Hospitality construction has returned to Texas with vigor greater than the 1990s. Tower cranes evidence the construction of hotels and multi-residence projects. Yet there is one hotel in Dallas that instead of being demolished to make way for a larger, more modern structure, is being restored.
The new owners of the Stoneleigh, which is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Historic Hotels of America," found themselves so in awe of the history and art deco glamour of the old masterpiece, that they chose renovation. In 2005, the Prescott Realty Group and Apollo Real Estate Advisors, the current owners and developers of the Stoneleigh, announced plans for a $25-million renovation.
"Everyone, even the former owner, told us we should demolish it and build a new hotel," said Judson Pankey, president of the Prescott Realty Group. "We looked at it and knew that it had good bones. Other owners had talked about renovating it since the mid-1980s, but none of those plans had ever come to fruition because there had been no one to sponsor it and see it all the way through."
When the 11-story Stoneleigh Court Hotel first opened in 1923 at the corner of Maple Avenue and Wolf Street near Oak Lawn's Reverchon Park, it was the tallest hotel west of the Mississippi River. It was built for about $1.5 million. The reinforced concrete and steel modern marvel was equipped with its own refrigeration plant, radio equipment and three high-speed elevators. Every suite had electric lights, telephones and a circulating ice water loop. After a renovation in 1935 by new owner Col. Harry E. Stewart, the Stoneleigh became the first hotel to offer air-conditioned guest rooms.
Because the hotel has remained in continuous use since it first opened, its list of famous and beautiful visitors ranges from Jack Benny, Lauren Bacall and Bob Hope in the earlier years to more recent celebrities, LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain. During the 1940s and '50s, the Stoneleigh served as the unofficial headquarters for Dallas Metropolitan Opera members and principals.
Because renovators like to reference original plans whenever possible, Prescott Realty Group located the daughter of the Stoneleigh's architect, Frank J. Woerner. A very prolific architect, Woerner had designed over 1,000 buildings in Dallas during the first half of the 20th century. His daughter knew exactly what had become of the original plans.
"Woerner had drawn the plans on linen with indigo ink and covered them with wax to make them waterproof," Pankey related her story. "At the end of each job, they would take the plans, boil the wax ad ink off, and make them into petticoats and doilies."
The Stoneleigh was the oldest continuously operating hotel in Dallas, but aspects of it were in terrible condition. "We agonized over deciding if we should shut the hotel down or keep it open while renovating it," Pankey explained. "We should have shut it down immediately and started work. We lost a lot of time agonizing over this point."
Sprinklers had been added during the 1990s to bring the building into code, but that turned out to be the only MEP (mechanical, electric, plumbing) legacy system that could be salvaged, according to Pankey. "We analyzed it for a year and ultimately decided to install all new service and plumbing. We kept the ceiling height and ran the utilities above the hallways."
Because it is a historic hotel, everything has to be reviewed by the state Historic Commission. Truett Roberts with TKTR Architects is serving as the historical consultant.
One interesting find will be kept for display, an interesting conversation piece. "We have saved the 1923 Westinghouse switchgears for the elevator and main breaker," Pankey added. "We are getting those restored. They're special."
As contractors gutted the old systems, they found that the original concrete contractors had left the pans in place after each floor was poured. "Our contractors selectively removed badly damaged parts of these pans where they were rusted and hanging down, but otherwise left them in place," Pankey explained.
All the windows are being reworked. Broken terra cotta elements in the lower exterior band will be matched and replaced as will weathered and missing bricks and roof tiles.
The crews were surprised that the original plaster was still in fairly good condition, so they are restoring it.
The crews have saved many of the historic elements that add to the building's uniqueness. A restoration specialist has begun taking fiberglass molds to replicate areas of the crown molding for use as a decorative element in the new restaurant.
"We had to select a period in the hotel's history as a design objective — the original 1923 construction or the 1935 renovation with its Dorothy Draper decorating design," Pankey explained. "We chose the 1935 design and are calling it art deco with a contemporary twist." In fact, the Dorothy Draper Co. of New York is a member of the interior design team along with Forrest Perkins and the Plan B Group, both of Dallas.
There will also be new construction under the name of Stoneleigh. General contractor, Turner Construction, began work early this year on the Tower Residences at the Stoneleigh Hotel, a 22-story luxury condominium tower adjacent to the hotel. Standard condo prices will range from $470,000 to $2.6 million.
The architect on the project is also Dallas-based Gromatzky Dupree & Associates. The brick and stone exterior of the Tower Residences will complement the 84-year-old hotel. Both an underground tunnel and a courtyard will connect the condo high-rise to the hotel, providing access to the hotel's amenities for the condo residents. Completion is planned for spring 2008.