Dahl, George Leighton (1894–1987)

By: Christopher Long

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: May 27, 2020

George L. Dahl, architect, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 11, 1894, the son of Norwegian immigrants Olaf G. and Laura (Olsen) Dahl. He studied architecture at the University of Minnesota and received his bachelor's degree in 1920. After earning a master's degree from Harvard in 1923, he spent two years in Rome as a fellow at the American Academy. He returned to the United States in 1925 and worked briefly for architecture firms in New York and Los Angeles before moving to Dallas in 1926 to work for Herbert M. Greene's company, a large firm that at the time was constructing a number of buildings for the University of Texas. Dahl eventually became a partner in the firm and designed two dozen buildings for the university over the next two decades. During the 1920s he also designed a number of large commercial buildings for clients in Dallas, including the Volk Brothers Building, the Titche-Goettinger Company Building, and the Neiman-Marcus store. In contrast to contemporaries O'Neil Ford and Howard R. Meyer, who developed their own unique styles, Dahl, as critic David Dillon noted, remained a stylistic chameleon who produced works to suit the needs and tastes of his clients. His early works ranged from Renaissance Revival to Second Empire and Spanish Colonial. Dahl is best known for his work on the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition at Fair Park in Dallas, a complex of twenty-six Art Deco-style buildings designed by ten firms. He oversaw the planning and construction of the entire fair, which was completed in the astonishingly brief period of only nine months. The complex is now recognized as one of the best preserved assemblages of depression-era architecture and in 1986 was designated a national historic landmark.

Dahl was among the first Texas architects to have a nationwide practice and was among the pioneers in fast-track design, which allowed for actual construction to begin even before the design was finished. He is also credited with designing the nation's first drive-through bank, the Hillcrest State Bank in University Park (1938). By the time he retired in 1973, Dahl's firm had produced about 3,000 projects-over 100 of them in Texas-with an estimated value of over $2 billion. Among his best-known later works in Texas are the Dallas Methodist Hospital, Owen Art Center at Southern Methodist University, the Dallas Morning News building, and the LTV Aerospace Center. His work also included thirty-two stores for Sears, Roebuck and Company and fifteen prisons for the Texas Department of Corrections (see PRISON SYSTEM). Dahl was married twice-in 1921 to Lillie E. Olsen, with whom he had one daughter, and in 1978 to Joan Renfro. He was a Presbyterian, president of the Dallas Rotary Club (1936–37), director and a leading patron of the Dallas Opera for many years, a member of the Dallas City Advisory Committee from 1943 to 1945, and a member of the Greater Dallas Planning Council from 1948 to 1956. He contributed articles to Architectural Forum, American Architect, and other professional journals and was the author of Portals, Doorways and Windows of France (1925). Dahl died of cancer on July 18, 1987, at the age of ninety-three at his home in Dallas.

Sam Hanna Acheson, Herbert P. Gambrell, Mary Carter Toomey, and Alex M. Acheson, Jr., Texian Who's Who, Vol. 1 (Dallas: Texian Press, 1937). American Architects Directory. Architectural Drawings Collection, Architecture and Planning Library, University of Texas at Austin. David Dillon, Dallas Architecture, 1936–1986 (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985). Kenneth B. Ragsdale, The Year America Discovered Texas-Centennial '36 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). Texas Architect, November-December 1989.

  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Christopher Long, “Dahl, George Leighton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dahl-george-leighton.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995
May 27, 2020

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