Images)
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