The words “Dallas Room” could barely be seen on the doors at the bottom of the dusty flight of stairs. There was a fuzzy residue growing on the door frame. Noah Jeppson peered into the darkness beyond the doors, shook his head, and led the group in a different direction, to a recently uncovered 1956 mural painted by Jack Lubin. Though Jeppson, an environmental freelance graphic designer and member of the Dallas Landmark Commission CBD/West End Task Force, was adventurous, there were still spaces in the Statler Hilton Hotel he wasn’t willing to explore.
Jeppson conducted the tour in May for the Ricchi Group, which bought the Statler a year ago. Only current downtown residents could sign up. They got the first look at a finished model apartment on the fourth floor. Along the way, they discovered a mismatch of eras.
The Statler opened in 1956 and boasted many firsts: TVs in all 1,001 rooms, elevator music, and even a heliport on the roof. It hosted Elvis and became famous for being the place where Tina Turner left Ike. The Dallas Central Public Library, designed by George Dahl and built in 1955, sits next to the Statler. For years, the two buildings were the kings of downtown. But then they were shut down, sealed off, and left to rot (the library in 1982, the Statler in 2001).
Ricky Reeves, a professor at Brookhaven College and clarinetist in the Dallas Wind Symphony, has lived in an apartment near the Dallas Farmers Market for nine years. He was seeing the Statler for the first time. “The funny thing is, I grew up here,” he said. “I spent many days and hours in the library, but I never, ever came to the Statler.” The construction crew had knocked down the walls on the Statler’s main floor. Reeves stood at the Commerce Street end of the Statler and looked all the way through to the library’s back wall, which faces Harwood Street. He made his way to the brick archway bridging the two buildings. Stepping over the threshold, he was greeted by a strong stench of mildew. (The roof leaked for years.) He walked to the bookshelves and turned around. That’s when he saw it. “I remember these stairs,” he said of the stairwell that once led readers to the history section. “I remember that quite well, but I couldn’t tell you what was here. Obviously books, but, wow, that’s been many years.”
Jeppson then led the tour to an elevator that transported the group from the damp-smelling first floor to the lavender Fabuloso-fragranced fourth floor, which houses the fully renovated apartment—which, oddly, looked like any other unit in any other recently built apartment complex. The fridge was stocked with cans of Coke and bottled water. The AC blew cold air. The tub, the closets, the light fixtures—it was all so very ordinary. Even the 8-foot-6-inch ceilings (low by today’s standards, a worry for some) looked normal. The two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,000-square-foot unit with views of Main Street Garden had porcelain tile floors, quartz countertops, and optional carpeting. It was perfect, except that it was housed in a building years away from being habitable.
The group was reminded of this fact as it took the silent elevator down, and the mildew, dust, and dark hallways reappeared. It has taken a year to get the Statler to this point. It’ll take another year to actually get it clean. And then the real work will begin.