The Arts District Starts to Take Shape …
By Irvin Levy

32a Levy

On January 29, 1984, the Dallas Museum of Art moved from Fair Park to downtown (after much consternation). The new building tripled the DMA’s exhibit space and secured donations from Dallas’ three premier collectors: Al Meadows (preimpressionist to contemporary), Lillian and Jim Clark (perhaps the world’s best collection of Mondrians); and Margaret McDermott (impressionist). The move was also the first step in the creation of what we enjoy today: the Arts District.

It was jokingly called the Bluebonnet Museum. We had lots of bluebonnet paintings from local artists and a small collection of contemporary works. We had many opportunities for gifts of fine work, but people told us, “We don’t want to be in Fair Park in that old building.” Some people thought Fair Park would collapse if we moved the museum out, and we thought the museum would collapse if we left it there.

32b The Downtown Arts District photography by Mark McWilliams

Our slogan for the bond campaign was “A great city deserves a great museum.” This campaign was chaired by Richard “Dick” Haynes, who headed the committee to bring out the vote and did a superb job in getting the message across to the public. We assumed that we would receive opposition to moving to downtown Dallas from people who had dedicated their efforts to Fair Park. This opposition never developed, and we received the support of the entire community. We knew that Fair Park wouldn’t collapse because we had indications that there were other museums that were going to take over the building we left in Fair Park.

When the bond issue passed in 1979, we knew we had the support of the citizens of Dallas. We had the financial commitment from the city, and our challenge was to raise the money from the private sector. It’s my understanding that it was the largest bond issue combining private money and municipal money anywhere in the United States at that time.

The idea of city and private money going together was a major concern, but with the help of the city manager, George Schrader, and the support of then Mayor Robert Folsom, along with the City Council, this concern never developed. The city bond issue provided $24.8 million. The museum raised $27 million, and an additional $10 million was raised for operating endowment funds. Also $25 million in art was added to the collection or pledged as future gifts.

We knew the museum was going downtown when the bond was approved. We had this area selected, and it was a derelict area. It was centrally located for transportation so that all income levels could be served. It was the ideal thing because this was very inexpensive property. We were able to option it for free before the election.

There was a Chevrolet dealership on the corner of Ross and St. Paul—where the museum’s open-air sculpture garden is now. They didn’t want to sell initially, so the city arbitrator became involved and presented an agreement that was accepted by all parties. The rest of the land was old warehouses.

We were going to be the cornerstone of the vision for the Arts District: with the museum at one end, the symphony at the other end, and to fill in with the other arts groups. We encouraged other arts groups to try to option their land, since as each one built, the land prices were going to be raised. As soon as people realized that the museum was going to be built, the land prices went up significantly.

The museum board had changed at this time from people who predominantly loved art to a group of strong business leaders. That was needed because they provided the financial support and the leadership the business community gave it. George Charlton was the chairman of the museum, Harry Parker was the museum director, and I was president of the board when the bond passed and as the museum was built. The three of us made a hell of a team with the support of the board of directors.

Margaret McDermott was also very influential in making the museum happen. She was a major donor and was major behind the scenes. We went to her all the time to get advice and counsel. The board wanted the museum to belong to everybody, and we did not want to name any part of the museum after an individual. But we wanted to name the impressionist art gallery in Margaret’s honor because of her special contributions through the years. She said no, without hesitation. Her interest was in the quality of the museum building and the collection.

We had many committees work with the architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes, and met numerous times. Ed agreed with the board that he didn’t want the museum to conflict with the art but to be the background. He didn’t want the building to interfere.

Harry, George, and the building committee worked hand in glove to provide the space needed for the museum. The building committee was chaired by Vince Carrozza, who did an amazing job of completing the building within budget and on time.

We had to make a big change to our plans for the new building when we got the opportunity to acquire the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection. Mrs. Reves said the works needed to be displayed in rooms replicating the feel of La Pausa, her villa in France. So we agreed that we would build an addition—the second floor that we didn’t originally intend to do—as an accommodation. It was going to cost $5 million or $6 million, and we had to go and raise that extra money.

