Dallas Municipal Building Annex Receives Preservation Achievement Award

GSR Andrade’s Dallas Municipal Building Annex (Municipal Courthouse) was honored May 14th at the 15th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards held at the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff.
The Annual Awards recognize the outstanding development of Dallas’ historic buildings and places, as well as the people that contribute to the preservation of the City’s history.  We are proud to have participated in the renovation and restoration of Municipal Building, as well as a number of other historic structures over the past several years.

Completed in 1956 during Mayor R.L. Thornton’s administration, the Old Municipal Building Annex served as Dallas City Hall for 22 years until the current City Hall was completed in 1978. The original architects for this addition to the 1914 Old Municipal Building were (Harwood K.) Smith & Mills, with Mark Lemmon serving as Consulting Architect. Most notably, it was in this facility’s underground garage where Jack Ruby fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, and which still attracts curious tourists fifty years later.
The mid-century modern-style Annex now buzzes with activity as the Dallas Municipal Court Building, with twelve courtrooms, judiciary offices, public transaction counters, historical exhibit areas, city attorney, records and court support offices, and law enforcement wait space. This 106,000-sf, five-story building required both a complete rehabilitation of the interior and a restoration of the exterior.
Significant spaces, such as the Main Street entry lobby, tax collection counters, original City Council Chambers, and lower level corridors were restored to retain the character-defining marble veneered walls, blond hardwood paneled walls, travertine floors and other details of mid-century 1950’s courthouse architecture.  Details, such as the original Cutler mail chute system, were preserved and accentuated. The first floor transaction counters, once used for collecting city taxes, were rehabilitated to serve as interpretive exhibit areas. Under the guidance of the City of Dallas Archivist, display panels currently in production will explore the history of Dallas on one side of the hall and educate about the history of the Municipal Building complex on the other.

With over eleven alterations to the Annex on record since original construction, research and investigation were required to remove unsympathetic alterations and peel back a series of layers. Most especially, with the removal of two generic offices, the podium end of the old City Council Chambers was exposed, restored and converted to a double-height boardroom, with new replicas of the lost medallions mounted on the original leather paneled wall. Elsewhere, when demolition was necessary, existing historical materials removed were reused, such as the marble paneling in the new transaction counters and the information center.
The challenges to this project were numerous. Since all municipal court and office functions needed to be continuously operational during construction, intensive phasing was required for minimal disruption. A new code-required fire stair connecting from the garage up to fifth floor on the facility’s north side afforded an opportunity to bring a light-filled vertical element that utilized the building’s windows without significantly impacting the historic exterior or interior fabric. A tight budget necessitated maximizing the experiential impact with economical materials. On the labyrinthine upper office floors with no preservation requirements, abundant daylighting was incorporated into the main galleries and courtrooms to open up the low 12-foot floor-to-floor heights, especially for courtrooms that normally demand higher ceilings. Although preservation restrictions prevented the replacement of the exterior single-pane glazing, state-of-the-art HVAC systems, interior window film and extensive lighting controls vastly improved the building’s energy efficiency. With continuous occupancy, asbestos and lead-containing materials were abated carefully, with the new renovation then utilizing only finish materials that were healthy and low-emitting.

Exterior restoration to date has consisted mostly of roof repair and replacement. But, in conjunction with the ongoing exterior work on both connected Municipal buildings in the Harwood Historic District, restoration treatment will continue in terms of masonry repointing, cleaning of window systems and masonry, and replacement of damaged aluminum window components.
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