The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law celebrated a monumental moment in its young history Thursday afternoon, welcoming visitors for the first time into its new Law Center, the former historic Old City Hall in downtown Dallas, following a $71 million top-to-bottom restoration.
The building that opened in 1914 as Dallas’ City Hall at 106 S. Harwood Street, and witnessed the events that transpired in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, is now home to the UNT Dallas College of Law, the only public law school in the city.
Nearly 100 people were on hand to tour the building and attend the ceremonial ribbon cutting. A reception followed at the Statler hotel.
“It took my breath away, honestly,” UNT Dallas President Bob Mong told a gathering of some 80 people attending the ceremony soon after he toured the building. “This is just beyond belief. I inherited this wonderful project, this wonderful restoration, but I am proud to be part of this renaissance of a building that served as Dallas City Hall from 1914 to 1978. If only these walls could talk.”
The restoration project utilized a unique partnership between the state-funded UNT System and the City of Dallas. The city spent $14 million in bond funds to restore the exterior of the building. Working closely with the Texas Historic Commission, the UNT System is putting finishing touches on a $56 million interior renovation – returning the iconic building to its original 1914 Beaux Arts design, while preserving key sites and artifacts related to the tragic events of 1963.
“I had a decision to make, the decision was whether or not to put it [the law school] on the UNT [UNT Dallas] campus or downtown Dallas,” said Texas Sen. Royce West, the visionary who helped to make UNT Dallas and the law school a reality. "I had to think about it, and think about, I said downtown Dallas is the proper location. Old City Hall would be an appropriate location for a law school.”
The UNT College of Law will permanently move the bulk of its operation into the 106,000-square-foot law center later this month. The UNT Dallas College of Law has been housed at the UNT System building at 1901 Main Street since its founding in 2013.
Here are highlights of the new UNT Dallas Law Center:
- The project is presently tracking to be completed as a LEED Silver project.
- New construction includes a 2,250 square foot trial courtroom and two 90-seat classrooms.
- The building is historically significant from two time periods – 1914 and 1963.
- In 1914 the building originally opened – items restored from this time period
- The main corridors on levels 1 and 2 have been restored to the original 1914 design, including marble flooring and wall panels, wood doors and trim, plaster cornices, capitals and ceilings, and decorative paint.
- Much of the marble has been restored, while new marble was matched by using many of the very same quarries that were mined during original construction more than 100 years ago.
- The grand stair from levels 1 to 5 has been restored. Levels 1 to 2 have been recreated with marble to match original 1914 design.
- Levels 3-5 include restoration of marble treads, risers and wainscot, metal balusters, and wood handrails.
- Historic City Council Chambers on Level 2 have been restored, including wood flooring, wall panels, plaster cornices, and decorative paint.
- In 1957 the building was renovated, which created the conditions that were present in 1963 at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination.
- Historic elements preserved from this time period include:
- Level 5: Jail cell which housed Lee Harvey Oswald while in custody.
- Level 4: Mug shot wall where Oswald’s photo was taken.
- Level 3: Captain’s office where Oswald was interrogated.
- Level B1: Includes allocated space for a future exhibit, including the preserved show-up room and line-up wall.
- The original prisoner elevator has been restored.