Veteran architect Jerry Merriman stepping aside, leaving a rebuilt Dallas skyline behind

August 14, 2020

Veteran architect is stepping down after repurposing a long list of downtown landmarks.

Jerry Merriman has left his mark on the Dallas skyline.

Over the last two decades, the architectural firm he founded has overseen the restoration of some of the city’s best-known landmarks.

The Statler Hotel, Lone Star Gas Building, Old Dallas High School, Tower Petroleum Building and LTV Tower are just a few of the downtown historic buildings Merriman Anderson/Architects has helped save.

“It’s a chance to preserve things for another generation,” said Merriman, who is retiring after almost 50 years in the architecture business.

Merriman is just finishing work on Dallas’ largest renovation ever, the $450 million redo of downtown’s 52-story former First National Bank Tower.

The midcentury office skyscraper has been turned into a combination of apartments, hotel rooms, retail and office space called The National. It’s the firm’s most complicated design deal yet. “The projects do grow proportionately and in complexity,” he said. “They are challenging.”

Merriman, who is 71, is stepping away from the Dallas-based architectural firm he and his wife Deby started in 1987. He had planned to retire by the end of 2020 but decided to move up the date of his departure.

“With COVID coming and us being in good shape on projects, we thought, ‘Let’s let these guys get going,’ ” Merriman said. “It seems like the time is right. I never wanted to go right to the end.”

Merriman came to Texas in 1971 with a degree in architecture from the University of Oklahoma.

After a short stint at an architectural firm in San Angelo, he moved to Dallas in 1972 to work with Dahl Braden Jones Chapman, the firm headed by renowned architect George Dahl.

Dahl had a big corner office, and he would tell me and the young architects jokes,” Merriman said. “He had to be in his 80s.”

The Merrimans launched their own company in 1987.

“We started from scratch,” Merriman said. “I would sit there waiting for the phone to ring, and Deby would be typing letters to send out saying I wish you would hire us.

“Overhead was pretty low — it was just the two of us.”

The first few jobs weren’t designing landmarks but motels in Louisiana and Black-Eyed-Pea restaurants.

“I felt so bad for him,” said Deby, who is also retiring as the firm’s HR director. “He’d come from a big firm doing big projects.”

These days Merriman has plenty of big projects.

Merriman Anderson/Architects has 100 employees working in Dallas, Austin and Charlotte, N.C., and is registered to do business in 32 states.

While the company is best known for its Dallas historic building redevelopments, it has also done plenty of new buildings, including parts of the Grandscape project in the Colony, Bell Helicopter’s headquarters and the new East Quarter tower in downtown Dallas.

But historic projects are the company’s forte.

Merriman’s first downtown building redos were the landmark Interurban Building near city hall and the Gulf States Building on Main Street. “It started our credentials with historic buildings,” he said. “It just kind of morphed into what it became.”

Developer Larry Hamilton used Merriman’s firm on the renovations of the Lone Star Gas buildings, the Mosaic (formerly the Fidelity Union Life Insurance buildings) and the Lorenzo Hotel in the Cedars neighborhood.

“Merriman is the go-to firm, and he’s captured that niche of the downtown revitalization market,” Hamilton said. “Most developers can’t do it, and most architects aren’t up to it.

“There are a lot of surprises involved, and you have to be able to roll with the punches.”

Merriman’s latest downtown project — First National Bank tower on Elm Street — has been in the works for more than seven years. The building has had multiple owners, went through bankruptcy and faced foreclosure.

Merriman stuck with it through all the ups and downs.

“Jerry Merriam and his architectural prowess and insight has not only been the glue to this project but 95% of every adaptive mixed-use project in downtown Dallas,” said developer Shawn Todd, who is opening up The National tower before the end of the year. “We would not have bought that building if Jerry hadn’t been there.

“He has done remarkable things for our city.”

Milton Anderson, Merriman’s vice president and director of design who’s been with the firm 24 years, has been named the new president. The succession plan has been in the works for some time.

“We’ve known this was coming, and now it’s on top of us,” Anderson said. “Jerry didn’t want a lot of attention — he just wanted to go quietly.

“But he deserves the recognition,” he said. “He has more than earned his retirement, and he’s set a precedent for all of us to live up to.”