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Successful Marble Matching Returns Grandeur to Historic Dallas Landmark

by | Jan 21, 2022 |

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Building Stone Magazine. Featured image courtesy of Shands Photographics.

Located on South Harwood Street across from Main Street Garden Park, the Dallas Municipal Building is one of the most renowned buildings in downtown Dallas. The 107-year-old building was built in the Beaux Arts style, with intricate stonework on the exterior and interior. A Texas Historic Landmark, the building served as the fourth City Hall for Dallas and housed the infamous assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

In 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a bill into law establishing the first public law school in North Texas, the University of North Texas (UNT) at Dallas College of Law. The school’s initial campus was in the Lee F. Jackson Building on Main Street but was expanded to include the Dallas Municipal Building in 2019. Shortly after, the Municipal Building was chosen to serve as the law school’s permanent home and the municipal courts were moved into a renovated Municipal Building Annex.

When the five-story building became the new home for UNT at Dallas College of Law, an extensive renovation project began to restore it to its original grandeur. State-of-the-art flexible classrooms, seminar rooms, instructional lab spaces, an onsite clinic resource center, faculty and administrative offices, and other support areas were added to accommodate 500 law students for day and evening classes.

Since few buildings of this era and historic significance survived in Dallas, renovations focused on preserving details from the building’s genesis to when it housed a historical figure, according to Chad C. Joyce, CBO, senior construction project manager at University of North Texas (UNT) System in Dallas. “For this project, it was important to represent the history of the building in two time periods—1914 when it was originally built and 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and jailed inside this building,” he said. “Stone represents the beauty and grandeur of the original construction in 1914. Marble walls, columns, wainscoting, etc., play a significant role in the architecture of that period. Historic preservation architects took great effort to ensure that any in-place stone could be reused, and that new stone matched the original as closely as possible.”

The school collaborated with local architects Stantec Architecture and Architexas on the interior work for the project. Stantec Architecture was the lead architect on the interior design and renovation for UNT System, while historical preservation architects at Architexas were hired by Stantec Architecture to refurbish the interior spaces.


Revamping the Interior

The preservation architects at Architexas focused their efforts on restoring the interior finishes, with help from the teams at Tennessee Marble Company and Dee Brown, Inc. “The goal was the restoration or recreation of the building’s important character-defining spaces and features while integrating new technology and functionality to meet the needs of the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law,” said Anne Stimmel, AIA, senior associate at Architexas in Dallas, TX. “Decorative stone details were among the most important of these character-defining features and critical to the realization of the project.”

Photo courtesy of Shands Photographics

Some significant areas of the police department and jail were preserved, such as the cell where Oswald was housed, while the rest of the building was restored using a variety of American marbles. In places where the original stonework could not be fixed or restored, replacement stone from all over the United States was used.

“On the first level, stone was used for basically everything from the ceiling down,” Joyce explained. “The corridor floors on three levels were originally stone but were damaged beyond repair from the installation of vinyl tile with black mastic. The old stone was removed and new white Cremino pavers were installed to closely match the original. Walls were full-sized veneers of Montclair Striato marble with a Champlain Black marble base and Tennessee Grey marble cornices, doorways, windows and trim. The second and third levels included the same materials in varying degrees of how high they came up on the walls.”

Restoring the building to its original grandeur was an arduous task, but the preservation architects at Architexas insisted on leaving no stone unturned. They followed strict observance of the preservation criteria. Matching the original stone types and finishes was held to the highest standard with no compromises.

“This was a LEED project and historic preservation is inherently green in its use of existing buildings and materials,” Stimmel said. “Original historic stone was intact in select locations and was restored. New stone selection was based on the marbles originally specified for the building at the time of its construction.

Stimmel shared that only the Tennessee marble was still available and was matched for color and pattern. “A single block of poor-quality Riverside marble was located at the original quarry with as much material as possible harvested for floor and stair restoration. For the remainder, substitute material was selected based on compatibility of the original design intent. Where original stone was unavailable, compatible new stone was selected.”

The team of fabricators at Dee Brown, Inc. in Richardson, TX, helped execute most of the interior restoration stonework, which was a feat. “The interior was a challenge within itself trying to get things as closely back to the original as possible,” said Dee Brown project manager Wally Daniels. “About 90% of what is on the first floor is original Riverside stone material, while the second and third floors are mostly new material with some Riverside incorporated. It took a lot of work and understanding from the architects to complete this project.”


Sourcing the Materials

Tennessee Marble Company was essential in bringing the interior spaces back to life, providing more than 18,000 square feet of finished stone products for the pavers, high wainscoting, columns, decorative base, grand staircase, ornate balustrades, and Newell posts turned on a lathe.

The company identified five types of domestic marble from various quarries, including one that hadn’t been quarried since the 1970s. “We worked directly with other quarries to source the stones we do not quarry,” said Josh Buchanan, business and relationship cultivator at Tennessee Marble Company in Friendsville, TN. “We quarry Quaker Gray and Champlain Black marbles. We sourced and fabricated Danby Striato, another type of marble from an abandoned quarry in Proctor, VT, which was at one time operated by Vermont Marble Company, as well as Alabama White marble.”

