Dallas Hall comprised the entirety of Southern Methodist University when it was completed in 1915 and remained the university’s only building for a decade. Since that time, SMU has grown considerably, but Dallas Hall has remained its enduring symbol. The vision of SMU’s first president, Robert Stewart Hyer, Dallas Hall was modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia and the Pantheon in Rome. Its was designed by the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in a Collegiate Georgian style. It is now home to the administrative offices of the school’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, the English and history departments, the Center for Southwest Studies and the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
city of Dallas coerced the founders of SMU to locate the school there rather
than Ft. Worth, plans for the construction of Dallas Hall began. The cornerstone was laid in 1912, but
construction was delayed after the original construction firm tasked with
building Dallas Hall went bankrupt. The
massive building was finally completed in 1915.
It prominently features a large portico with six Corinthian columnns that
support a stone, triangular pediment inscribed with the university’s motto: Veritas Liberabit Vos or “The truth will
set you free.” Located directly behind
the portico is the hall’s three-story rotunda that includes an ornate
stained-glass oculus at its top and is capped, on the exterior, by an oxidized
copper dome. In keeping with the
Georgian style, two symmetrical red-brick wings extend from the central rotunda
and feature matching porticos of their own with minimal ornamentation.
completed, Dallas Hall housed all the university’s classrooms, to include its
science labs, administrative offices, a post office, chapel, a barbershop, and
a burger joint, among other things. For
the next ten years, Dallas Hall was SMU as the school did not expand until
1925. Its first graduating class was
comprised of just over 700 individuals and dignitaries to visit the new school
included authors Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost.
Dallas Hall had to be closed for major renovations in 1970-1971. This included replacing the third-floor
chapel with the Arden Playhouse, now McCord Auditorium, installing restrooms on
every floor, removing one of the building’s double staircases to make room for
an elevator, and converting the president’s office into the Robert S. Hyer
Seminar Room. Additionally, the
university’s seal was inlaid into the marble floor of the rotunda, and tradition
holds that any student who treads upon this seal will not graduate. The hall’s impressive rotunda was restored
back to its 1915 glory in 2006 and the building achieved LEED (Leadership in
energy and Environmental Design) gold certification soon thereafter.
In 1977, SMU
began its holiday Celebration of Lights display with Dallas Hall as its
centerpiece. Finally, students at SMU begin and end their
academic careers at Dallas Hall as the freshman convocation passes through the
hall’s rotunda, through the school’s main quadrangle and finishes at McFarlin
Auditorium. When these same students
graduate, they simply reverse the procession and conclude at Dallas Hall.