Historic Statler Regains Original Grandeur

August 29, 2018
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DALLAS—To say the Statler has been a large part of the city’s history is a huge understatement. The hotel opened in 1956 as a 1001-room hotel, convention center and gathering place for the Who’s Who of the time. The opening celebration drew celebrities and locals for a four-day gala.

As the last hotel built by the famous Statler chain, it was completed for $16 million immediately following the acquisition of the Statler Hotels Company by Hilton Hotels Corporation. It was the largest hotel in the Southwest when it opened and featured the largest convention space in the South at that time. Its largest ballroom could accommodate 2,200 people, according to Historic Hotels.

The hotel used the latest in architectural and electronic innovations, from usage of a cantilevered reinforced slab system, to decorative glass and porcelain exterior curtain wall in classic midcentury modern teals, to the open interior spaces. And, it was the first building to feature elevator music and the first hotel to install new and custom 21-inch Westinghouse televisions in each guestroom and suite.

The Statler’s iconic stature was solidified when the American Institute of Architecture’s Dallas Guide called the hotel and the library located next door designed by George Dahl in 1953 “the best block of 1950s architecture in the city”.

Unfortunately, time and neglect took its toll on the Statler. In 2001, the hotel closed and it was nearly demolished in 2003. Preservation Dallas added the building to its list of most endangered structures in both 2007 and 2008. The National Trust for Historic Preservation chose the Statler as one of America’s Most Endangered Places due to its representation of American midcentury design.

There were several attempts at redeveloping the hotel. The hotel was ultimately purchased by Centurion American Development Group in September 2013. Through preservation efforts and the help of state and federal tax credits, the Statler Hilton has been restored to its former glory.

With a $175 million renovation of the hotel, it was the largest tax credit project in Texas and is regarded as an endangered to restored success story. Recently, the Statler was inducted as the 300th hotel into the Historic Hotels of America program. It was also presented with a Preservation Dallas Achievement Award.

It is now a 159-room Hilton Curio Collection Hotel featuring a 14,000-square-foot ballroom with 10,000 square feet of meeting space, six restaurant venues, a fourth-floor roof pool deck and a 19th floor roof top pool deck. It also features 219 luxury rental apartments.

The concept for the architecture and interior design by Merriman Anderson/Architects was to respect the midcentury aesthetic of the original building but not to be overly retro. Merriman Anderson/Architects and the owner worked with the National Park Service and the Texas Historical Commission to preserve and restore the character-defining features of the historic building.
On the exterior, the glass curtainwall, brick and stone were repaired and restored. Molded porcelain enamel panels were cleaned and color matched touch-ups were applied over the facade of the building. Molded Aztec-style cast stone blocks were restored and missing blocks were replicated. Exterior storefronts and glazing were selectively repaired and/or replaced with new tempered glazing to match the original. New exterior signage was installed in keeping with the original historic configuration.

The entire building roofing was replaced, and the exterior envelope was restored and waterproofed. Two new exterior pool and amenity areas were constructed in the place of former roof areas and the former heliport. A new grand entry porte-cochere was constructed to replicate the original that had been removed in previous renovations.

In the building tower, the design team worked around existing columns, windows and corridor placement for the new hotel and residential use. On the interior ground and second-floor public space, carpet and tile were removed to expose the original black terrazzo, which was painstakingly repaired and restored. Stone wall cladding, glass and wood railings, molded block and stone planters were also repaired and restored. New gypsum board ceilings were installed to match the details of the original 1956 construction plans.

On the lower levels, a new residential entry and motor court was introduced from Jackson Street. Basement levels were repurposed as parking from old mechanical and hotel back-of-house spaces.
“One challenge was to recapture/convert existing hotel back-of-house mechanical space in three subterranean basement levels into 250 parking spaces for residences,” Adam Jones, principal, team leader at Merriman Anderson/Architects, tells GlobeSt.com. “Internal concrete ramps to connect levels and Jackson Street vehicular entry were created.”

Hotel guestroom floors are located on floors three through seven. Two of the original 200-square-foot shoe-box New York-style hotel rooms were combined for a larger guestroom. Levels eight through 18 were reimaged as 219 apartments ranging from hotel room-sized efficiency units to large penthouse residences.

New finishes, furnishings, light fixtures and art were introduced with the building renovation interior design to complement the existing architecture. Artwork original to the building, including a 40-foot long mural by artist Jack Lubin from 1956 was discovered in what was once the Empire Room supper club, and an 8-foot-tall sculpture, were restored and reinstalled by local preservationist Michael van Enter.

“Another challenge was to convert open roof space on the fourth and 19th floors into pool and amenity space for hotel guests and residents,” Jones tells GlobeSt.com. “The design, engineering and construction teams all collaborated to modify the existing structure to accept loading of new occupied space, cut openings in the floor slabs for pools, installed pedestal-mounted pavers, and install trees and landscaping in planters. The design required approval of National Park Service and Texas Historical Commission as to not adversely impact the original exterior historic appearance of the building.”

Food and beverage venues include Scout, a social space with bowling lanes, pool tables, foosball, ping-pong tables and a stage for entertainment. Bourbon & Banter is a speakeasy atmosphere with a collection of bourbons, whiskies and unique cocktails. Over Easy serves farm to table classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Fine China is a modern Pan Asian Gastropub that is opening soon. Waterproof, the pool deck bar and lounge, has downtown views framed by the 10-foot-high Statler signage and a polished chrome statue of Llinda Llee Llama by local artist Brad Oldham.

In conjunction with the Statler renovation, the project team of the Statler and Old Dallas Central Library redevelopment collaborated with the city, City Design Studio, Dallas Mobility Planning, DART, adjacent property owners and other groups to create what became internally known as the Statler Corridor. The big idea was to identify, transform and activate a dead zone of empty buildings and empty storefronts along Commerce Street into a walkable urban experience with a mix of street front retail, patio dining, office, hotel and residential, enhanced by the Main Street Garden Park. This new corridor would be the missing link to connect the Central Business District near the Joule and Neiman Marcus at the west with Deep Ellum and The Farmers Market neighborhoods to the east.

With the collaboration and approval of these groups and support of a traffic study, Commerce Street was reduced from five traffic lanes to four and sidewalks were extended. These wider sidewalks were constructed with new landscaping and trees, additional valet lanes for transportation systems and drop off, restaurant patio dining areas, upgraded DART bus stops, upgraded lighting for enhanced security, and site furnishings including bike racks and benches.