Best of Texas: Dallas Arts

For years we’ve heard that the Dallas arts scene could never live up to Fort Worth’s. Thankfully, the times have changed.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am
Best of Texas: Dallas Arts
Illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni

Do you remember the old, familiar complaint about downtown Dallas being the most boring place on the face of the earth? Then get ready. In October the nineteen-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District, which was already home to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Dallas Museum of Art, unveiled the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The complex includes the 234,000-square-foot Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and the six-hundred-seat Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. In time, the Performing Arts Center will also open the City Performance Hall, for smaller performing arts organizations, and the Annette Strauss Artist Square, for outdoor performances. The venues will eventually be linked by the lush 10-acre Elaine D. and Charles A. Sammons Park, which was designed by the noted French landscape architect Michael Desvigne. Boring? Not on your life.

What’s more, the 24-story One Arts Plaza, which includes office space, condominiums, and restaurants, has also opened on the eastern edge of the Arts District, along with the newly renovated Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. In 2011 the 5.2-acre Woodall Rodgers Park is scheduled to open, built on a deck that will cover a busy expressway and connect the Arts District with the Uptown retail area and the ultra-urban Victory Park. Just like that, the once staid downtown will be home to the nation’s most comprehensive planned arts development since the opening of New York City’s Lincoln Center, in 1962.

Promoters believe the self-contained, pedestrian-friendly “village of the arts,” with world-class facilities for opera, musical theater, classic and experimental theater, ballet and other forms of dance, and first-run Broadway productions, will catapult Dallas into the list of top destinations in the country. Besides being home to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Arts District will include the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Theater Center, the Texas Ballet Theater, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. It will also be the only place in the world with buildings on the same block designed by four architects who have won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s highest honor. Let’s take a closer look at what it all means.

Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House

It has been a long time since a major opera hall has been built in North America. And now comes the 2,200-seat Winspear Opera House, which will be known not only for its surprising ruby-red exterior but also for its glass facade, which wraps three quarters of the way around the building. Spreading out from the sides is a giant steel-and-aluminum portico with canopied louvers arranged at fixed angles that are designed to provide optimal shade for the outdoor spaces throughout the day (translation: those hot summers will be a little more bearable). But that’s not the best part. The principal performance space within the opera house itself is a twenty-first-century reinterpretation of the traditional “horseshoe.” It features a spacious fly tower and an acoustical system that can be adjusted to maximize the quality of the sound for each performance. If you get to take a tour, make sure you visit the backstage dressing rooms. They’re big enough for a family of five. Thank God divas still rule! By the way, there’s already buzz in the opera world about the Dallas Opera’s performances this season. After it goes through the usual suspects next spring—Verdi’s Otello, Mozart’s Così fan tutte—the facility presents the premiere of Jack Heggie’s Moby-Dick. That’s right, a world premiere of a world-class opera in Dallas. Who would have imagined that just one year ago? 2403 Flora, 214-880-0202 or dallasopera.org.

Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

This is without question one of the world’s most unusual theater facilities, an architectural oddity that will make you ask, “They’re holding plays inside there?” For one thing, the top portion of the twelve-level building features prefabricated aluminum panels that look like some sort of high-tech vertical blinds. The bottom of the building features acoustic-quality glass that will allow pedestrians standing outside to look into the theater, as well as give the six hundred theatergoers a view of the outside. Who ever heard of a theater with windows? Those aren’t the only tricks. In a traditional theater, long wings next to the stage hold up the props and scenery. But this building features an unprecedented stacked design, which means that the sets won’t be pushed onto the stage, as is usually the case, but lowered or raised by a superfast pulley system. Artistic directors will be able to rapidly change the look of the stage itself, even move the floor to a different angle if they want. And what if you don’t really like theater? The cocktail bar looks as hip as any in Dallas, so don’t fear those invitations to attend. You may discover that going to the theater suits you. 2403 Flora, 214-880-0202 or attpac.org.

One Arts Plaza

The $125 million building rises 24 stories, with more than 650,000 square feet, and the majority of the floors are leased to businesses and corporations. But there are 61 spectacular condos on the top of the building, many of them filled by wealthy longtime Dallasites who finally decided the time had come to leave their big-lawned Highland Park mansions for the urban life. The Plaza’s giant patio, adorned with a lavish modernistic fountain, is home to one of Dallas’s most interesting restaurants, Screen Door, which serves upscale Southern food (just try the fried chicken if you don’t believe Southern food can be upscale). There’s also a wine bar and oh-so-fancy Italian, Japanese, and Tex-Mex restaurants. And if that doesn’t quite satisfy your appetite, in the coming years there will be two more buildings going up—Two Arts and Three Arts—which will include additional parks, fountains, and yes, restaurants. 1722 Routh, 214-451-0313 or oneartsplaza.com.

Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei and opened in 1989, the Meyerson Symphony Center is still a place of breathtaking beauty for both the first-time visitor and

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