Dallas’ Hall of State at Fair Park Is Restored to Its Historic Glory

1st Place, Historic

The old saying goes, “everything is bigger in Texas.” As residents of the largest of the contiguous 48 states, Texans have long taken pride in that idea and have a history of striving to do things bigger and better.

This spirit was inherent in 1936 during the construction of the striking Hall of State at Fair Park in Dallas. The 49,600-square-foot structure was built to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Republic of Texas. Designed by architect Donald Barthelme, the project carried what felt then like an astronomical price tag of $1.2 million.

What resulted was a beautiful Art Deco building that remains one of the most recognized buildings in the state. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a State Antiquities Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission. It joins the Alamo and the State Capitol as one of the three defining icons of Texas architecture.

PHOTOS: ALICIA SPAETE

The city of Dallas understood that the building needed some attention to keep it shining bright for the state’s residents. Its restoration was considered one of the most important projects in Texas, second only to the Alamo. To tackle this challenge, the city looked to Gensler.

“As the centerpiece of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, Hall of State is a beloved symbol for the entire state,” says Brian Nicodemus, south central regional practice area leader, Culture + Museum + Civic, with Gensler in Dallas. “Despite its importance, it faded into the landscape of Fair Park. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair.”

The effort to restore the building to its past glory earned the project 1st Place in the 2021 Metamorphosis Awards, Historic category.

TRANSFORMATION ON A BUDGET

Any historic renovation is challenging, but one of this scale and notoriety could be particularly daunting. The exterior restoration was the primary emphasis for the voter-approved bond funding. Field investigation and detailed testing and examination of existing documents produced a framework of the original exterior finishes and systems.

“Working with a cost estimator to add value on a tight budget, the team focused on beautifying and restoring Hall of State to put it back in the spotlight,” Nicodemus says. “The transformation showcases brightened façades; includes new lighting; preserves historical materials; improves waterproofing, efficiency and maintenance procedures; and upgrades accessibility to ADA code requirements.”

While much of the attention of the project was to the outward appearance of the building, updates and upgrades were made to the function of the building, as well.

“The restoration focused on bringing the exterior back to the 1936 period, but during construction Gensler was able to add scope to include many interior elements, as well as a chiller and HVAC system,” Nicodemus recalls. “These additions were funded with savings found due to aggressive bidding with contractors. Additionally, Gensler designed and added accessibility to allow all guests to experience the building with equal facilitation. This entailed adding a new series of ramps and paths to the site of the building.”

DEHUMIDIFICATION

A decade before the current retrofit, Dallas explored a restoration on an even tighter budget, and that initiative resulted in a new HVAC system and central plant for heating and air conditioning. That system had failed in the 10 years and had to be addressed in the new restoration project. To make it as effective as possible, Gensler took a whole design approach that included dehumidification of the building.

“A priority matrix was developed and scrutinized regularly during the assessment and design phases,” Nicodemus says. “It was hypothesized that humidification was not caused by a single issue, but most likely a combination.”

That approach led to the restoration of the entire building envelope. It meant repairs to existing below-grade waterproofing membranes, addition of new below-grade waterproofing membranes, and removal of asbestos and mold throughout the building. Windows and doors were removed, repaired and resealed. Interior conditions were dewatered, removing air-conditioning pipe condensation, for example. A mechanical engineer recommended a new internal gutter to help eliminate potential drippage in pipes and better regulate the internal environment.

Improvements also were made to the courtyard to help control water on the site. The drainage on the northeast part of the site was improved so the building’s lower level wouldn’t flood after it rains. The building was further protected from flooding through the addition of landscaping and a change of grading to ensure positive drainage from the building.

MATERIAL MATCH

“Materials on historic structures are only original once,” Nicodemus says. “Therefore, great care was taken to source limestone and review many mockups and samples to match the existing stone with the new construction and repairs.”

Material considerations can become touchy when trying to do as much as possible to replicate the look and feel of the original structure and still create an upgrade with the best possible components available today.

