Lubben Plaza: Precursor to the Priority Parks

Lubben Plaza can be found tucked away in the Young Street Corridor on the west side of Downtown, located on Market Street between Young and Wood Streets. This quiet sanctuary was dedicated in 1987 for the occasion of the centennial celebration of The Dallas Morning News. When The News was founded in 1885, the first paved road in the city had only just been built the year prior, and the approximate population was a modest 30,000 or so residents.

To commemorate the historic moment, a public park dedicated to the Company’s longtime employees was commissioned and Omniplan Architects were retained as lead designer, helmed by E.G. Hamilton. The park was funded by The News’ parent company, A. H. Belo Corporation (now known as DallasNews Corporation), and was donated to the City of Dallas as a public park.

As-Built Design Document from Lubben Plaza (c. 1986).

Named for John F. Lubben and his son Joseph A. Lubben, the two served for a combined 101 years in overlapping careers as directors and senior executives at The News and A. H. Belo Corporation. The program from the announcement ceremony on September 30, 1985 noted the senior Lubben’s lifelong friendship with G. B. Dealey, and included a reprint of his influential article for The American City, “The Newspaper as a City Builder,” written in 1930. 

The project aligned seamlessly with the history of the Company’s commitment to its immediate community and civic planning, including Dealey’s instrumental efforts in the adoption of The Kessler Plan in 1910. Landscape-oriented urban design was central to these continuous efforts to improve the city for its growing population. 

With this legacy in mind, Lubben Plaza was intentionally designed with attention to the surrounding environment.  As illustrated above, buildings and parks alternate along the Young Street Corridor from Union Station to Lubben Plaza. Featuring two separate green spaces formed by low granite walls and rows of red oak trees along wide sidewalks, the park was designed to incorporate a future sculpture garden component. The Company hoped Lubben Plaza would inspire other local leaders, businesses, and individuals to consider that their own potential positive impact was possible through public-private partnerships that offer more sustainable support of these vital and valuable public spaces.

Group at Lubben Plaza opening ceremony on October 1, 1987.
Family attendees at Lubben Plaza opening ceremony on October 1, 1987.

In the following years, The Dallas Morning News-WFAA Foundation (the predecessor organization to Downtown Dallas Park Conservancy) began the planning process for the addition of sculpture to the plaza. In November of 1991, the Dallas Park Board approved two monumental public sculptures commissioned by the Foundation to be installed in Lubben Plaza: Harrow by Dallas artist Linnea Glatt and Journey to Sirius by George Smith of Houston. 

Aerial view of sculpture installation, 1992 (Left: “Harrow” by Linnea Glatt; Right: “Journey to Sirius” by George Smith).
Aerial view of sculpture installation, 1992. Left: Harrow by Linnea Glatt; Right: Journey to Sirius by George Smith (Photograph by Judith Segura).

Journey to Sirius was created by Houston sculptor and Rice University professor George Smith, composed of two welded steel structures bolted into concrete foundations, each ten feet high and fifteen feet long. Smith is known for unique environmental sculptures that reference the symbolic architectural traditions of the Dogon people, with an abstract and minimal design.

Artist George Smith during installation of Journey to Sirius in 1992.
Artist George Smith during installation of Journey to Sirius in 1992 (Photograph by Judith Segura).

In his own words, the geometric surface of Smith’s work is an “interpretation of the natural geometry found on the face of the Bandiagara cliffs and represent matter, while the sculptural forms that cantilever from the structures represent spirit, and were inspired by the cliff paintings and high relief carvings of The Dogon.”

Artists Linnea Glatt and James B. Cinquemani during installation of Harrow, 1992.
Artists Linnea Glatt and James B. Cinquemani during installation of Harrow in 1992 (Photograph by Judith Segura).

Linnea Glatt’s piece Harrow is at once dynamic and static, blending concepts of time, space, and place. An eight-foot by sixteen-foot cone of Cor-Ten steel rotates on a circular track surrounding a thirty-foot bed of sand. As the cone slowly rotates throughout the day, its bands move through the sand creating a pattern of concentric rings, completing the circle every 24 hours.  

Harrow at Lubben Plaza, c. 1994 (Photograph by Craig Khuner).
Harrow at Lubben Plaza, c. 1994 (Photograph by Craig Kuhner).

Glatt described it as “the most active and on the contrary the most serene and contemplative” of her works. “The repetition and constancy of the bands of the cone drawing in the sand symbolize for me the cyclical nature of life and the balancing of life’s events. The gesture is meant to embrace, to settle and to provoke thought.”

Simultaneous to the planning of these two sculptures, in 1990 the Foundation was also investigating ways to expand Lubben Plaza. World-renowned Texas sculptor Jesús Bautista Moroles was commissioned in 1993 to conceive a sculpture to complement the existing design. Stele Gateway, a fifteen-foot tall structure made of Fredericksburg Red Granite that frames the walkway through the two walled sections of the plaza, was installed in June of 1994. It employs his characteristic medium of granite, in which he often left half of the surface untouched and raw, and half smoothed and polished. He described his work as “a discussion of how man exists in nature and touches nature and uses nature.”

Stele Gateway installed at Lubben Plaza, c. 1994 (Photograph by Craig Khuner).
Stele Gateway installed at Lubben Plaza, c. 1994 (Photograph by Craig Kuhner).

A decade later, Lubben Plaza was renovated by The Belo Foundation (formerly The Dallas Morning News-WFAA Foundation) to further improve the space – a testament to the Company’s continuous philanthropic investment in the life and environment of Downtown Dallas. The elevation of the surrounding granite walls was reduced, resulting in more visibility to the sculptures from the street level and a more open and inviting space. As recently as 2019, the Foundation oversaw a comprehensive rework, reconditioning, and restoration of Harrow to ensure it continued to function properly as originally intended by Glatt. At the time of repair, it was estimated that Harrow had completed approximately 6,000+ revolutions, or more than 110 miles of travel.

During the renovation in 2004, the final report of the first Downtown Parks Master Plan was released. The plan was a unique, concerted effort to create a unified vision for a greener, more vibrant, connected, and most importantly, pedestrian-friendly environment Downtown. The plan identified opportunities to develop park sites in the Central Business District that could create a network of active public spaces. In 2013 the plan was updated and pinpointed four specific Priority Parks, all of which were developed by Parks for Downtown Dallas and completed from 2019-2023. Parks for Downtown Dallas is the predecessor organization of Downtown Dallas Parks Conservancy, created by The Belo Foundation in 2015.

The red oak trees at Lubben Plaza have matured and grown over the past three decades and created a shaded, meditative spot to enjoy – especially on a warm spring day. As an experiment in public-private urban park development, it succeeded as a model that could be, and was, replicated throughout Downtown. To this day the Downtown Dallas Parks Conservancy owns and maintains the artwork at Lubben Plaza, while the City of Dallas as owner of the park is responsible for regular oversight. While the name of the Foundation might have changed over the years, what has not changed is its steadfast commitment to and advocacy for Downtown Dallas green spaces. 

This guest post was written by Kelley Smith, a Certified Archivist and Digital Archives Specialist. She received her Master of Library Science from the University of North Texas in 2016 with a concentration in Archival Studies. She has performed archival work for multiple organizations and individuals, managing a variety of analog and electronic corporate, personal, and civic materials.