Step Into Dallas History: Architectural Walking Tours of Downtown Dallas

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Architectural walking tours are something we generally participate in when we travel to Europe. Learning about the culture and history of a city from a local allows for a more exciting and intimate experience. It’s also a more enriching way to learn about a place than you’d get from a travel guide or, God forbid, in a huge tour group.

Jay Cantrell

I just returned from Prague and Vienna. On a day trip to Bratislava, I took an architectural walking tour that was a highlight of the trip, and it got me thinking about Dallas. We live in an architecturally significant city. However, we seldom take the time to treat our home town with the same respect we treat other major cities of the world. Then I remembered, Jay Cantrell is trying to rectify that.

Cantrell is an architecture teacher, artist, and entrepreneur who lives in the Kirby Building. To say he is deeply passionate about Dallas architecture is putting it mildly. Cantrell is intent on changing the perception of architecture in Dallas.

Almost a year ago, just before Thanksgiving, he launched Architectural walking tours of downtown Dallas.

“I’d done a fellowship in Paris and regularly took my colleagues to tour the beautiful architecture,” Cantrell said. “I missed that and thought if I could do it in Paris, I could do architectural walking tours here.”

The seed was planted and took root on social media. He created a Facebook page for people to sign up. It was an immediate success.

“I was not expecting it to be this big,” Cantrell said. “There happened to be a reporter on the first architectural walking tour, so word got out!”

architectural walking tours

architectural walking tours
Cantrell has drawn several of the buildings on the tour and yes you can purchase his art!

“Most people don’t think there is a lot of extraordinary history and architecture in Dallas, but there is,” Cantrell said.” You just don’t notice if from your car window. There is a general perception that all you do downtown is go to bars and restaurants. I like to try and break down those preconceived notions of Dallas and our architecture. People will visit Rome, Paris, and London for the architecture, so I like to surprise them with the fact that our architecture is just as wonderful. We have a vital architectural heritage.”
architectural walking tours

Cantrell has lived downtown since 2005. He’s built an excellent network that has allowed him to get his tour groups into the basements and rooftops of some of the most iconic buildings in Dallas.

architectural walking tours
1900 Elm Street

“The Kirby has the most spectacular rooftop views,” Cantrell said. “When I take people into the lobby, they think it looks like a gothic cathedral. Everyone is surprised there is a natural spring below Pegasus Plaza. They marvel at the mosaics in the 1920s neo-Gothic landmark Joule Hotel, the ceilings of the Magnolia Hotel, and the basement bank vault of the Kirby.”

The Joule Hotel
Cantrell’s drawings are available after the tour in notecard sizes. I’m grabbing a ton to use as Christmas cards!

Tours take place on Saturday and Sunday. Saturdays focus on the central area of downtown and include the Kirby building, the Adolphus Hotel, the Joule, and the Wilson Building. On Sundays, the tour looks around the eastern part of the city. It includes The Statler Hotel and the 1900 Elm building by George Dahl. Cantrell also delves into how the University of North Texas is helping to preserve the area.

Cantrell is considering an expansion of his architectural walking tours into Oak Cliff and Deep Ellum, and he’s begun doing private tours.

I can’t think of a better way to spend time than exploring the architectural beauty of Dallas. See you Saturday!

Karen Eubank is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager and writer for over 25 years. Karen teaches the popular Staging to Sell class and is the creator of the online course, The Beginners Guide to Buying Wholesale. Her love of all dogs, international travel, good chocolate, great champagne, and historic homes knows no bounds. Her father was a spy, so she keeps secrets very well! Find Karen at

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Karen Eubank

Karen is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager for more than 25 years and a professional writer for over 20 years. Karen is the mother of a son who’s studying for his masters at The New England Conservatory of Music. An ardent animal lover, she doesn’t mind one bit if your fur baby jumps right into her lap.

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