Dallas Statler Hilton

On Saturday, April 27, the North Texas chapter of Docomomo US (Docomomo US NTX) and Preservation Dallas conducted two tours of the historic Statler Hilton Hotel and the adjacent Dallas Public Library, both located in downtown Dallas. Over 100 modern enthusiasts joined the tours, which included the public areas of both buildings as well as the room floors of the hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Statler Hilton, designed by New York architect William Tabler, opened in 1956 to great acclaim, with positive reviews and coverage by leading professional journals, including Architectural Forum and Architectural Record. The Y-shaped room tower (designed to optimize light and views to all 1001 rooms) included a number of innovative features, most notably a curtain wall of blue-green porcelain panels and clear glass in aluminum frames supported by a cantilevered flat-slab design, for an unusually light and elegant appearance.

 

 

 

The Dallas Public Library, designed by Dallas architect George Dahl (perhaps best known as the master architect of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition at Fair Park), opened in 1953, replacing a 1901 Carnegie library on the same site. The new three-story facility - a simple composition of rectangular forms of marble and aluminum - featured a soaring reading room day-lit from above by an east-facing clerestory, a 250-seat auditorium, and a roof garden. A 10 x 24 gilded metal screen by Harry Bertoia hung above the circulation desk, noticeably similar to the larger screen by the same artist in the 1954 Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust building in New York.

 

The very occurrence of these tours is a happy event, as the future of both buildings has been highly uncertain in recent years. In 2003, the author of this article wrote an unhappier article for the Docomomo US newsletter, which included the following ominous statements:

Currently two significant landmarks of mid-century modern, both located in the city of Dallas Harwood Street Historic District, are under threat of demolition if new plans for a park in the area are realized.

...a privately funded planning effort for the revitalization of downtown has recently recommended construction of Commerce Gardens, a new two-block park, one block of which would occupy the current site of both buildings.

 
 
 
 
Fortunately, in the intervening ten years, the plans for Commerce Gardens (now called Main Street Gardens and one of three new, highly popular, downtown parks) were re-conceived, allowing both the Statler Hilton and the library to escape demolition. Both buildings were sold by their previous owners to Ricchi Dallas Investments, who have indicated a clear intent to preserve the buildings and have conducted careful removal of several layers of unfortunate interior renovations, returning the interior of the building back to its original “bones” and uncovering a forgotten mural by New York artist Jack Lubin. Ricchi has also been very generous about opening the buildings to tours and has taken care to prevent further damage to the buildings by neglect.
 
 
 
That said, specific plans for the revitalization of the Statler Hilton and the Dallas Public Library remain unclear as Ricchi Dallas Investments has not publicly or definitively declared what they believe the future of the buildings is, although studies have been undertaken for conversion of the hotel to residential use (including construction of one model apartment), renewed life as a uber-hip hotel, or some combination of both. There have also been ongoing rumors of a possible sale of the properties to another developer with a proven track record of successfully and sensitively re-developing large, challenging historic properties.
 
What does seem clear, however, is that the threat of demolition is now off the table and that both of these significant buildings will remain a part of Dallas’ future, as well as a part of its recent past.
 

 

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