Since 1984, Undermain has produced work in its basement space at 3200 Main Street. Undermain’s home has been converted into a unique playing space that accommodates a wide variety of performances and seats 90 people.
A History of 3200 Main Street
This 6 story fireproof building served as the first US Customs warehouse in Dallas. E.C. Connor and B. D. Milam constructed the building in 1913, having also owned the neighboring Lincoln Paint and Color Building, built in 1910. The building was advertised as absolutely fireproof. In the Dallas Times Herald of March 6, 1913, Edwin Cowan Conner was quoted as saying “We will store the goods under the supervision of the deputy collector of customs and will also store other goods for private individuals and firms. The building will be constructed according to the most approved plans and will be absolutely fireproof throughout. In fact there won’t be any wood in it.” Exhibiting Chicago School-style influences, the reinforced concrete structure features metal casement window walls with brick infill. A rear bay served as an entry for rail cars.
In addition to being the Customs Warehouse, the building also served as home to the Interstate Forwarding Company until they built their own warehouse in the 1920s. Goodyear Tire also used the warehouse until 1929.
The Interstate Forwarding Company Warehouse allowed Dallas to come forth as a complex for commerce and trade. During this company’s usage of the building, The Dallas Chamber of Commerce lobbied for three years to have Dallas named a port of entry, which happened in January 1913 as one of President William Howard Taft’s last acts in office.
The Depression of the 1930’s left the building vacant. 3200 Main became an art gallery hub during the 80’s when it became the home to Undermain Theatre, which was founded by Katherine Owens and Raphael Parry. Jim and Michelle Herling, the owners of the building in the early 1980s, were patrons of the arts, already housing an art gallery on the first floor of the building, and were willing to allow both Ms. Owens and Mr. Parry to rent the entire basement floor at a very low price. From that, Ms. Owens and Mr. Parry transformed this warehouse basement into a unique performance space. In 1989 Westdale Properties bought the entire building on 3200 Main Street. It was adapted for residential use in 1991 by Graham Greene & RTHL to include 28 residential units, keeping both the theatre and the art galleries in their perspective places. That same year this City of Dallas landmark was registered as a Texas Historic Landmark and has since been included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The building is currently in a noteworthy state of maintenance with its large steel windows and oversized elevators.
The Frank LLoyd WrighT Seating at Undermain Theatre
These historic seats in the Undermain Theatre have a distinguished history in their own right.
These seats were originally installed in the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Turtle Creek in Dallas in 1959; this innovative theatre was designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The orthogonal seating layout was based on ideas promoted by Wright and Paul Baker, the Director of the Theater. These original seats were of metal frame with cushioned seats and backs and supported by the raised risers of the floor, so that nothing touched the floor of the theatre. This not only made it easier to pass by seated people, but would have also made cleaning the floor simpler. The effect of the seats hanging off of the riser was one that Wright had used at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. These cushioned seats and backs of the seats were upholstered in a textured, golden-colored fabric and the metal frame was painted a neutral color.
In April 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright died – without seeing the completion of what would have been his only built theatre; at the time of his death, these seats were not yet fabricated nor installed. It is thought the seating design was then finalized by Taliesin architects, the successor firm that completed many of Frank Lloyd Wrights projects following his death, and fabricated by Designer Showcase, a Dallas based firm. When the theatre opened December 27, 1959, these seats with their gold upholstery, along with the sheer gold curtains and sand colored carpet, gave the theatre interior a luxurious, sophisticated and modern appearance. The first production at the new theater was ‘Of Time and the River’ by Thomas Wolfe.
In 1983, the interior of the theatre was changed to provide a steeper ‘rake’ – making these seats unusable for the theatre auditorium – and the Kalita Humphreys Theater then purchased new seating. Eighty of these seats were then given to the new Undermain Theatre for their use. Due to their original design (without a base), modifications were required – unfinished steel ‘sled’ bases were added to the chairs and it is thought that they were reupholstered in an orange fabric, at that time. The original wood armrests remained on the chairs, with most retaining their original seat numbers. A few seats also retain incised or brass donation identification elements on the armrests.
Of interest, is that these historic seats at Undermain Theatre in Deep Ellum – now reside in another historic building – the Interstate Forwarding Company Warehouse, constructed in 1913. The warehouse building is a City of Dallas Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With donations from the Jean Baptist “Tad” Adoue, III Fund of The Dallas Foundation, Ben E. Keith Foundation, The Performing Art Fund of the Communities Foundation of Texas, and The Hoblitzelle Foundation, these seats were restored in September 2010. The historic paint of the metal frames has been touched up where necessary, the seats and backs were re-cushioned and re-upholstered with wool fabric, and the raw steel ‘sled’ bases finished, and painted; the damaged armrests were repaired or replaced. Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture, LLP, provided preservation consulting services and Re-Creations, a BKM Total Office of Texas company, completed the restoration of these seats.
Is the Undermain wheelchair accessible?
Yes we are! If you or anyone in your party requires special assistance, we encourage you to let us know upon your ticket purchase. You can either write it in the note section of the online order or just talk with our friendly box office staff and they will take care of you. This way we can be sure to notify the front door attendant prior to the performance and reserve preferred seating for you and your party. Upon your arrival to the theatre on the night of the performance, be sure to notify front door attendant on Main Street, wearing an Undermain T-Shirt, outside the building. You will be shown where to park, and directed to the correct entrance.
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