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Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright in Dallas

April 26, 2011
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

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