Dallas County Pioneers Association
Dallas County Pioneers Association Homestead House in Downtown Dallas

Stories of the Pioneers »

Historical Stories

My Architectural Description of the Cathedral 

by Frances James


On June 17, 1898 the corner stone of the Cathedral was set. It is still very evident today on the corner near Ross and Pearl Street in downtown Dallas. When dedicated in 1902 the Souvenir Brochure describes the Cathedral as a “stately structure of pure gothic architecture 104 by 160 feet in size. It is built of pressed brick and when finished will have a large and small tower. The clere-story is of unusual height giving a very imposing appearance. The roof is of tile and all material used in the construction is of most substantial character.”

Some of the stained glass windows were crafted by The Flanangan & Biedenweg Co. of Chicago, Illinois. (i) Since Bishop Dunne had lived and was Pastor of all Saints Church in Chicago for twenty years, it was probably through this association that this company in Chicago was given the opportunity to make some of the stained glass windows.

Another Chicago Company, the Ford Brothers, also made some of the windows, mentioning that the “windows in the Sanctuary of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Dallas was work done by their artists.” (ii)

A list of the over one hundred stained glass windows is attached containing description and donor if known. (iii)

In 1901 Bishop Dunne sent out a list of the donations he had received from around the diocese, which covered much of the northern area of Texas from Louisiana to El Paso (skipping a few counties just east of El Paso that were thinly settled.) Some of the windows reflect who donated them, for instance the one paid for by the church in Rowlett, Texas states that on the window. This paper also mentioned that there were still large and small windows awaiting donations that will be accepted until June 1901.

The Thos. F. McEnnis & Co. whose telephone number was 703 in Dallas, Texas in 1902 were the Fire Insurance Agents for the Cathedral. There is a check for $125.00 that was signed by Thos. F. McEnnis as a donation to the fund being collected to build the Cathedral. (iv)

Ludowici Roofing and Tile Company from Chicago, Illinois were responsible for the fire proof everlasting roofing described as interlocking terra cotta roofing tiles. (v)

Thurber Brick made in Thurber, Texas by the Texas Pacific and Coal Co. produced the dark red bricks used for the Victorian Gothic Cathedral. The greatest production of coal in Texas was from Thurber, Texas in Erath County. Thurber, named for H.K. Thurber, president of the company, was a union town and maybe the only town in Texas to ever be able to claim that. At one time there was a population of over 6000 involved in coal mining. When oil was discovered in Texas and this type of coal was no longer in demand, the town that had been settled by immigrant miners, recruited from Europe, who spoke little English, lost many families.

In 1897 a second industry a large brick plant, came to the new town of Thurber. This new company used clay found on the coal company’s property. The company proudly claimed to have furnished the brick for the Cathedral in Dallas. (vi)

When Sacred Heart Cathedral was dedicated in 1902, two of the Dallas newspapers vividly described the interior of the church. One item that was pointed out was that there were between 2000 and 3000 (it depends on who is counting) lights in the ceiling that was sixty feet from the floor level and around the perimeter of the walls. Electricity was a rather new service to be added to a church at this time and it has been said that when the lights were to be turned on, the Light Company had to be notified in advance. (vii) The news items mentioned that this might have been the “most well lighted” church in America.

There is a list of Memorials that have been given for the sanctuary and the location in the church. In 1911 a bell was ordered from a company in Troy, New York. When it arrived weighing over 1200 pounds a statement for the freight cost accompanied it. It took several letters between the Cathedral staff and the company to ascertain that it had been ordered for the “bell tower” by a parishioner and that the Diocese was not responsible for the charges, although the bell was now stored in a garage of one of the priests. (viii)

The Dallas Diocese was not formed until 1890 and until that date Bishop Claude Dubuis in Galveston made the important decisions concerning the Dallas area from his See in Galveston. Bishop Dubuis was ill for several years before he resigned and Bishop Gallegher was consecrated. The first Bishop sent by Pope Leo XIII to the newly created Dallas Diocese was Thomas Brennan from Pennsylvania, who only stayed in this capacity for a short time. Bishop Edward Joseph Dunne was then installed, coming from a large congregation in Chicago.

When Sacred Heart Cathedral was nearly seventy years old, the plans for the structure were found more or less accidentally in Galveston. For all these years, the archives of the Dallas Diocese were not available for research by the general public and the persons in charge of the archives only co-operated with activities directed by the Bishops who had obviously not been concerned with the name of the architect. In 1998 there was a lecture entitled Nicholas J. Clayton: The Man and His Work in Dallas by Stephen Fox, architectural historian and a Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas. Mr. Fox has researched Nicholas Clayton and his buildings for over two decades and is a renowned authority on Clayton’s achievements. (ix)

Nicholas Clayton was born in Ireland and brought to the United States as a small boy. By the late 1880s, Nicholas Clayton was recognized as a premier architect not only in Galveston, but other locations. He designed St. Mary’s Church in Sherman and St. Patrick’s Church in Denison among others in the Dallas Diocese.

