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Meadows Museum exhibit celebrates "The Architecture of Mark Lemmon”

DALLAS (SMU) – With the opening of Crafting Traditions: The Architecture of Mark Lemmon on Wednesday, February 23, the Meadows Museum inaugurates a series of exhibitions honoring the architectural heritage of modern Dallas.


Third Church of Christ Scientist, Dallas,
1929-31 (Carolyn Brown, photographer)
If one architect is responsible for “civilizing” the architecture of Dallas, it is Mark Lemmon. A Texan by birth, Lemmon was educated in Boston at the Architecture School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating on the eve of World War I. He served in the war in France, worked briefly in New York, and returned to Texas in 1919, settling in Dallas. After a brief apprenticeship with Hal Thomson, the master of historicist domestic architecture of the period, he established a partnership with Dallas architect Roscoe De Witt and began to make his mark on the city.

When Lemmon entered the Dallas scene, virtually all of its major public, commercial, and government buildings were massively scaled examples of Baroque Classicism. From City Hall to the Adolphus Hotel, Dallas’s important buildings sported massive columns, heavily detailed moldings, pediments, and swags. When Lemmon retired from architectural practice in 1968, he had designed churches, schools, office buildings, university complexes, and homes of real refinement and historical distinction. He combined his MIT education with extensive travel and an important library of architectural books to produce buildings securely rooted in the European architectural past.

The Lemmon exhibition continues through May 1. Future exhibitions in the series will feature the work of Howard Meier, George Dahl, and O’Neil Ford, among others.

Supplemented by auxiliary displays featuring the work of Lemmon’s contemporaries Hal Thomson and Charles Dilbeck, as well as architectural books that serve as the source material for historicist architects, the groundbreaking exhibition Crafting Traditions focuses on eleven major Lemmon buildings, newly photographed by distinguished Dallas photographer Carolyn Brown and installed with plans, drawings, and historical photographs in a dramatic design created by artist David Gibson.

Accompanying the exhibition is a monographic publication in which the organizing curator, Dr. Richard R. Brettell, places Lemmon’s architecture in a national context and Dallas architect and scholar Willis Cecil Winters chronicles Lemmon’s career and catalogues his buildings. The exhibition proposes to set a new standard in the documentation and presentation of the careers of the most influential architects working in North Texas in the 20th century.


Fondren Science Building, SMU, 1946-50
(Carolyn Brown, photographer)
Mark Lemmon was, first and foremost, an institutional architect, and his most important clients were the public school districts of Dallas and Port Arthur, universities such as Southern Methodist University and The University of Texas, and religious communities of many denominations. What these institutions sought from Mark Lemmon was an architecture that embodied the civilizing instincts of the European tradition, but did so using the latest technological innovations in the building arts. Hence, steel construction, high-tech climate control systems, and sophisticated electrical wiring were placed invisibly by Lemmon behind façades of masonry and wood that looked as if they were built anywhere from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Lemmon was a historicist architect who conceived of architecture as a living art that connected modern people to the long-ago human past from which their culture sprang.

Like a number of his architectural contemporaries throughout the United States, Lemmon was able to work in many different historical styles. His eighteen buildings for Southern Methodist University are sophisticated memories of Georgian brick and stone-trimmed buildings constructed in England and in its American colonies in the mid-18th century. His churches include the Italian Romanesque grandeur of the Third Church of Christ Scientist, the Gothic verticality of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and the chaste New England Georgian of Perkins Chapel at Southern Methodist University.

Among the most important contributions of Lemmon to 20th-century Texas architecture was his lifelong dedication to the architecture of public education. Lemmon served for more than three decades as the principal architect of the Dallas Independent School District, and the vast majority of the buildings constructed during his tenure are in use to this day. They include superb buildings that reference the English Elizabethan architecture of the Age of Shakespeare (Woodrow Wilson High School), others that are reminders of the importance of the great monasteries of Romanesque Europe for the continuance of European culture (Boude Storey Junior High School), and still others that allow the bracing air of 20th-century “Moderne” into the image of public education (Alex W. Spence Junior High School). Lemmon’s important buildings for Port Arthur designed in the 1920s remind us of the Dutch mercantile origins of that small city and of its connections with the rich traditions of learning in 17th-century Holland.


Woodrow Wilson High School, Dallas, 1925-29 (Carolyn Brown, photographer)
Collectively, these buildings both civilize and enrich the educational experience of teachers and students, creating powerful memories not only of present times, but also of participation in an adventure of education that is a link to the great European traditions. This creation of what might be called “environments of learning” for public school students continued with Lemmon’s buildings for Southern Methodist University in Dallas and The University of Texas in Austin. Lemmon was unable to set the architectural style of either campus—that had already been accomplished by the national firms of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge at SMU and Paul Cret in Austin. Yet, by adding numerous buildings to the campus and by formulating architecturally consistent campus plans, Lemmon essentially framed the educational environment for hundreds of thousands—indeed millions—of Texans. This was not limited to these large clients. Lemmon designed the original campus for Miss Hockaday’s school on Greenville Avenue and created buildings for Texas Women’s University, Southwestern Medical School (now UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas), and other institutions.

In conjunction with the Lemmon exhibit, three small supplementary architecture exhibitions will be held concurrently at the Meadows Museum. “Five Houses by Hal Thomson” focuses on important homes by Thomson, the most important architect of historicist houses in Dallas from the late 1910s until World War II, and the man who hired Mark Lemmon fresh from architecture school. “The Drawings of Charles Dilbeck” will feature the first public showing of rare original drawings by Dilbeck, who designed the most fanciful historicist houses in Dallas/Fort Worth beginning in the late 1920s in styles ranging from Norman Cottage to Ranch. “The Architectural Book: Source Material for the Historicist Architect” includes illustrated books of the late 19th and early 20th centuries from the libraries of local Dallas architects, all of whom mine the architectural past for inspiration.

The museum is also offering a variety of public programs this spring with an architecture theme, including a Friday lunchtime lecture series by distinguished Dallas architects and critics, a Thursday evening film series, two special evening lectures, and a book club discussion group. A schedule of the architecture programs is available at http://smu.edu/meadows/newsevents/newsreleases.asp.

The Meadows Museum is located off North Central Expressway at 5900 Bishop Blvd. on the campus of Southern Methodist University, three blocks west of the DART light rail Mockingbird Station. Museum hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. The Museum is open by appointment only on Monday and Tuesday for tours, classes, and professional groups. Admission is $8 per person for ages 12 and up; $4 per person after 5 p.m.; free on Thursday nights after 5 p.m.; and always free for children under 12, Museum members, scheduled school tours and SMU faculty, staff, and students. Ample free parking is available in the garage under the Museum. For more information, please visit the Museum’s Web site at www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org or call 214.768.2516.

 

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