Monday, August 29, 2011

Totally Texas -- A tunnel to a downtown iceberg

Fountain Place stands out even in Dallas’s downtown of quirkily-shaped skyscrapers. The building, one of several in Dallas designed by I.M. Pei and Partners, has the striking lines of all its siblings, including Dallas City Hall. What’s it got that the other don’t? A surrounding park filled with the fountains and trees -- gloriously tall cypresses -- that most of downtown sorely lacks.

Dallas Morning News writer Clayton M. McCleskey suggested in this week’s Points section of the paper that one way to improve the livability of Dallas would be to turn every resident loose with a tree and a shovel. Of course, they’d also need credits to pay for their water bills.

Fountain Place’s designers sculpted it into a crystalline prism. Clad in green glass (which appears blue most days due to reflection from the sky), the building attracted the attention of would-be terrorist Hosam Maher Husein Smadi. The Jordanian teenager was sentenced to 24 years in prison last fall after pleading guilty to attempting to “bring down the building.” Perhaps only a resident of a desert land could understand what destruction of the water-rich site would mean to the city.

I had more benign motives in attempting to make my way to Fountain Place without evaporating in this August’s heat. With the help of bemused security personnel and a map of downtown skybridges and underground walkways from Dallas’s Downtown Improvement District (DID), I hardly broke a sweat on the fifteen-minute walk from DART’s Akard Street station to Fountain Place.

The DID map, similar to one printed earlier in the News, took me to the skybridge outside of Energy Plaza, on the building’s southwest side. I followed the skybridge to the Lincoln Plaza building and took an escalator down two flights to an underground tunnel.

Clearly-marked signs in the passage way directed me to Fountain Place, where I bought a celebratory orange soda at a kiosk in the lobby, drank it outside to the music of the water, and took the photo that accompanies this post.

I’ll add a few cautions for those wanting to try this trip for themselves. The tunnel and skybridge are only open during normal weekday business hours -- approximately 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. They were ventilated but did not seem to be actually air-conditioned, and were interrupted by several minor series of stairs and escalators. The relatively short escalator just outside Fountain Place was not working during my trip but was still walkable. Additional signs warned that the interior walkways were not for the general public and “advised” those other than customers, employees or guests to use street-level walkways.

You should also avoid Mr. McCleskey, who applauds plans to close the underground passages.

The DID map is available at You may contact McCleskey at Trees and shovels not provided.

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