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Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: Heartbroken at the Stoneleigh

"Heartbreak Hotel" captures a very different bar at the Stoneleigh Hotel and a very different Dallas in 1977.
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The lions and the Stoneleigh. Photography by Leah Clausen

The Stoneleigh Terrace Hotel in 1977 sat across from a pharmacy that had been turned into a bar and grill, the Stoneleigh P, a few years prior. The P seemed to be where the action was, populated by “a real cross-section of humanity,” as “an earnest-looking fellow at the bar” described to a Dallas Morning News reporter around that time. Timothy Leary gave an interview at the P to a young Mike Shropshire. Retired Cowboys legend Duane Thompson sipped coffee with Randy Galloway.

Across the street was a different scene. Stoic, a little strange, sometimes sad. Two stone lions stared out at the 2900 block of Maple Avenue from beside the steps leading to the hotel. KSKY, the “station in the sky,” had broadcast from the penthouse for more than four decades, packing in 25-piece orchestras to record in the 1940s and hosting interviews with Bear Bryant and Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s.

And down on the ground level of the hotel was the Lions Den, the smoky hotel bar where “the really cute people” started filing out around 7 p.m. and left the lovelorn divorcees to their scotch and sodas. The writer A.C. Greene spent weeks drinking alongside these men, then turned it into one of the greatest stories we’ve ever published: “Heartbreak Hotel.”

This is a story about the past, one of those great moment-in-time pieces that captures a different stretch of Maple than the one we have today (not to mention the version that’s coming). Greene was good at that sort of thing; he was a columnist at both the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Morning News, and was unofficially known as “the dean of Texas letters” upon his death in 2002.

And so his snapshot is intimate and full of little details: “The Lions Den is, therefore, the bar at the Stoneleigh; dark interior with funny little red lights that twinkle dimly near the ceiling, so that you are tempted to sit and look at them for hours, speculating whether they are hooked up to some electrical relay that makes them blink, or if they were improperly installed and merely blink from a poor contact.”

The Stoneleigh, which was built in 1923, was purchased by the hotel chain Le Méridien in 2013. Marriott bought Le Meridien in 2016. And so the Lions Den is long gone. The hotel bar still is strangely connected to the lobby, but the space is flooded with light and the little nooks and hiding spots and the regulars have disappeared. It feels like a hotel bar, not like the Lions Den.

Change is coming to this block of Maple. The Stoneleigh P, which burned down in the early 1980s and was rebuilt, will move to the nondescript highway known as Lemmon Avenue after its landlord refused to renew its lease. It will replace a restaurant called Eggcellent. Maple Terrace, a historic location itself, will soon be a collection of expensive boutique office and residential space. Uchi is doing good business down the block, and Nick and Sam’s is seemingly always humming.

Cities change. Maple already looks radically different than it did when Greene was chatting up divorcées, and the departure of the Stoneleigh P will buff away even more history. But those two stone lions out front remain, watching the buildings and people come and go, go and come.

“Heartbreak Hotel” is one of our 50 greatest stories, and you can read it right here.

Author

Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…

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