In 1965, Sanger-Harris opened its first new, ground-up department store in downtown Dallas as its flagship. Designed by Dallas architect Thomas Stanley, the store featured a four-story marble column facade, a trait evocative of the practice’s work in retail and corporate applications throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Clad in white marble, the facade created a dialogue between itself and the Stanley/Dahl-designed First National Bank tower located across Pacific Avenue.
Behind the slender columns was an expansive mosaic composed of 1-in, primary-colored tiles that formed an abstract pattern highly visible during the daytime and equally so during the evening, when paired with the lighting scheme. The mosaic clad three of the building’s facades. The largest glass mural to be installed in the country with a single surface, it measured 600 ft by 360 ft. “The trick was to not interrupt the mural with horizontal floor beams extending to the columns,” recalls Robert Young, who served as the director of planning for all Sanger-Harris department stores: “Therefore, the last bay along Pacific is framed in steel with a deep truss at the top. The whole mural wall is hung from this truss. I think the public liked the mural and the color and excitement it brought to the streetscape.”
The downtown flagship store was also the first Dallas building to use an air door. Designed by Herman Blum Consulting Engineers, it allowed the entry to be wide open, so visitors walked in from the summer heat directly into a cool environment with no impediment.
Beyond its size, the design of the mosaic remains something of a mystery. “The design was purely abstract, although many thought it could be an aerial view of the Metroplex,” says Young. Though its meaning remains opaque, the treatment did succeed in creating an iconic language that would be applied to future Sanger Harris department stores during the next decade: eight stores in total.
No matter the speed at which you pass a former Sanger-Harris department store, the entry is sure to catch your eye. The Valley View Center location in north Dallas, designed by Harold A. Berry & Associates and built in 1973, is home to the largest remaining Sanger-Harris mosaic. (The one on the downtown store was removed after Sanger-Harris, later Foley’s, vacated the space in 1990, and the building was converted into Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s headquarters.) The pattern of this mosaic is more geometric in form and seems to emphasize the centrally located entries on each facade. Still abstract, the primary colors form a textile-like pattern that more closely resembles a Rorschach test than the sweeping form that adorned the downtown flagship store. The signature of Brenda J. Stubel can be found along the bottom edge of the facade, though limited information could be found on the details of her involvement.
With the impending redevelopment of the Valley View Mall site into Dallas Midtown, the Sanger-Harris store — along with locations at Southwest Center, Collin Creek, and Six Flags Mall — faces an uncertain future. If demolished, the store at Hulen Mall and the Sanger Harris location in Tyler will be the final two stores upon which the original mosaic facades remain.
Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is an associate with the Dallas office of CallisonRTKL.
Can this mosaic be salvaged and reused in another project? Is it for sale?
Hello Michael, my father in law, Manlio D. Cavallini, and I were just talking about this project a few days ago. He and his brother, Publio Cavallini, (now deceased) were heavily involved in this project , They furnished and assembled all the mosaics to form the design by Dallas architect, Thomas Stanley. This was the largest mosaic project they had ever worked on. Publio Cavallini under Trafton Tile Co. then supervised the installation of this project. It was so coincidental reading your article, I just had to share this story with you. My Father in law will be attending the Conference with us in November, booth number 503. Please stop by and say Hi!
For those interested in all things Sanger-Harris, check out the fashion art exhibit at El Centro:
El Centro College presents “Before El Centro: Sanger-Harris,” an exhibit of historic clothing, promotional materials, and other related artifacts from the once iconic Dallas retailer, Sanger-Harris, from October 10, through November 4, 2016, at the H. Paxton Moore Fine Art Gallery:
WHO: El Centro College, Vintage Martini, and the Dallas History & Archives
WHAT: Before El Centro: Sanger-Harris, a retrospective of historic clothing, promotional materials and other artifacts
WHEN: Monday – Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; Thursday, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.; Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., October 10, through November 4, 2016
WHERE: H. Paxton Moore Fine Art Gallery, El Centro College, B Building, 801 Main Street (@ Lamar), Dallas, Texas 75202 214-860-2115
WHY: El Centro College 50th Anniversary celebration
HOW MUCH: Admission is free and open to the public
Although Sanger-Harris was technically created on February 6, 1961, when two local department stores, Sangers Brothers and A. Harris and Co., merged together, the organization has over 150 years of history that continues today as a part of Macy’s, Inc. Sanger-Harris was located at 801 Main Street, where El Centro College is now, until 1965 when the store moved to Akard Street and Pacific Avenue. El Centro College took over the Main Street building and began offering classes in 1966.
About Vintage Martini
Vintage Martini (http://www.VintageMartini.com) provides the best in fashion from yesterday and today. Located in Dallas on Henderson Avenue, Vintage Martini is a consignment store specializing in historic clothing that sells hundreds of dresses, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories to fashion enthusiasts around the world.
About the Dallas Public Library Archives
The Sanger-Harris Collection is part of the Dallas History & Archives, one of the largest of its kind in the nation with holdings that span many aspects of the diverse history of not only Dallas and the surrounding area, but the entire state of Texas. The department collects, preserves, and makes available to patrons information in text, graphic, audio, and video formats. The Dallas History & Archives Division along with Fine Books Division is housed on the recently renovated 7th floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library.
About El Centro College
Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, El Centro College (http://www.elcentrocollege.edu) is a vibrant, urban community college located in downtown Dallas that is fully committed to a seamless educational process and life-long learning.
The H. Paxton Moore Fine Art Gallery seeks to showcase local, regional and national artists working in a variety of media as well as host exhibits traveling nationally.
The El Centro Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing programs are both recognized as leading educational programs throughout the fashion world. The Fashion Design program at El Centro is a dynamic, hands-on series of academic coursework that stresses the essential skills every fashion designer needs: sewing, pattern-making and designing. The Fashion Marketing program at El Centro College is a nationally renowned vocational education curriculum that specializes in the business side of fashion – combining modern business principles with ambition, creativity, and enthusiasm.
It is sad to see such a beautiful display fall to the demolition hammers. I wonder if in the future if great works such as these could be constructed in ‘trays’ that could be bolted in place. Then if the display needs to be removed the individual trays could be taken down and reused.
A beautiful masterpiece for sure. Nothing else like it in Dallas and it’s GONE!
I read the article not long ago about the demo of the store but never heard the out come of what to do about the mosaic!? I was saddened to drive by yesterday to see the coloumns standing alone with out the colours backdrop. With only piles of rubble about it.
Where’d it go!?
There is still a Sanger-Harris mosaic in Tulsa Ok. at the Woodland hills mall store. Its now a Macy’s.