The move went better than anticipated. Not a piece was broken—that’s amazing. There was one little mishap with the Mark di Suvero sculpture, which I had given to the museum several years prior. It’s made out of steel girders, named Ave, and it points up. When they delivered it from Fair Park, they took it down and delivered it to the construction job next door, the Trammell Crow office building. The movers had thought it was construction material. Thankfully someone said, “This isn’t for us. It’s painted red.”

The day the new museum opened was an exciting day. The museum had an open house, and thousands attended. All kinds of people—old, young, poor, rich—they just poured in there. I heard someone say, “How did you do this?” and I said, “Timing is everything. We had a wonderful cohesive board that made it happen, the timing was right for Dallas, and the people wanted it.”

I don’t know that five years earlier we could have accomplished this. I just don’t think the city would have been ready for it. The people had to have the money and be willing to give it up. That was a lot of money in those days. We were nervous about asking for $1 million or $2 million donations from key people, and to think that for the Performing Arts Center, they received $10 million donations. I think that’s because of an increased interest in the arts that both the museum and the symphony hall helped to stimulate.

The lasting impact in my view is the size and quality of the museum’s collection, which has grown dramatically. To the city the impact has been attracting major businesses here, including a large number of Fortune 500 companies.
Building the museum was a highlight of my career.

Irvin Levy is chairman and president of NCH Corporation in Irving.

…  and Finishes Off with Its Money Woman …
By Caren Prothro

32c Prothro

In November 2000, C. Vincent Prothro, 58, collapsed at a meeting of the board of the Eugene McDermott Foundation and was later pronounced dead of a heart attack. Vin, as he was known, was chairman and CEO of Dallas Semiconductor. He was also a leading philanthropic force and the head fundraiser for the nascent Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. His wife, Caren, was asked to fill the void left by her husband. “I still think it was an awful thing for us to do to her. But it was an important thing, symbolically and practically, because Caren ended up being the chair of all our fundraising,” Deedie Rose told the Dallas Morning News. Bill Lively, the former president and CEO of the center, said, “Of all the volunteers, she was the most critical and the most successful.” Before the center’s opening, $335 million had been raised.

Vin would have been bowled over by what this will do for our city and our downtown. He was an engineer by profession and not a musician or aficionado of opera or theater, but he had keen interest in symphony.

Vin saw it from big-picture vision. He knew this would be something that would identify our city in such a way that we could have a place at the table with the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. He believed that this is Dallas’ time. We’re a young city, and he loved the fact that we were ambitious to be on par with other great cities of this nation. It felt to us like Dallas had risen to the occasion in so many other ways, but the arts had not closed the gap.

So many wonderful people were working together to bring this vision together, and when Vin died just after the first meeting of the board in November 2000, I didn’t have to think twice. I wanted to do this to realize this 30-year dream, even if I was late to the party. Vin had wanted to be a part of completing the circle, and I wanted to see that through.

I was familiar with the whole strategy because the summer before he died, Vin had laid out all these plans and aerial photos he had gotten Roger Staubach’s company to take, and it gave you a great sense of what had to be done in land acquisition and what the impact would be on various areas of downtown.

Vin was a businessman first, and he was inspired by the fact that in order for this to work, all of these art groups and resident companies would have to come together and work to the betterment of the whole arts center. It’s proven to be the correct strategy.

When we called on the philanthropic community to ask them to come together for one vision, they answered with $335 million. This is a huge tribute to the generosity of this community and proof that Vin’s faith in it was right. The private sector provided 95 percent of the funds. Most cities could not imagine doing this. Most of the time, it’s 50 percent through public funds and 50 percent philanthropic. But Vin and the people he’d worked with believed Dallas would support this.

Vin could see back then what it would mean for our reputation both nationally and internationally. If he were here today and could see the celebratory day of opening and the spotlight ceremony—even I couldn’t believe it. People from all over the community came down to see what this is all about. I was at Nasher Center, where 12,000 people came through on Spotlight Sunday, breaking all the records for one day. The museum was packed. It all came together. We’ve set the stage for something special for something to happen in future. Vin would be proud, and Dallas should be proud of itself.

The lobby in the Winspear Opera House is named in honor of C. Vincent Prothro. An anonymous donor contributed to have the space named for him.