Although steel is the traditional go-to reinforcement option, its material properties are drastically different than the cordova cream limestone that clads Hall of State. The project team repaired flexure cracks in the solid masonry lintels of the basement windows using glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) bars bonded in notches cut into the soffit of the lintel and patched over with a custom-colored material. Embedding the bars in the soffit minimized the aesthetic impact while providing the necessary tensile reinforcement.

Gensler partnered with Phoenix I Restoration and Construction Ltd., the general contractor, and Brazos Masonry Inc. to make sure that everything the team did stayed true to the original expression of the building.

“Working collaboratively, we established review criteria that was repeatable to enable our team to assess stone from multiple sources with the same conditions,” Nicodemus says. “We looked at the stone in dry, wet, sunny and shaded conditions. During design, Gensler’s historic preservation approach to the project included an important discovery and assessment phase, during which we analyzed paint and other finishes, waterproofing membranes and wall assemblies. During this process, we discovered the original paint colors for the windows and doors.”

TEAM EFFORT

Everyone involved in the Hall of State at Fair Park restoration worked with a passion for this classic building and built a true spirit of collaboration to ensure the job was done well.

“During this project, the lead role changed by team member. Initially, the lead was the city of Dallas, the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, and Dallas Historic Society,” Nicodemus recalls. “During design, Gensler was the lead. During construction, Phoenix I was the lead. It was a wonderful relationship between team members that truly cared about this building.”

The project was submitted for approval by the Dallas Landmark Commission, Texas Historic Commission and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Today, the building stands just as proud and bright as it did in 1936.

“The response to the completed project has been overwhelmingly positive, winning numerous design and restoration awards and honors,” Nicodemus says. “The building beams in the sunlight at dusk. It is a treasure to the city of Dallas and all who visit it.”

“The designers rejuvenated the building with sensitivity and expertise, repairing damage from the elements over time, providing ADA accessibility, and designing lighting that enhanced but didn’t overwhelm this elegant historic edifice.”

Marcy Wong, partner, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, Metamorphosis Awards Judge

Retrofit Team

OWNER/DEVELOPER: City of Dallas

METAMORPHOSIS AWARD WINNER and LEAD DESIGN FIRM: Gensler

GENERAL CONTRACTOR/ CONSTRUCTION MANAGER: Phoenix I Restoration and Construction Ltd.

MASON: Brazos Masonry Inc.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Walter P. Moore

CIVIL ENGINEER: Pacheco Koch

MEP ENGINEER: MEPCE

ARCHITECTURAL CONSERVATOR: van Enter Studio Ltd.

BRONZE RAILINGS: Weimann Metalcraft

Materials

MASONRY CLEANING: 766 Limestone & Masonry Prewash from Prosoco, and D/2 Biological Solution from D/2 Biological Solutions Inc.

MASONRY RESTORATION: Tuckpoint Mortar from Spec Mix; Jahn M70 Restoration Mortar from Cathedral Stone Products; and Historic Restoration Mortar, Last Patch Limestone and Ultimate Epoxy from Bonstone

STONE: Tennessee Crab Orchard from Cumberland Mountain Stone, Shell Stone and Cordova Cream Limestone from Continental Cut Stone and Indiana Limestone from 3D Stone

TILE: Kerapoxy from Mapei and TileLab Matte Sealer & Finish from Custom Building Products

BACKER ROD: Armacell FillPro from Armacell

WATERPROOFING: TREMproof 250GC from Tremco and Bentonite Composite Sheet from AVM Industries

SEALANTS: Emseal and DOWSIL 795

GLAZING: Starphire Glass from Vitro Architectural Glass Fabricated by Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope

OPENINGS RESTORATION: Krud Kutter from Rust-Oleum, OSHPO Rust Treatment from The Skybryte Co., POR-ROK Anchoring Cement from CGM Inc. and Model 27 Door Closer from Rixson

About the Author

Allan Barry
Allan Barry writes about architecture and sustainability from Chicago.

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