Posts Tagged 'Kalita Humphreys Theater'

Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright in Dallas

Last Monday, our theme for docent training was “a morning of architecture in Dallas.”  I invited Katherine Seale, director of Preservation Dallas, to speak with the docents about the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement in Dallas. 
 
As director of Preservation Dallas, Katherine has firsthand knowledge of all the historic homes in Dallas. The Arts and Crafts movement hit Dallas later than on the East and West coasts, but there are many excellent examples of Stickley-esque Craftsman homes in East Dallas. 
 
Katherine spoke about Swiss Avenue and the Munger Place neighborhood, both of which I was familiar with already.  To me, the most fascinating part of Katherine’s presentation was about a neighborhood in Oak Cliff called Winnetka Heights.  Winnetka Heights is, according to Katherine, the most Arts and Crafts neighborhood in Dallas.  Craftsman bungalows–one-story homes made of wood with low-pitched roofs and exposed joinings– line the streets of this neighborhood.  I’m already planning a weekend outing to view these homes.
 
Following Katherine’s presentation, architect Ann Abernathy spoke about Frank Lloyd Wright in Dallas.  Yes, the DMA currently has an exhibition of his prints: Line and Form: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wasmuth Portfolio.  But did you know that Wright was the architect for the Kalita Humphreys Theater?  

Frank Lloyd Wright's Kalita Humphreys Theater

Ann is the perfect person to speak about Frank Lloyd Wright, because she was the project lead for the renovation of Wright’s Oak Park home and studio.  She has also been named the project lead for the renovation of the Kalita Humphreys Theater.  This gives her the unique distinction of having worked on projects that were created at the beginning and end of Wright’s career.

The plan for the Kalita Humphreys Theater came from a 1914 theater plan that was designed by Wright but never built.  When he was asked to design a building for the Dallas Theater Center, Wright agreed, but only if he could use his 1914 plan.  What many people may not know is that the Kalita is one of the last buildings constructed by Wright–he began work on it in 1955 when he was eighty-eight years old, and it was completed after his death in 1959.

As anyone who has visited the Kalita Humphreys Theater knows, it is situated on a hillside over Turtle Creek.  The building is constructed from reinforced concrete, and is considered to have wonderful acoustics.  This comes from Wright’s own interest in the science and theory of acoustics.  The theater also features a revolving stage.  My favorite element of the theater is how the audience wraps around the stage.  Every performance at the theater feels like an intimate gathering.

Katherine and Ann’s presentations have opened my eyes to a new way of looking at buildings in Dallas.  I encourage you to spend Mother’s Day weekend at the DMA to learn more about Wright and Stickley.  Examine the drawings in Line and Form: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wasmuth Portfolio and spend time marvelling at the beauty of Craftsman designs during the closing weekend of Gustav Stickley and the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Shannon Karol
Manager of Docent Programs and Gallery Teaching

Wright in Your Own Backyard

This weekend the Museum will open Line and Form: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wasmuth Portfolio, an exhibition drawn from a monograph of prints based on drawings produced by the architect and his studio that is widely recognized as one of the most important architectural publications of the 20th century. Having already gained prominence for a number of innovative residential projects in Chicago, Wright collaborated with a German printer in 1910 to create and distribute the portfolio to promote his work to a larger audience in the U.S. and abroad. The portfolio helped establish Frank Lloyd Wright’s reputation, and he went on to a long and prolific career as the century’s most iconic American architect.

As Frank Lloyd Wright’s reputation grew in the decades following the publication of the Wasmuth portfolio, the city of Dallas burgeoned as well; it is no wonder that Dallas’s civic and artistic leaders would look to the foremost American modernist architect to put his stamp on this growing, forward-thinking city.

In 1934 Stanley Marcus – the legendary Dallas stylemaker and retailer – and his wife began plans to build a house for their family in East Dallas, near White Rock Lake. As Mr. Marcus wrote in his autobiography, Minding the Store, the search began with architects based on the East Coast, as “modern architecture had not been discovered in Dallas up to that point.” After interviewing several prominent architects, the Marcuses met with Frank Lloyd Wright to seek his advice on potential candidates; Wright responded, “Why take the imitation while you can still get the original? I’ll do your house.” Unfortunately, the project was never completed with Wright’s designs; the notoriously temperamental architect was fired from the project, and the house was eventually completed by a Dallas-based architect, Roscoe DeWitt.

On Saturday I’m looking forward to attending the Legacies Dallas History Conference and especially to hearing Charles Marshall’s lecture When Frank Met Stanley: Frank Lloyd Wright and Stanley Marcus. Also, the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects publishes a great quarterly publication entitled Columns; the Fall 2010 issue includes two articles about the Stanley Marcus house, which you can read online.

The original model for the Marcus House, as designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Marcus House in its final form, designed by Roscoe DeWitt

Despite a rather inauspicious start, Frank Lloyd Wright did receive several important commissions from Dallas clients throughout his career. Perhaps the most notable project to come to fruition was the Kalita Humphreys Theater, which served as the primary home for the Dallas Theater Center for fifty years – from 1959 until 2009, when the company moved to the Arts District and the new Wyly Theater. Although based on earlier, unrealized theatrical designs, the theater was considered to be very innovative, and it expressed the architect’s long and strongly held principles about integrating a building into context, or the “belief that architecture has an inherent relationship with both its site and its time.” The Kalita Humphreys Theater would become one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last projects, as he passed away just months before its construction was complete. I enjoyed these interviews with members of the Dallas Theater Center company about working in a Frank Lloyd Wright building.

The plan of the Kalita Humphreys Theater. Image from the Hekman Digital Archive.

The Kalita Humphreys Theater

Take a closer look at Wright’s final project the next time you walk or ride on the Katy Trail along Turtle Creek, and explore his early masterpieces through selections of the Wasmuth portfolio, which will be on view at the DMA from January 30 until July 17, 2011.

Lisa Kays is Manager of Adult Programming at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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