The intricate ornamental brickwork is typical of Clayton as are the eclectic blending of styles and the overall robustness of the composition. This is one church Clayton designed from the beginning to be a Cathedral. The earliest designs were grand, but had to be scaled back because of cost. Thus the plans for the spires were postponed for a later phase of construction. Original signed drawings reveal the two spires, one larger than the other. (x)

Correspondence concerning the Clayton archive at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston reveal that many of the actual sheets of the architectural drawings were preserved by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Rehm of Galveston. This file also has dates showing that the foundation drawings were made in 1889 even before the Diocese of Dallas was established. Changes to the front elevation were being made as late as 1896. In a newspaper article in 1924, mention was made of the acoustics of the vast area. The article describes the lofty arches, with beautiful walls and columns, and that the Cathedral “could lay claim to being the most impressive religious edifice in Dallas.” The organ and choir are in a loft area near the main entrance of the Sanctuary.

Attempts had been made on several occasions to have Sacred Heart Cathedral recognized as a Registered Texas Historical Landmark or a Dallas Landmark by the preservation community in Dallas County. This historically significant, religious structure was included in several inventories of the cultural resources in Dallas County. The Diocese officials were not willing to have these designations because of the “controls” they feared would be applied to the site.

In 1985, a 99 year ground lease was negotiated with Bright Realty Corporation on land adjacent to the Cathedral. A large, very deep, hole was dug for an underground garage and cracks developed in the Cathedral. Enclosed is a letter from the engineering firm who had been contacted by the company building the parking garage in 1985. The Cathedral suffered some damage from the nearby construction. The economy of the times caused the plans for the thirty-story skyscraper to be dropped and it still sits unfinished, only the parking garage was ever completed. This important garage is used by the patrons of the Myerson Symphony Hall as well as the many people who either come for the services at the Cathedral or have business in the vicinity. In the negotiations with Bright Banc the Diocese had made arrangements to occupy several floors in the skyscraper for needed floor space. The construction started and stopped and six years passed.

In 1994, when it looked like they could wait no longer, the services of Downing Thomas, well known Dallas architect were sought. Mr. Thomas was about ready to retire, but arranged for the firm of Booziotis and Company to work with him on the design for the needed space. It was the plan of the Diocese to build so as not to deface the original building, but to also be able to remove the entire addition if ever they no longer needed it. Quite a project! (xi)

This 40, 000 square foot parish center was to have 16 classrooms, 10 offices, three conference rooms, two nurseries, a kitchen and a 500-seat auditorium. There was to be space in the new center for citizenship and English-as-a-second language classes. About 95 percent of the church’s members are Hispanic, some from as far away as Corsicana. The architectural style of the new building is intended to complement the cathedral. It is harmonious with the Gothic structure and it follows the model of the Gothic arch window but in a contemporary way. The same basic red brick, the same white accented stone – so that the new will not compete with the beautiful building.

Now in 2001 preparations are being made to restore the cathedral to what cathedrals once were: the center of arts, of education, and of the community. The Cathedral is one of the finest examples of high Victorian Gothic architecture in Texas. 


(i) The brochure distributed at the time of the dedication on October 26, 1902 included various pages of “advertisement” and this information was from one of them.

(ii) Ibid.

(iii) Information in the archives of the Diocese in Dallas.

(iv) The check was found by Margaret McEnnis, granddaughter of the pioneer businessman, among some old papers and sent to Mrs. Kate Spann who had been a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish for 83 years. She sent the check to Bishop Thomas K. Gorman. The check is dated May 9, 1890 and a note on the check says there were three others of like amounts to fund the purchase of the land at Ross, Pearl, Flora and Crockett. Article in the Texas Catholic for Sunday, June 10, 1967

(v) A page of advertising in the 1902 Brochure.

(vi) Ibid. Handbook of Texas Online, Thurber, Texas.

(vii) Texas Power and Light Company – The First Sixty Years page 2. Early power use was limited and inefficient. The first generating plant was placed in operation in Dallas in 1890.

(viii) Letters in the archives of the Diocese referring to this quandary.

(ix) File on this occasion in archives of the Cathedral.

(x) Correspondence between Dallas Diocese and the Rosenberg Library in 1998. Copies of drawings and pages of the project were forwarded to Dallas.

(xi) Telephone interview with Aaron Farmer who was involved in the project. The complete set of drawings are available if needed in Booziotis and Companies archives.



© 2019 Dallas County Pioneers Association
Privacy Policy