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By D Magazine |

He is, undoubtedly, the most prolific architect in the history of the Southwest. George Leighton Dahl built coliseums and mausoleums; he built libraries and laundromats; he built schools and swimming pools; he built bowling alleys and banks.

Yet in spite of his incredible productivity and versatility, Dahl has never been ranked, in the public eye, with the architectural superstars, the Frank Lloyd Wrights and the I. M. Peis. But his talents have made him a giant in the eyes of his peers in the industry. He has been lauded as a “master of utilitarian architecture,” always responsive to the particular needs of each client, always showing an uncanny knack for delivering his’projects on time, within budget.

He was, during his long career, noted as an imaginative designer, a shrewd businessman, a superb salesman, and a marketing wizard. “He understood the marketplace better than anyone,” says one associate. “George Dahl could always find work.”

Among his most noteworthy projects are these:

◆ The University of Texas at Austin. Among the 26 structures he designed for this campus, most of them in his adapted Spanish-Mediterranean style, are the landmark library and Memorial Stadium. He also designed buildings for SMU, North Texas State, East Texas State, and UTA.

◆ The Texas Centennial Exposition. In 1935, Dahl was appointed Texas Centennial architect. In 10 months, he managed design and completion of the entire Exposition, in the process weathering an assault by a Chicago gangster who became enraged when Dahl insisted he take down the neon sign on his Exposition restaurant.

The Centennial buildings were ultimately built at the incredible cost of only eight cents per cubic foot; they were intended to last only three to four years – 45 years later most of them are still standing, still in use. Fair Park remains the Southwest’s most dramatic example of the Art Deco form.

◆ In association with his first Dallasemployer, Herbert M. Greene, Dahldesigned the downtown Neiman-Marcusbuilding, the Titche-Goettinger building,and the Volk Bros. building. In additionhe has built 32 Sears-Roebuck buildingsacross the country.

◆ Dahl was also noted for commissioning art works in conjunction with hisarchitectural design. When he designedthe downtown Dallas Public Library, hehired sculptor Harry Bertoia, who createda 3000-pound metal screen for thelibrary’s interior. A public outcry arose against the sculpture, led by Mayor R. L. Thornton. So Dahl wrote Bertoia a personal check for $8700 and put the screen. in his garage. The outcry reversed and the screen was called back to the library. The exterior sculpture, depicting a young boy holding a book, was approved only after Dahl deferred to the wishes of the ladies of the library board who asked that the boy, originally nude, be given a pair of pants.

◆ His major addition to the Dallas skyline, The First National Bank building, designed in joint venture, is considered by many to be one of the city’s most handsome skyscrapers. Dahl also designed the Dallas Memorial Auditorium.

◆ His renovation projects broughtglamorous new life to many of the city’sold hotels, including the Baker, theAdolphus, and the Stoneleigh.

◆ In the Forties, Dahl began work forthe Texas Department of Corrections, a”sinkhole” when he inherited the project.His work (fifteen prison units) turned theTexas prison system into one of the mostrespected in the country; the inmatesthemselves performed some of the construction.

◆ Besides Memorial Stadium inAustin, Dahl designed RFK Stadium inWashington, D.C., and had a hand in thebuilding of both the Rose Bowl and theCotton Bowl. He also built gymnasiums,indoor pools, and baseball parks.

His career amounted to 3000 projects worth $2 billion. “It’s absolutely unbelievable,” says one admiring architect, “how much George Dahl did.”

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