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The Hidden Architectural Wonders of Downtown Dallas

High School Teacher's New Walking Tour Turns him Into a Mini Celebrity for Building Lovers

BY // 01.15.19

Jay Cantrell, an architecture teacher at Skyline High School and artist, launched Architectural Walking Tours of Downtown Dallas a couple of months ago. The tour has quickly gained popularity. I’m basing this on the 400-plus likes on its Facebook page and the multiple pedestrians who stopped Cantrell on the street during our tour to say “Hey, you’re the guy that does that architecture tour, right?”

We began our one and a half hour walking tour on a cold Saturday afternoon. Cantrell has everyone meet at Pegasus Plaza at Main and Akard Streets because it’s the central point of DFW. It’s also in very close proximity to all five buildings that we visited.

After we waited a few extra minutes to see who else would show up and bear the chilly winds for the love of architecture, Cantrell led us down the street to the front of the Magnolia Hotel. For each building, he had us stop and take a look at the exterior. Pointing out all sorts of stylistic elements and explaining any changes or renovations since the early 1900s, Cantrell taught us a lot.

Look Up — and Marvel

I’ve lived in Dallas for most of my life, so I spent a good amount of time during the tour pondering about why I hardly ever looked up. I’d walked the streets of downtown many times, but had never taken a moment to notice how many amazing historical buildings Dallas actually has. I’m told I walk like I’m on a mission, so that could be why I’ve missed so much. Cantrell’s tour slowed me down and gave me the information I needed to look up and appreciate.

Cantrell walked us into the Magnolia to show us which architectural elements still remain. A lot has been renovated except for the area near the elevators. The ceiling remains intact and features intricate and beautiful designs. It’s a shame that the rest of the interior was “modernized” in the 1990s.

We then crossed the street to the Adolphus Hotel. I’d never been inside of the building before. It had to be one of the most gorgeous hotel interiors I’ve ever seen. We took a peek inside of The French Room and Cantrell had a lot of interesting details to share about different aspects of the hotel pre-renovation. I won’t give anything away though. Again, renovations had been done.

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The original exterior (still incredible) was added onto when expanding the hotel and it’s obvious by the contrasting modern elements of the new section. Still, this was my favorite.

Next, we stopped at the Kirby building, a residential tower. We got an exclusive look at the basement and roof of this one. The basement features an old bank vault and the roof has awesome views of downtown. The Joule is another hotspot on the list, with mosaics salvaged by owner and billionaire Tim Headington, that are featured all throughout the first floor of the building.

Lastly, we took a look at the Wilson Building, a historic eight-story apartment complex. It was modeled on Paris’ Grand Opera House and features a restaurant below, just like a lot of buildings do in Europe.

Tours take place on Saturday and Sundays and costs $20. Cantrell is also working on adding on tours of the east and west ends of downtown. Tickets are sold through Eventbrite and can be found through his Facebook page.

Home, chic home.

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