In the early 1900s, Dallas wanted to signal to the rest of the country, and world, that it deserved to be on the list of great cities.
To get there, city leaders sought an immediate infusion of new residents and a landmark that could help its image as a modern city on the rise. So a group of eager business leaders established the city’s 150,000 Club, so named for its leaders’ goal to reach that population by 1910 – an ambitious milestone that ultimately wouldn’t come until 1920.
But Dallas needed a physical splash that would anchor its cityscape – something that would represent progress, refinement and ambition. That came in 1922, when Magnolia Petroleum Company opened its headquarters at the intersection of Akard and Commerce streets.
“A masterpiece of architectural beauty and pyramid-like strength, the addition of the Magnolia Building to the Dallas skyline gives this city one of the finest office buildings in the world,” wrote the Dallas Morning News on Aug. 13, 1922, in one of six articles in a special Magnolia Building section the paper produced that day.
Dallas was abuzz with activity and optimism, much like the company that would ultimately build its corporate home there. Fueled by the transformative oil discovery at Spindletop in 1901, 250 oil companies operated in Dallas by the time Magnolia officials were planning their new headquarters. New road construction proceeded at a frenzied pace, and movie houses dotted its main drag. Workers left the farm and flocked to manufacturing and mass-production jobs.
Magnolia officials decided to go big, creating a building that would bring tenants and a grand-scale presence. They also designed it with a first-class eye. Indiana limestone covered the exterior and the main lobby welcomed visitors with polished walls of Tavernelle marble, imported from Italy.
The third-floor arch included freestanding sculptures by Ulysses Ricci, described in the building’s manual as “one of the cleverest of the younger sculptors.” Ricci used symbolic elements to represent “newborn industries,” “progress and speed” and “enterprise” – all themes both the city and company embraced.
The city reveled at the pace of progress, noting that just 25 years prior, the building site hosted a one-story pine-box real estate office and a sign-painting shop, according to the Dallas Morning News. One local reporter described the building as “a great peg driven into the ground holding Dallas in its place.”
Magnolia Oil, which Standard Oil of New York purchased in 1925, would occupy the top 14 floors of the building. Standard Oil of New York would eventually become Mobil, which would later combine with Exxon.
Today, drivers can’t fill their gas tanks at a Magnolia gas station, nor will they pass a Magnolia tanker truck on the highway. But the company’s building remains a symbol of Dallas’ growth from a dusty town to a bustling city.
The building is today a hotel and is on the National Register of Historic Places. As for Dallas, the city is well beyond 150,000 residents.
The World’s Work, Vol 11, Nov. 1905
Texas State Historical Association, Spindletop Oilfield
Oil Trade Journal, Vol. 11, May 1920
Dallas Landmark Preservation Commission, The Magnolia Building: A Living Dallas Heritage, May 1978
American Oil & Gas Historical Society, Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark
City of Dallas, Historic Preservation
Dallas Morning News, Aug. 13, 1922: ExxonMobil Historical Collection, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin