Something rare has gone up at Old Parkland Hospital in Oak Lawn. Real estate developer Harlan Crow bought the hospital in 2006. He had the derelict brick building and the nearby nurses’ quarters renovated, turned them into high-price offices and added modern headquarters for his own company, Crow Holdings. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports, now the private office complex has something truly unusual: a nearly fifty-foot-tall decorative bronze column straight out of the Belle Epoque.
Obelisks, yes, we Americans have obelisks, those tall, square-sided towers commemorating George Washington or the Battle of San Jacinto or local Civil War heroes in various towns across the country. But you’re much more likely to see a classic column like this, much bigger ones, in Europe: the July Column or the Vendome Column in Paris, or the one down near the beach in Barcelona dedicated to Christopher Columbus. What stands at Old Parkland is a single round, fluted pillar — like a solitary support from a Greek temple, only all in bronze, soaring upwards, and perched on top, a mythic figure.
“She’s a figure of Eos,” explains Alexander Stoddart, the sculptor, “Goddess of the Dawn as appears in Homer. ‘Rosy-fingered dawn,’ she’s always described as. And so those are the rose petals that pour out of her fingers.”
Indeed, a golden orb, representing the rising sun, is on the top of the column, and standing tip-toe on the orb is a ten-foot-tall winged figure. Her hair, skirt and rose petals are all curling and flowing and blowing backwards. She’s like a child of the Winged Victory of Samothrace — but more slender and with far finer filigree. The suggestion of breeze and movement is deliberate, Stoddart says. “She’s an American Dawn, and therefore she has a relentless high intention.”
“She’s getting somewhere. It’s Dawn with a move on.”
Construction’s still going on around us on the new office buildings Crow Holdings has added to Old Parkland. The buildings are getting a move on. They’re all new but very traditional — Jeffersonian. They have the same red-brick walls, creamy-white columns and Greek-temple entamblatures that Thomas Jefferson gave the University of Virginia.
Translation: We’re standing in what looks like a miniature SMU. There’s the same impulse toward ‘classicizing’ to suggest old money, as if the buildings were country homes built centuries ago by the landed gentry. The motto for Crow Holdings, after all, is “Founded by family, Invested in Tradition.”
But this little plaza is actually another rarity for Dallas: It’s like a real-life, small town square or piazza, with the bronze column as its centerpiece. “The building facades all around are quite condensed, it’s quite tight,” says Stoddart. “There’s this compaction and it’s actually rather dynamic.” The column is not so tall that one can’t look out a fourth-floor window — and there is Dawn herself. In other words, Stoddart’s graceful column may echo the design traditions of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square or Napoleon’s in Paris, but it does not vault to the same imperial hauteur.
Perhaps that’s because the column is not just a visual focal point, it actually helps define the space – philosophically. Stoddart is a leading neo-classical sculptor. Since 2008, he’s officially been “Her Majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland” — it says so on his business card. “In ordinary’ means it’s an honorary peerage, an appointment for life with no paycheck and, he notes with a smile, no duties.
In the British art world, Stoddart is probably best known for his scathing dismissals of modernism and contemporary art. They’re aberrations, he argues, a decline from classicism, history, formalism, technical mastery and intellectual clarity — the ages-old aesthetic which, for him, reached its peak in the 19th century. But his is not some know-nothing preference for ordinary realism and figurative traditions. Against abstract art, Dadaism and conceptual installations, Stoddart does not set fusty conventions. It’s the beaux arts style he eagerly advocates, the lavish, ornate, French neo-classicism that gave us the Paris Opera House, Dallas’ Old Municipal Building – and now the Parkland column.
“The 19th century is the great art century of the modern age,” declares Stoddart. His, he happily admits, is an “eccentric” and “crazy” neo-classicism — capable of incorporating flourishes and oddities. As evidence, perhaps, midway on his column is a band of stars — which, combined with the traditional Greek fluting on the column, means the American flag is slyly present here, whether the viewer recognizes the Stars and Stripes or not. As for neo-classicism’s reputation as stiff and predictable, Stoddart points out it was actually the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio who codified it into textbook patterns. Greco-Roman art and architecture, Stoddart claims, welcomed a much wilder range of invention.
What drew Harlan Crow to Stoddart was another Scotsman, Adam Smith. In Scotland, Stoddart is the master memorializer. He’s created epic statues in Edinburgh of his famous countrymen, like Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, the defining document of the free market. Crow is a fan of free enterprise, the Founding Fathers, American history and ideas. Stoddart had already designed another monument to Adam Smith for Glasgow — where Smith went to school and later taught — but it had been turned down as “backward-looking.”
“It wasn’t optimistic or sports-based,” he says. “It had nothing to do with war — so why would it be popular?”
But Crow was keen on the idea of re-focusing Stoddart’s original plans, a rare case, the sculptor notes, of a client actually offering a helpful suggestion. So now, partway up the bronze column at Old Parkland are standing statues of four thinkers whose ideas led to the dawn of America: “Adam Smith at the front,” says Stoddart. “Jefferson for the revolution. Madison for the Constitution and at the back of them all, bracing the whole thing, the philosopher John Locke.”
All of this inclusion of historical-philosophical-ideological citations “started with Sandy’s column,” says Cole Rothwell. “And we started calling the plaza the American Experiment” — the famous term is from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
Rothwell is the head of Old Parkland’s development and leasing. With ‘the American Experment,’ he’s talking about the way the plaza and the buildings around it were turned into an intellectual theme park. They’re covered with inspirational quotations – carved into walls and rocks. On the column’s five-foot granite base, there are famous lines from each of the four sculpted thinkers. Philosopher’s names appear in the stone walkways. More statues are on the way, like one of Alexander Hamilton. And in a pavilion currently being built, there’ll be a 150-seat debate room. It’s the future home of the annual Old Parkland Debate Tournament, which draws international teams of high school and college students.
Rothwell says the development of Old Parkland didn’t start with this aim in mind. The thinking behind it changed and evolved as the buildings went up. But from the start, selecting tenants for the office buildings emphasized the exchange of ideas more than square footage. Which happens to be some of the highest-priced around.
“They really wanted to create a collegial feel,” he says. “And they wanted tenant types that wanted to share thoughts, work together on ideas.”
So from the start, this was going to be more than just another office park?
“That’s exactly right.”
But what then?
“I don’t know if I can answer that properly. It’s an idea, almost.”
Then, how about this idea? Corporate campus meets college campus.