Construction rewind: the path to new clinics 70 years ago

Excerpts from “Baylor College of Dentistry: the First 100 Years,” “Baylor Dental Journal March 1951” and recent interviews with Dr. Bob Dewberry, Class of 1947
August 31st, 2018
1420 Hall Street

The dental school building at 1420 Hall Street

Dr. Bob Dewberry ’47 remembers a disconcerting detail about the clinic building at 1420 Hall St. where he learned dental procedures as a student.

“The floor was so unstable that when someone walked by, both the patient and the student were shaken,” he says. “That made it tough to condense a gold foil, which was very tedious work under those circumstances. Gold foil was an excellent material but very slow and labor intensive.”

The crowded quarters also are etched in Dewberry’s memory: “The student nearby would often ask, ‘May I borrow your excavator?’ or some other instrument. More often than not it was forgotten and never returned. The result was a bit chaotic.”

The clinic's crowded quarters, circa 1940s

The clinic’s crowded quarters, circa 1940s

Shortly after Dewberry graduated, construction began on a four-story 45,000-square-foot building a few blocks away at 800 Hall St. The new clinical facility included the departments of oral surgery, operative dentistry, crown and bridge, children’s dentistry, prosthetic dentistry and periodontia. It featured another first for the college’s clinics: air conditioning.

The completion of this building in 1950 was a major achievement for Dr. George L. Powers, dean. For more than 20 years, the college had discussed constructing a new clinic but with no results.

“Dean Powers brought the plan to fruition against almost insurmountable difficulties,” wrote Dr. C. Kenneth Collings, former chair of the Department of Periodontics and founder of the periodontics graduate program, in a memorial to Powers after his death in September 1972. “There were very few people who thought he would succeed. This accomplishment marked the turning point in the fortunes of the dental school.”

Dean George Powers (in suit) with patients and students in the dental clinic at 1420 Hall St. in the mid-1940s.

Dean George Powers (in suit) with patients and students in the dental clinic at 1420 Hall St. in the mid-1940s.

Even Dallas County Dental Society members seemed initially doubtful of the project, Powers told his successor, Dean Harry B. McCarthy, in a 1968 letter. Upon completion of the building, the dental school sponsored an open house for local dentists. During the open house, Powers asked how many DCDS members thought the school would ever get a new building. “Only one hand went up,” Powers wrote.

In 1951, the board of trustees of Baylor University initiated another building campaign, this time for funds to construct a basic science wing adjacent to 800 Hall St. Robert B. Monson, comptroller of the Sears Roebuck & Company Southwestern Territory, was named general chairman of a committee that oversaw fundraising from the public.

The campaign, the first significant public fund drive in the dental school’s history, raised nearly $600,000 to build a 22,000-square-foot facility. The new basic science wing opened in fall 1954.


— Carolyn Cox