Creativity in the Bayou City

If You're Ever in City Hall, Look Up

The lobby's vaulted ceiling features a New Deal-era idealized depiction of Houston.

By Emma Schkloven February 9, 2021 Published in the December 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

When Houston officials finally got approved for New Deal funding to construct a brand-new Houston city hall, they spared no expense, outfitting the sleek-lined art deco-style building with marble, wood trim, and air conditioning. Then they topped the whole thing off with a mural covering the vaulted ceiling of the first-floor lobby.

The newspaper illustrator-turned-commercial artist Daniel MacMorris knew what he was doing when he designed this allegorical and idealized depiction of industry, culture, law, and government in Houston. For one thing, every figure in the mural scenes, including the farmer, sports Grecian-style robes. For another, though, the effect of the firm, clean lines of each image rendered in soft pastels on the ceiling lends the space a feeling of grace and history that it clearly didn’t have when it was newly constructed in 1939. (Making new things and places look old was something for a specialty of the Kansas City-born artist.)

A layer of dusty pink and saffron-colored clouds help the eye move from the soft tones of the painting to the plasterwork inside the star-studded inverted ceiling. At the ceiling’s center, a relief of the Western hemisphere, the state of Texas, and especially the city of Houston, clearly marked by a noticeable change in color and a small star, adds a layer of dimensionality. Surrounding the continent are the symbols of the Zodiac.