Planning for the Future

Planning for the Future

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Ryan Flener
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Ryan Flener


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Planning for the Future: George Schrader Wants His Drawings Back

George Schrader won’t be going back to Dallas City Hall ever again. It’s not the leadership, its speculated populism, or ineffective long-range planning. Nope.

“I went down there some time ago and testified for a case, but I went in through the basement soI didn’t have to see how they butchered the interior,” he says. “I want to remember it in its grandeur.” As a key player in the selection of both the building’s site and the design by architect I.M. Pei, Schrader was the designated official who over saw its construction — and one who believes great architecture is a civic duty for future generations.

Schrader now owns Schrader Investment Company and is a partner at Schrader & Cline LLC, an economic development firm. Raised in Topeka, KS, he attended Baker University and received his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas. Before the age of 33, Schrader had built a formidable reputation as city manager in Ennis and Mesquite before becoming assistant manager in Dallas in 1966. In 1972, Schrader was on a hunting trip in West Texas when he received a call from his boss, W.S. McDonald.

McDonald: “Are you going to be able to get back to the city council meeting?”
Schrader: “I don’t know; I was going to hunt until I got my fare.”
McDonald: “Well, I’m going to tell the council I’m retiring, and I think it would be a good idea if you got back here.”
Schrader: “I’ll be there.”

The council appointed Schrader to the position when McDonald announced his resignation.

As city manager from 1973 to 1981, Schrader found himself tasked with projects involving the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Dallas water supply and treatment, the Dallas Public Library, Reunion Arena, Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and the Dallas Convention Center. Such projects not only served as civic and cultural milestones for post-war Dallas, but to this day they undergird the growth and development of the city.

His most unique venture however, was Dallas City Hall.

In 1976, Schrader was instructed to take a four-week short course at MIT at a time when the Boston City Hall was held as the gold standard for government building design.

“We had a person in the Boston city government in our class and he had made the comment that the Boston City Hall was already too small and they needed more space,” Schrader says. “They needed to lease space around city hall to accommodate the personnel that they were hiring, and so I went over there and walked around it. When Stanford Anderson (dean of the MIT School of Architecture) walked in, I said, ‘How do you expand this building? You're out of space.’ He replied, ‘Oh, you don't expand it; this is intended to be great architecture. You can’t have great architecture if it is incomplete.’”

Schrader continues: “When I got back, I called Pei and said ‘Pei, we've got a building here and were almost certain we need to expand it, and I want to protect the quality and integrity of your architecture. I think there’s a good chance that the architecture of this building will come to be recognized as a fine piece and don't want someone to come a long later and damage the quality of the architecture. Do you believe we can have great architecture and provide for expansion?’”

Pei’s response—“Absolutely!”—said enough.

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners for the City of Dallas

Within a few months during the early stages of construction, Pei and his team devised a plan to locate knockout panels where bridges would span a courtyard and connect a simple extension to the overall form of the building. The scheme utilizes the spacing between the future block and the existing structure, providing daylight for employees at each floor above grade, and a courtyard at the ground level.

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners for the City of Dallas

Because of budgetary restrictions, the plan was never realized and Schrader retired just a few years later (1981). By the end of the 1980s, it became apparent that Dallas City Hall was in desperate need of more space. Word spread that the city was interested in acquiring space in adjacent structures like 500 S. Ervay St. Schrader contacted the city, noting that a set of plans—near the level of design development—had been reviewed and catalogued with the City of Dallas. But no drawings were found. He then had a second set produced, and took them to City Hall for future reference. A few years later, he inquired on the location of the documents. They, too, had been lost.

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners for the City of Dallas

The third time he called George Miller at Pei Cobb Freed and asked for a copy of the drawings, and with fewer pages in each archived duplicate, Schrader was losing trust in any safekeeping. Mary Suhm, during her time as city manager, asked to borrow the drawings for a few months, but by her resignation in 2013, the drawings had been misplaced. All Suhm could muster was, “An architect might have them?”

Last year, Schrader called his dear friends in New York City for a final request. Three sets had seemingly disappeared without a trace. They  sent what they had—a series of studies and drawings that suggested a far more schematic level of progress. Hurricane Sandy, which had blasted the New England coast in 2012, did damage to the lower east side of Manhattan—and to the firm’s basement. And just like that, the Dallas City Hall expansion drawings were asmythical as they were referential.

Site plan with expansion facility: the extension of the three distribution corridors becomes the link between existing and new building. Pei Cobb Freed & Partners for the City of Dallas

“The fact of the matter is that these plans are property of the city,” says Schrader, “and they are intended to preserve the architectural integrity of the building, and they are very valuable. Not that there can’t be multiple sets of them also, but I want one ... I don’t want to leave this world without having future people having something to consult.”

If anyone happens to know of the whereabouts of these historic, yet relevant, documents, please return them. George Schrader wants his drawings back. He has spent a lifetime fulfilling the administrative duties of public service in the shadows, always considering the future of Dallas first, without recognition, glory, or fame. Alongside mayors Erik Jonsson, Wes Wise, Adlene Harrison, and Bob Folsom, Schrader has left a legacy of his own, and arguably more impressive than any single mayor during his tenure as city manager.

George Schrader won’t be going back to Dallas City Hall. Perhaps it’s because, over time, the building itself has been misunderstood—not by the changing faces and policies within, but by the changing culture that grew out of that Golden Era of Dallas history. Conceived by Pei as a contemporary symbol of the people of Dallas, Dallas City Hall has been irreverently reduced to a vague symbol of a progressive past—a place where city employees work. What was once a spectacular backdrop for an activated public plaza now reads more oppressive as it opens onto a cold, vacant lot.

Ryan Flener is with GFF.

Don’t miss the full transcript of the interview with former Dallas City Manager George Schrader. And view images of the important “lost art” that he wants back!