The Monuments Men

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Roscoe Plimpton DeWitt ( 1894-1975 )

Roscoe Plimpton DeWitt enjoyed a lifelong career as an architect credited for the design of numerous landmarks in Dallas, Texas as well as in Washington, D.C. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1914, he received a Master of Architecture from Harvard in 1917. During World War I, he served as a Captain with Battery E of the 58th Artillery in the Coast Artillery Corps in France.

Following World War I, he began his career as a sought-after Dallas architect. He first partnered with Mark Lemmon from 1921–1927. Their firm, DeWitt & Lemmon, designed Sunset High School, Woodrow Wilson High School, and several projects at Southern Methodist University including Perkins Hall, Ownby stadium, Florence Hall, and the main sanctuary for nearby Highland Park United Methodist Church. In honor of the 1936 Texas Centennial, DeWitt collaborated on the design for the Hall of State at Fair Park and oversaw construction for the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. From 1937 to 1940 he served on the Board of Trustees for the Dallas Museum of Art, where he worked with the museum’s third Director, future Monuments Man Richard Foster Howard.

During World War II, DeWitt served in the Coast Artillery Corps as a major. In 1944, he was approached by the MFAA to lend his architectural knowledge to the safeguarding of monuments in the French countryside. He was transferred to the European Civil Affairs Division (ECAD) and assigned to the Regimental Reserve, 1st ECAD Regiment. In the Loire Valley, France, he inspected and rehabilitated monuments damaged by Allied bombings alongside fellow Monuments Men Walter J. Huchthausen and Lt. Lamont Moore. He also made trips to various secluded French repositories, where some of the greatest treasures of French-owned art had been hidden away for safekeeping at the start of the war. By the time of his discharge from service, he had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Upon his return to Dallas, DeWitt entered into a partnership with the architect Arch B. Swank. Together, they designed Parkland Memorial Hospital, renovated the Neiman Marcus national flagship store in downtown Dallas, and designed Neiman Marcus’s second store in Dallas at Preston Center. Such was his renown that when Stanley Marcus, President and CEO of Neiman Marcus stores, fired famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937 over disagreements for the design of his home, DeWitt was hired to finish the project. In 2010, the Stanley Marcus home, at 10 Nonesuch Road, was designated a Historic Landmark by the city of Dallas. DeWitt also designed multiple federal housing developments, public schools, and the Sam Rayburn Library in Bonham, Texas.

Through his friendship with Sam Rayburn, former Speaker of the House and Texas Congressman, DeWitt was selected to assist in the revitalization of various U.S. Capitol buildings in Washington, D.C. along with architects Alfred Poor and Jesse M. Shelton. As DeWitt, Poor, and Shelton, Associated Architects, the trio was responsible for the extension of the U.S. Capitol building’s east front (1962) and west front (1964-1987), restorations of the old Senate and Supreme Court chambers (both 1965), and the construction of the Third House Office Building (1965). Though designed by DeWitt, the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress (1980) was not completed until after his death. The artist selected to sculpt a seated James Madison in marble for the building’s grand exterior was fellow Monuments Man, Walker K. Hancock.

A proud Dallas native, DeWitt served on the board of directors of the Dallas Civic Opera, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the advisory board for the Texas Commission on Arts and Humanities. He was elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and served as a member of the Dallas Historical Society, the Texas Philosophical Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the American Federation of the Arts, the Harvard Club of New York, and the Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C.

DeWitt died on November 2, 1975, leaving a lasting legacy for the city of Dallas.