Preservation Magazine, Winter 2019

Dallas' Oldest High School Building Makes the Grade Once More

The exterior of Dallas High School.

photo by: James Steinkamp Photography

To ensure Dallas High School retained as much historic integrity as possible, developer Matthews Southwest remained in constant contact with the alumni association throughout the restoration.

Over the course of its 111-year history, the campus of Dallas High School has been defined by inconstancy, undergoing six name changes and weathering a 1999 fire. But the most recent change to its last surviving structure, Dallas’ oldest high school building, has its many ardent supporters excited for the future.

The Classical Revival–style main building, which dates to 1907, fell vacant in 1995; Preservation Texas included it on its 2004 list of most endangered places. However, developer Matthews Southwest saw the school’s historic integrity and purchased it in August of 2015. Merriman Anderson/Architects designed a conversion of the building into office space and brought on RLG Consulting Engineers to evaluate structural challenges.

The school’s central two-story auditorium—with its Corinthian columns, coffered ceiling, and decorative plasterwork—soon emerged as a focus. Its non-historic drop ceiling was removed, and modern HVAC systems were installed behind existing walls to avoid bringing ductwork into the space. In addition, 27 of the school’s 398 original divided-light windows were successfully preserved and moved to the front facade, and its brick-and-mortar exterior was repaired and repointed. The project cost approximately $52 million, $14.5 million of which was funded through federal and state historic tax credits. The LEED Gold-certified building opened to its first tenant, architecture firm Perkins+Will, in December of 2017, and received a Preservation Achievement Award from nonprofit Preservation Dallas last May.

“It was an effort to get everything approved and accomplished, but everyone was very willing to work within [historic preservation guidelines] because they saw the value and character that the building has to offer,” says Aimee Sanborn of Merriman Anderson/Architects.

Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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