IN THE NEWS: Dallas Hilton Named in National Trust's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places List

With Place on National Trust's Endangered List, Dallas' Statler Hilton Isn't Going Anywhere

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

By DAVID FLICK / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas' Statler Hilton Hotel has achieved some national visibility that supporters hope will keep the historic building from becoming history.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation will publicly announce today that the 52-year-old downtown structure has been included on its 2008 list of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places." The hotel's survival is already considered the top priority of local preservationists.

The inclusion on the national list not only raises the stakes in the preservation battle but is further evidence of the emerging importance of midcentury-modern architecture, a style that even its strongest supporters acknowledge is often a tough sell. "The Statler Hilton Hotel is a reminder that landmarks of modernism and the recent past play an important role in telling the story of the 20th Century," Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a prepared statement announcing the list. "It would be tragic to lose places that were designed and built during our own lifetime."

When it opened in 1956, the 1,001-room hotel was considered state of the art, with individual room air conditioning, a rooftop pool and elevator music. Guests including Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liberace added to the glitter. Later renamed the Dallas Grand Hotel, it fell behind the times and was closed this decade. Since then, there have been periodic announcements of plans to reopen it either as a hotel or condos, but all deals have fallen through.

A spokesman for the current owners, Hampshire International Limited, said publicity surrounding its "most endangered" status may not help. "Anytime something like this happens, it puts more restrictions on the ability of the owners to sell it," said Tom Keen, an attorney for the company, which is a subsidiary of a publicly held fund based in China. "It's probably harmful." Mr. Keen said the building is under contract with a prospective buyer, but he declined to give details. He said if the owners are unable to sell the property, they may reopen it as a hotel. Katherine Seale, director of Preservation Dallas, said the building's rehabilitation has been hampered by a number of structural problems and by the lack of adequate parking.

A city park planned across the street is designed to include underground parking on its eastern end. Ms. Seale, whose organization included the Statler Hilton on its local most-endangered list in February, said the higher visibility might attract a white knight. "It's such an enormous project that a lot of the local guys are deterred by it," she said. "We hope that with the national attention, we can get someone from outside the area to show interest."

Daniel Carey, who heads the National Trust's regional office in Fort Worth, said the national list was highly competitive, with 10 times as many nominations as there are places on the list. Although the Statler Hilton is not the first midcentury building to make the national list, that style has only recently attracted the respect of preservationists. "Each generation that comes along appreciates things that began appearing early in their life," Mr. Carey said.