… But Don’t Forget the Meyerson
By Liener Temerlin

32d Temerlin

We all know and love Jaap van Zweden. But without the efforts of Liener Temerlin and those who joined him, the great conductor wouldn’t have a building in which to conduct. But in September 1989, Dallas got its symphony hall. And the Arts District began to take shape.

The Dallas Museum of Art was the beachhead for what became the Arts District. The trump card was when Dallas decided to build the symphony hall. I was on that board, and for 10 years, those of us who were interested devoted time and energy to raising money. I think, at the time, the City Council, with some exceptions, was very much opposed to raising that money. Being president and chairman, that was my chief responsibility: getting people to put money in.

32e photography courtesy of Getty

I think it was more than $120 million, and that has to be a hell of a lot more than that in today’s dollars. (By the way, D Magazine used to run a thumbs-up/thumbs-down feature. Well, I got a thumbs-down from D Magazine for milking the community by raising money for the symphony hall.) Just in terms of selling, I said if we can establish a high-water mark, like the museum did, this portends all kinds of exciting things for Dallas. The analogy I drew was if you had all the money in the world, you’d never have a museum to equal the Metropolitan or the Louvre or the British Museum, because they have all the artwork. But that’s not true with a symphony hall. I said if we build a great symphony hall, we can end up with the best symphony hall and the best orchestra in the world, because that’s all au courant. And that seemed to make sense to everybody.

The symphony hall really became the cornerstone, I think, for what was to follow. The visionaries in Dallas certainly saw that, including Stanley Marcus. The great violinist Isaac Stern said it best. There was a fundraising event, and I asked him to come down. His words were, “The symphony hall shows what Dallas thinks of itself,” which is a great thought, and I think that’s true of this city.

When there was a committee looking into various architects, I.M. Pei said, “I have never built a symphony hall before.” But we had assurances from Pei that he would devote his exclusive time to it, and it turned into a masterpiece.

There was a sort of warfare going on between I.M. Pei and the acoustician, Russell Johnson. There was a constant battle about the floating ceiling. Pei wanted one shape, Johnson wanted another. I finally got them both together and said, “I’m walking out of the room. I’ll be gone for a couple of hours, and if you two [can’t agree]”—and I remember my heart was pounding in my chest as I said this—“we’re going to end up letting both of you go and start all over.” And Dallas Symphony Orchestra executive director Leonard Stone was there at that time. I thought he was going to kill himself. It was costing the symphony money that we raised, because we couldn’t do things until they made that decision. I said, “That’s not going to look good for Dallas, the symphony, or either of you.” They got together, and as a result Dallas is recognized in headlines all over the world.

It was easy to raise money for a while. Then Dallas went into its first slump ever, and it was hard as hell to raise those extra bucks. There’s another story: my wife told me that Ross Perot had called. I was in Chicago, and Ross said, “I understand that you would name the hall after whoever gave $10 million.” He said, “I’ll give you the $10 million, Liener, on three conditions. One, that you follow I.M. Pei’s plans to the nines. Two, that you don’t name it after me: name it after Mort [Meyerson], because he represents EDS, so much of what built the company. I want to recognize the employees. And, three, I want a portrait done and hung in the hall of Margaret McDermott because she taught this city how to give.” And I called Margaret, and Margaret said, “You tell Ross Perot that it’s high time someone said no to the man”—which I love.

As it turned out, I had to call Ross back several times. I told him that I would keep him informed. We didn’t have enough money for the marble floor. That was going to be $2 million or $4 million, I forget what it was. I called Ross, and he said, “I’ll give you two of that if you’ll match it.” I said, “Ross, people cross the street when they see me coming,” because I’d been doing so much fundraising for so long. And he said, “Okay.” So he gave. He didn’t want it published, but he gave $14 million.

American Airlines was one of my accounts, and I called the CEO, Bob Crandall, and they flew that marble in from Rome to make the opening. As the symphony was rehearsing for the grand opening, I was going around asking, “How are the acoustics?” I asked just enough to irritate Johnson, and he said, “Liener, if you stop listening for the acoustics, and start listening to the music, you’ll come to the conclusion all by yourself.”
Today the hall, the acoustics, and the symphony are recognized all over the world.

Liener Temerlin is a longtime Dallas advertising executive and president of Temerlin Consulting.

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