Keep Dallas Observer Free

Owner's Looking to Landmark His House, Designed by the Late, Great Harris Kemp

I've driven past this house countless times; it's not far from the office, after all, more or less just behind Maple and Motor on Maple Springs Boulevard. But till I saw the agenda for Monday's meeting of the Landmark Commission, I had no idea that it was designed by one of its former residents -- none other than Harris Kemp, one of the city's most important post-war architects (he served, for 11 years, as chief designer in the offices of George Dahl Architect & Engineers) and a man who had his hand in, among other things, The Dallas Morning News building and Dallas City Hall and Memorial Auditorium. Says the historic designation doc, its current owner wants to create an historic overlay district for the "Harris Kemp House." Why? Those reasons are below.

Says the designation doc:

Physical Description:

The Harris A. Kemp house is located in the Oak Lawn Heights neighborhood, approximately two miles from downtown Dallas. Unlike the Tudor styled houses of the neighborhood, the Harris Kemp house is "Contemporary" in design, reflecting its unique design for a single-family residential house at the time of construction in 1942.

The house faces Maple Springs Blvd. with the carport adjacent to the house; the carport faces the side of the lot and is screened from the street; a drive leads from the street to the carport and landscaping provides additional screening. The front façade of the house aligns with the setback of the adjacent homes on the street. The large rectangular lot provides a very large rear yard which slopes slightly to Maple Springs Creek at the rear property line. A newer pool with hard-surfaces surrounding patio is approximately 40' from the rear of the house, leaving an open space (of approximately 100' depth) from the pool to the rear property line and creek.

The plan of the house is a rectangular block with a projecting pavilion facing the street. It is a split level plan utilizing the natural slope of the site. The rear of the lot descends to Maple Springs Creek, where the Kemp children played.

The entry level vestibule has an ascending and a descending stair. The stair to the lower level is to the public area of the house, the living room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast, and screened porch. The ascending stair is to the private bedrooms. On the left (northeast) side of the house is a large covered patio and a carport. The front on the house faces northwest.

The roof is a compound form of three elements. The primary house has a clipped hipped form facing northeast, with a very minimal pitch. The center ridge is eliminated and replaced with a flat section, reducing the overall height of the structure. The right side of the roof is a simple gable terminated by the masonry chimney. The front (northwest) elevation has an overhang of approximately two feet. The rear (southeast) elevation has a deep screened porch on two levels. On the northeast, a simple flattened lean-to roof covers the patio and carport. The projecting pavilion (a studio for Mrs. Kemp) is one story with a flat roof and no overhang.

The exterior of the house is clad in brick veneer and redwood siding (now painted white). Generally the ground floor is brick veneer. The projecting pavilion adjacent to the entry walk is brick patterned in a modified "English Cross" pattern with the cross form corbelled. It is a bearing wall. The front face of the studio is patterned in a stacked bond pattern laid with the butts exposed and every other stack articulated.

Floating above the one-story studio are three large punched windows glazed with translucent glass. The front plane to the right side of the entry is recessed and is brick veneer extending to the height of the bedroom widow sills. The only front facing window is a double hung two-over-two unit. The front elevation, with few windows and minimal detailing defines the public front yard from the private residence.

The rear elevation is dominated by the two story screened porches. The screening is divided into nine equal panels. This screening unifies the house and allows the interior rooms to have randomly placed windows and doors. The porches allow a transparency with the exterior, similar to post-war ranch houses. The patio becomes an extension of the living area.

Historical Significance

Harris Kemp was a significant architect during Dallas' explosive post-war growth. His work includes the Dallas Morning News Building, the Employers Insurance Office Building, and the Dallas City Hall, as the local architect in association with I. M. Pei. The significance of his work was recognized by his inclusion in the Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in June 1969.

Harris Kemp was born in Kewanee, Illinois in 1912. His father was a civil engineer. Kemp graduated from the University of Illinois with B.S. (1934) and M.S. (1935) degrees. He then received a Masters of Architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1937). Harris Kemp received the Plym Fellowship, allowing him and his wife to travel in Europe during 1937-1938.

He began the practice of architecture in Dallas as a designer-draftsman for the Texas Centennial in 1936 as a member of the 130-person staff assembled and under the direction of George Dahl. He then worked for the state of Wisconsin for two years. Kemp returned to Dallas as a designer with the firm of LaRoche-Dahl. For one year during the war, he worked as a Supervisor in plant layout of North American Aviation, in Grand Prairie. Returning to the firm George Dahl Architect & Engineers, he served as the offices' chief designer from 1944-1955; one of his major projects there included the design of Dallas' Municipal Auditorium that was completed in 1957, after he left Dahl's firm. In 1955, Kemp left Dahl's office and formed Harper & Kemp Architects with Terrell Harper; Harper had also worked for Dahl's office and had left in 1954 to form his own firm.

Harper & Kemp's major works during this period include: Dallas Country Club, State Fair Livestock Coliseum, Danciger Research Laboratories Building at Southwest Medical School, The Denton State School, Great American of Dallas Building, Corporate Office Building for Collins Radio Corporation, the Jewish Community Center, and 2355 Stemmons Building, and Dallas City Hall (1978) which they partnered with I. M. Pei as the local architect. It is to be noted that Harper & Kemp extensively cited the quote of Henry Wolton, "Well building hath three conditions: commodity, firmness, and delight." Those principles are evident in the broad body of work that his firm produced.

In 1974 the firm merged with James Clutts and Howard Parker (Clutts and Parker Architects) to form Harper, Kemp, Clutts and Parker, Architects (also known as 'HKCP').5 Grady Jennings joined the firm in 1980, and HKCP Interiors Group was formed to specialize this specialty of architecture. In 1995, Robert Hackler became a partner and following the retirement of the last founding partner of HKCP, the name of the firm was changed to Jennings*Hackler + Partners, Inc. This firm remains in practice today - with its legacy dating to 1955 when Terrell Harper and Harris Kemp joined forces to practice architecture in Dallas during what would become one of the City's most prolific eras for design and construction.

Harris Kemp was active in the city of Dallas and the profession of architecture. He served the city of Dallas as a member of Zoning Advisory Council (ZOAC), Dallas West Revitalization Commission, Zoning Revision Committee, Greater Dallas Planning Council, Director of Central Business District Association (CBDA), the CBDA Environment Committee, and served on the General Services Administration, Advisory Panel. Kemp also was active in his profession, serving as the Director of the Texas Architectural Foundation (1957), Director of Texas Society of Architects (1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968)7, Vice-President of the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1955) and President (1957).

Harris Kemp and his family lived in this house from 1942 to XX. He then designed another home in Greenway Parks which he and his family lived in until his death. Kemp passed away on October 24, 1996.

Harris Kemp only designed three homes during his career, the first home on Maple Springs. The second house was for a client on Drexel near the Highland Park Town Hall. The last was the family's second home at 5328 Waneta, in Greenway Parks Addition. The home of Harris Kemp is significant in the architectural history of the city.

It is one of Dallas' earliest examples of a "Contemporary" design statement with an acknowledgment of regional influence in materials and climate. Harris Kemp was an architect trained in the transplanted traditions of the Bauhaus. This is expressed in the low profile nature of the structure, the emphasis on horizontal expression, and the use of modest materials. The overall design foreshadows mid-century modernism by a decade. The house, with a low horizontal profile, low pitched roofs and connections to the exterior is a marked departure from the Tudor-style cottages typical of this neighborhood.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.