Although sourced and fabricated by Tennessee Marble Company, AM3 Stone in Bessemer, AL, supplied 7,000 square feet of 6- x 12-inch Alabama White marble in a 2cm thickness for the interior flooring.

“The primary intent was to match what was originally in the building, with no compromises,” Buchanan explained. “The marble from the abandoned Proctor quarry had not been quarried in 40+ years. We worked with Gawet Marble to locate about 25 blocks from the abandoned quarry that we trimmed and from which we selected final stone for fabrication.”

“Out of 25 blocks we got from the Proctor quarry, we should have yielded about 20,000 square feet of material, but only got around 3,000 square feet,” Daniels added. “There was between 9,000 and 10,000 square feet of paving that was used for inside, so that was only enough to do one floor.”

Buchanan detailed how the Montclair Danby Striato marble was utilized for the new interior flooring, while the other types of marble were used for various other features. “Alabama White marble was utilized as stair treads, and Striato marble was utilized as wall cladding and balustrade spindles,” Buchanan said.

The Quaker Gray marble was used to construct the balustrade, Newell posts, columns, tops, wall cladding and other trims, while the Champlain Black marble was selected for the bases, including the column base. Since only one block of Riverside Light Cloud marble was salvaged, it was used throughout the first few floors as accents.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Marble Company

Because Tennessee Marble Company is familiar with the stones and quarriers that were involved in the project, they were able to acquire certain materials that would have otherwise not been possible. “We have a great relationship with the stone contractor, as well as great relationships with other domestic quarriers,” Buchanan said. “We were able to participate in site visits early on with the design and construction team and were able to source materials for all the stone products needed. We are lucky to have many trusted friends in the industry who were instrumental in completing this project.”

“Tennessee Marble Company and Gawet did a good job finding materials to match things with the original,” Daniels said. “It really blended in well.”


Recreating the Grand Staircase

Photo courtesy of Shands Photographics

Uncovering the original architectural elements that were concealed or removed during previous renovations was one of the biggest challenges. During the major renovations in 1956 and 1957, the building’s layout was completely reconfigured, with hallways moved and stairways repositioned.

One of the main features of the lobby, the “grand staircase,” was demolished during this renovation, which required ingenuity from all parties to recreate. “The stairway had been completely removed in the 1950s and only a few photographs exist that capture it,” Joyce said. “The stairs, apart from the steel structure, were made completely of marble, which included a continuous balustrade and handrail that tied to solid stone Newell posts. Fabrication of the materials was done by the Tennessee Marble Company, with shop drawings and installation by Dee Brown.”

Recreating the grand staircase was difficult to achieve, not only in matching the complex stone details and angles, but also in creating the layout and support structure.

Photo courtesy of Shands Photographics

“The grand stairway was really hard,” Daniels said. “Because of all the renovations—the structural steel was torn out and a lot of concrete had been demolished, floor decks had to be rebuilt—the elevator in the lobby wasn’t square, so when it came to laying things and making them line up, it made things very difficult. The structural engineer was having trouble figuring out how to design the supporting structure, so it took a team effort between Turner Construction [interior general contractor] and Dee Brown, Inc. to come up with a system to rebuild this grand staircase. The bottom steps are radial, so to use steel support under them is difficult. We were able to come up with a design that used lightweight concrete with foam forms so it would not put so much weight on that structure. All of the steel is under the straight stair treads. For the original staircase, all cubic material was used for the lower radial treads, so we had to lighten up the load. The radial steps are slab material now, but the Newell posts, radial bases, balustrades, handrails and handrail bases are all cubic as well. For those shapes, that’s the only way you can make them –start with a big block on the CNC machine, route it out and make it—which was a really difficult task.”

While the steel structure and stairs presented some unique challenges, the rail caps and the ramp and twist on the handrail and handrail base, which have very complex shapes, were the most demanding aspects to complete.

“The ramp and twist section of the balustrade was the most challenging stone product to fabricate,” Buchanan said. “It took advanced CNC programming and creative jigging to pull those off. The advanced programming detail work from our project manager, Ryan Cole, was instrumental in these coming out, and the handwork involved in finishing them is what contributed to the ultimate success. They came out beautifully.”

These facets of the staircase required careful planning and design, along with advanced CNC programming and creative solutions to balance, level and support the stones while being milled and hand finished. “It was like building a watch,” Daniels said. “Everything has to be precise to make it work.”


Tying Everything Together

All areas of the building required mock-ups since it was crucial to match the new and original stonework as closely as possible. “We created mock-ups of all portions of the work and those were reviewed by Architexas and Stantec Architecture,” Joyce said.

Countless hours were spent reviving this monumental structure over the course of roughly three years. “We started working with designers on stone selection about two years before the stone was supplied,” Buchanan said. “We worked on fabricating and finishing various stone products over the course of about a year. The project team and owner have expressed great appreciation and joy over the way the project turned out.”

“Reaction to this project, the adaptive reuse of a prominent and historic building within the City of Dallas that is expected to be in use indefinitely has been overwhelmingly positive,” Joyce said. “Also, transforming a building rich in legal history into the home of the UNT Dallas College of Law is a wonderful fit. The craftsmanship of this historic restoration is outstanding.”

“The restoration and reconstruction of the building’s interior design, including the decorative stonework, is beautiful,” Stimmel added.