DMA by Design

January always marks a new year and new possibilities, and at this time almost 40 years ago, the DMA and the citizens of Dallas were looking forward to a brand-new museum and watching it grow from the ground up.

The site for the new museum, chosen in 1977, was in area north of the Central Business District, where it would serve as the anchor of a new Arts District for the city. This location had once been home to grand mansions facing Ross Avenue at the turn of the 20th century, but by the 1930s and 1940s the area was dominated by car dealerships, tire and auto repair shops, and small machine shops.  

Ross Avenue at Harwood Street, circa 1925. Photo from Park Cities: A Photohistory by Diane Galloway, page 51

The design for the new museum building by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes was created in 1979. Barnes’s plan included a central concourse to connect museum functions, terraced galleries with internal courtyards and skylights for natural light, vaulted space for contemporary art, a sculpture garden, and a quiet continuous background that lets the artworks shine. 

Edward Larrabee Barnes’s original design for the new Dallas Museum of Art, March 1979. The layout stayed generally the same, but the concourse became straight instead of stepped. 

The site chosen was not empty land, and the structures were still mainly automotive related, especially on the Ross and Harwood sides.

Northwest corner of Ross and Harwood, the current location of the DMA, looking north along Harwood Street with Ross Avenue in the foreground.

The demolition of the existing structures began in September 1980, but in keeping with the January theme, the following image is from January 29, 1981.

J.W. Bateson Construction, Paula Lawrence photographer; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

Construction in January 1982:

J.W. Bateson Construction, Photos by Mel Armand Assoc; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

This above photo is the back of the Museum and Barrel Vault from St. Paul Street, looking southeast. The First United Methodist Church of Dallas can be seen in the background. 

And circa January 1983—there weren’t process photos from January, so the interior view is from December 1982, and the aerial view is from February 1983:

J.W. Bateson Construction, photos by L.M. Dale; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

This staircase is in the center of the concourse; the first doorway on the left goes to Museum offices; the second doorway in the top center of the image leads to what is now the Arts of the Pacific on Level 3. The windows in the background are where the Hamon building now stands.

J.W. Bateson Construction, photos by L.M. Dale; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

In this aerial view, the Sculpture Garden is still under construction on the left side of the image, and construction on the Reves and Decorative Arts galleries has not yet begun. And if you look really closely, you can see Woodall Rodgers Freeway in the top center, which was still a few months away from completion.

The building was completed and on January 29, 1984 the new DMA opened!

North façade—This side was covered by the Hamon Building in 1993; but the stone-carved “Dallas Museum of Art” can still be seen on the 4th Floor, at the top of the stairs from the Concourse.
South entrance on Ross Plaza
Ceremonial Entrance at Harwood and Flora streets

I am looking forward to what the coming year and the future brings for the DMA.

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the DMA.

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