Although the spotlight has been on new buildings recently, Dallas has a great collection of modern architecture as well. Take a walk through the Statler Hilton, which is currently undergoing renovation to return it to its former glory.
The Statler Hilton is a local preservation success story in the making. Preservation Dallas worked tirelessly to promote redevelopment for the classic building. After years of neglect, they and the National Trust placed the building on the “most endangered places list” in 2008.
A year later they worked with AIA Dallas to stage a design competition that brought much-needed energy and creativity to the building; the winning design wrapped the ground floor in luminous orange.
In 2011, developer Ricchi acquired the property, and now Dallas architects Merriman Associates are working to “capture a look of the past and a feel of the future.
The hotel was built in the early 1950s as a property of the Statler chain, but Hilton purchased Statler midway through construction before it opened in 1956.
With the completion of the new Main Street Garden in downtown Dallas, you can get a good look at the Statler Hilton, a classic of midcentury modern design. It’s the work of William Tabler, a New York-based architect who designed hundreds of locations for the Hilton corporation and redefined the look and feel of the modern urban hotel.
The hotel sits on the south side of the park on Commerce Street, right next to the old Dallas Public Library, another modernist gem designed by Dallas architect George Dahl.
Of course, in the '50s, Tabler was designing the future. The Statler Hilton was all about using new technology and new materials to maximize both efficiency and the experience of luxury.
First, Tabler designed the ground floor around the automobile experience. In this vintage postcard you can see the angled drive that pulls arriving guests off the city street, under the cantilevered boomerang porches, and up to the central front door.
The front façade brought modern curtain wall construction to Dallas. The glass was originally a gleaming checkerboard of blue-green glass windows and enamel panels with sculptural pyramidal panels. The Lever House had just been completed in New York, and it provided inspiration here.
Aluminum tubes run all the way from the bottom to the top of the tower, creating an emphasis on the building’s soaring vertical lines. But these tubes were practical too: They functioned as air risers for the cutting-edge air conditioning system that cooled all 1,001 rooms.
Once you got inside, Tabler’s design emphasized sleek, minimal surfaces in gleaming industrial materials like aluminum with exposed concrete ceilings in the bedrooms. In Miami, Morris Lapidus created extravagant, even outrageous, lobby spaces for hotels like the Fontainbleau and Eden Roc in Miami in the 1950s.
But here in Dallas, the effect was more subdued and restrained while still suggesting modern sophistication. In the public spaces, the staircases created a glamorous promenade from the front door to the ballrooms on the second floor, their handrails curving sensuously as you went upstairs.
Looking back to Tabler’s original scheme, the Statler offers enormous potential to capitalize on Dallas’ rich architectural history. Designs from the 1950s captured a mood of optimism and confidence, a belief that technological innovation held the key to the future. The future of the city depends on our ability to tap into that optimism and remake it for the present.
Want to know more? Annabel Wharton’s Building the Cold War: Hilton International Hotels and Modern Architecture tells the story of Tabler’s relationship with Hilton for nearly 50 years. And docomomo encourages the understanding and preservation of modern buildings around the world.