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Revisiting the Reunion Tower

Nearly 40 years after it opened, a revitalized Reunion Tower still anchors the Dallas skyline

It's unmistakable: the neon-green outline of Bank of America Plaza, the blue haze of the Chase Tower keyhole and the ever-changing sparkle of Reunion Tower. The celebrated Dallas skyline has many recognizable buildings, but arguably none is more iconic—or unusual—than the glittering orb that rises 561 feet in the air.

It's easy now to take Reunion Tower for granted, but before 1978, locals and visitors didn’t have a landmark that offered an unparalleled, 360-degree view of Dallas. Before its renovation in 2013, they also did without the snazzy décor and high-tech computer kiosks that illustrate Dallas' history with interactive photos and videos. But now that Reunion Tower is here, it's impossible to imagine Big D without it.

Confident Beginnings

When John Scovell and Ray Hunt, son of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, embarked on revitalizing the Reunion area of downtown in the early 1970s, they started with a hotel, today the Hyatt Regency Dallas (Reunion Arena, former home of the Dallas Mavericks and Stars, would come—and go—later). Architectural firm Welton Becket & Associates sketched out plans for a revolving restaurant to sit atop the structure; the developers, now including Woodbine Development Corporation and builders Henry C. Beck Co, hated the idea. “You would have this graceful, wonderful building (the hotel) and you’d be putting a doughnut on top of it,” recalls Scovell. A separate structure to house this en-vogue restaurant was proposed.

Construction began on the concrete behemoth in 1976, with 64 "legs" forming the basis of what is essentially a tabletop resting on 60-foot-tall support beams. One worker's sole job was to supervise the concrete as it was being poured, to make sure it was laser-precise and that Dallas wouldn't end up with its own Leaning Tower of Pisa. Eight million dollars and two years later, Reunion Tower was ready to invite the public up for a look.

Southfork Ranch
When the "Dallas" TV show and its Southfork Ranch (pictured here) hit it big, so did the Reunion Tower's popularity. (©Ricky Pearson)

A Banner First Year

Within an hour and a half of the tower's grand opening on April 15, 1978, traffic on the highways leading in and out of Dallas was at a standstill. Folks were agog at this twinkling glass ball, rising 50 stories into the clouds (today Reunion Tower is the 15th tallest building in Dallas; it's taller than both the Statue of Liberty and Washington Monument). The dome, with its 259 intersections for individual lights, encases three floors built with glass panels. Originally the lights were a shimmering gold, but in 2011 all bulbs were replaced with multicolored LED lights. Now it's not out of the ordinary to see a jack-o-lantern, ruby-red heart, Texas Rangers logo or blue-and-white swirls for the Dallas Mavericks, depending on the occasion. That rotating restaurant is still one of the site's major draws—now Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, the gourmet eatery is lauded as one of the most romantic in town.

Another landmark event happened in April of 1978: The television show "Dallas" began airing, and Reunion Tower could be spotted in the opening credits, making the brand-new structure a worldwide celebrity in its first year. It can also be seen in 1987's "Robocop," 2011's "The Tree of Life" and is even "destroyed" in the 1997, made-for-TV movie "Asteroid." Less than a year after it opened, the tower served as the backdrop for the first of many marriage proposals when a man hired a single-engine plane to circle the deck with a banner popping the question.

Reimagined For a New Generation

In 2007, Reunion Tower closed for much-needed repairs and updates before triumphantly reopening six years later. Take the 68-second elevator ride (or climb the 837 steps) to the top, and you are greeted with the newly redesigned GeO-Deck. Named for architect Buckminster Fuller's futuristic designs (a combination of "geodesic" and "observation deck"), the deck offers an interactive display called the "Halo," which guides visitors through momentous incidents in Dallas' history. Step outside to the high-powered zoom telescopes, and you can view, in sharp detail, Dealey Plaza and other important landmarks. Come on a clear day, and you can even see Fort Worth, 32 miles away.