Downtown Cambria Hotel Project Gives Tower Petroleum its Blade Back

November 28, 2018
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Tower Petroleum, the senior half of a long-awaited two-building adaptive reuse project, will reopen the first week in March as the Cambria Hotel & Suites Downtown Dallas, and the hotel name isn’t nearly as long as the journey developer John Kirtland took to get here.

Kirtland, CEO of Kirtland Records and former drummer in the 1990s pop band Deep Blue Something, bought Tower Petroleum and Corrigan Tower in 2012. He has been simultaneously converting them from offices to a 150-unit apartment tower in the case of Corrigan and a 177-room hotel in the case of Tower Petroleum.

Both buildings had been shuttered for years, and while they are joined at the hip, the towers hail from different eras, each with its own style. Corrigan is a 17-story tower in a modernist style that was built in 1952, and Tower Petroleum is a Zigzag Moderne art deco 23-story from 1931.

Kirtland brought in Merriman Anderson Architects for the redo on both towers. They introduced their renovation concept to the City Hall for design review in March 2014 and it’s taken nearly four years to come out the other end. The fact that Tower Petroleum is a “contributing structure” in the Harwood Historic District has had a lot to do with the extra scrutiny, but the tower is also one of the buildings that comprised Theater Row, a once vibrant entertainment district on Elm Street. The ground floor was formerly the Tower Theater.

In one sense, Kirtland is bringing back some of that nightlife entertainment magic. He furnished the basement so that it can be used by local musicians for rehearsals as they prepare for live performances down the block at The Majestic Theater, located at 1925 Elm Street. The 2,750-square-foot penthouse suite in the building will become a jazz club named The Majestic Suite.

Fillmore Hospitality will manage the Cambria, a Choice Hotels brand. Kirtland had hoped to open the hotel in December, but as anyone embarking on a complex project can attest, the devil is in the details — and there are so many details.

One of the very last chores that Merriman Anderson had to check off its list was the signage. Once upon a time, the Tower Theater had a blade sign prominently displayed over Elm Street. Kirtland wanted to replicate the sign to its original size of 232 square feet, using LED lighting to simulate the original neon. The proposed sign did not comply with the historic district code, because that size sign is fabulously out of scale by today’s standards, or by 202 square feet if we get specific. In case you’re wondering, The Majestic blade sign on the same block was grandfathered in.

Merriman Anderson architect Patrick Hazard went to the Landmark Commission last February and obtained their tentative approval for the sign.

“The overall form and size of the proposed blade sign matches the original,” the staff report said. “The sign will primarily be constructed out of aluminum. It will include open face channel  letters, with the name of the hotel, Cambria, in all caps with the exception of the letter ‘i’, which will be in lower case. This is part of the hotel brand.”

“The selected colors, yellow for the text and red and blue stripes throughout, are based on a 1957 color photograph of the sign,” the report continued.

For the next nine months, the issue of the sign was held up at the Landmark Commission while Kirtland’s people, city staff and the lawyers worked out the details together on what could and could not be done with a blade sign on the south face of 1907 Elm Street. Their solution also resulted in the carving out of a sort of sub-district within the Harwood Historic District that would become known as Tract C.

How unusual was that? Since its inception, there have only been two tracts in the district — Tract A, which is the whole district, and Tract B, which is Main Street Garden Park.

Hazard was finally able to walk out of Landmark Commission territory in November and place Kirtland’s Tract C carve-out before the City Plan Commission. Without any discussion, the CPC approved Tract C last week. And that’s how Kirtland got his sign — and after all of that effort, we wouldn’t be surprised if Kirtland reprints the Tract C ordinance on a gold record and frames it.