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Aristocrat Hotel Pen & Ink


Beautifully restored to its original Sullivanesque style, the Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas anchors the east end of the Central Business District as the tallest historic structure in the immediate eastern area. It is located on the northwest corner of Main and Harwood Streets, with its main facade facing east toward Harwood.

The Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas (Hilton Hotel} was built in 1925 for Conrad Hilton who operated one of the two earliest hotel chains in the state. Hilton went on to become the world's foremost hotel operator, but this building was his first highrise hotel in Texas and the first to bear the Hilton name. The Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas has operated continuously a hotel since its opening and its construction marked a turning point in Conrad Hilton's long and illustrious career .

In 1923, Hilton began thinking about building a new hotel and was well known throughout Texas hotel circles. He had already bought and sold the Mobley in Cisco and had been recognized in a publication identifying prominent Texans as owner of one of the two earliest hotel chains in the state. Hilton's chain was composed of a handful of hotels, at moderate prices well under $100,000. All were somewhat shabby "dowagers", as he affectionately called them, and they were, at most, medium-rise in scale. Each also had required considerable rehabilitation and upgrading.

Hilton's concept for a new hotel in Dallas, in contrast, marked a sharp departure from the "dowager" circuit. It was to be a new, highrise hotel whose profile would stand conspicuously on the Dallas skyline, whose cost of over $1,000,000 was substantially greater than anything he had yet undertaken, and whose architectural design would contribute to a city already renowned in the South for its architectural distinction. In addition, it was to be a hotel that would offer an alternative in Dallas to the luxurious Adolphus and the "dowager" circuit. This formula would generally define his Texas highrises; his preference for large, architecturally pretentious hotels, however, would transcend his Texas chain and last a lifetime throughout the world.

For the building site, Hilton chose a prime location near the theater district and major
financial business houses in downtown Dallas, on the northwest corner of Main and Harwood Streets. The site was then occupied by a two-story masonry building and was owned by George W. Loudermilk, former undertaker and wealthy real estate investor. Hilton broke ground for what would become the first hotel in his Texas highrise chain on July 25, 1924.

Hilton retained the prominent architectural firm of Lang and Witchell of Dallas as designers for the new hotel. Lang and Witchell was one of the two most respected firms in Dallas during the early part of the 20th century. They designed the Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas as a 14 story reinforced concrete and masonry structure in a simplified Sullivanesque style with symmetrical facades and Beaux Arts influence in its detailing. Its horseshoe plan is similar to that of the Magnolia Building and features two massive towers projecting toward Harwood Street which form an open court. Capped with flat roofs and parapet, the Towers are prominently tied together on the main (Harwood) facade with a frontispiece entrance at street level and an elaborate bridge at the l0th level. The ornate detailing, intact and in excellent condition, recalls Beaux Arts ad classical detailing and is executed largely in terra cotta stone and granite; cast and wrought iron also occur. Belt courses divide the building into four sections-a basecourse, shaft, cornice and attic story.

These four sections could be said to represent the concept of a tall building in the form of a classical Corinthian column-a very simplified Sullivanesque style which the firm of Lang and Witchell pioneered in Dallas. The Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas is a simplified version of the Corinthian column (or perhaps a divided column}. The first three stories correspond to the base of the column, the next seven to its shaft, with the top four floors corresponding to the capital by exhibiting terra cotta moldings and cornices.

Completed in just over a year for a total cost of $1,360,000, the Dallas Hilton was Hilton's second most costly Texas highrise. The hotel officially opened on Thursday, August 6, 1925 with fanfare and publicity later compared to that generated only by Hollywood premieres. The Dallas Hilton, more than any other single Texas hotel provided Hilton a multi-faceted and rigorous apprenticeship in hotel management, marketing, advertising, finance and publicity. It allowed him to significantly refine old ideas and graft them onto new practices which together would grow to characterize his Texas highrise chain. As that chain grew, the hotel in many ways served as flagship for the newcomers.

Hilton's first highrise taught him lasting lessons such as the necessity of private baths
throughout and air conditioning in Texas; it demonstrated the importance of food quality and its effect as a passive advertising mechanism. The competition of the prestigious Adolphus and Baker, built the same year and located just blocks away, compelled Hilton to formulate strategy for attracting clientele in a city that appeared not to need more hotel rooms. He targeted a new, heretofore ineffectively-served market, "The Average Man", as the newspaper loudly proclaimed, to whom a moderately priced, modern hotel of handsome design would appeal in a city where
the alternatives were luxury or "dowagers". His market, composed of the traveling salesman and family vacationer, was a fertile one.

The Dallas hotel gave rise to other practices which both demonstrate Hilton's business savvy and later merged as patterns for his Texas chain. He maximized all available space in the public areas of the hotel for an assortment of vending services. The presence of the druggist, men's shop, barber shop, valet service, beauty shop, coffee shop, tailor, cigar/newsstand, telegraph office, dining room and others dovetailed with Hilton's emphasis on service while the rents those services paid supplemented the finances of the operation. Not wanting to tie up capital in land ownership, Hilton introduced the idea of a 99-year land lease with the Dallas Hilton. The concept was well known in the East in 1925, but it was new to Texas commerce circles. It, too, was an arrangement that he would use with some frequency in his Texas chain. The Dallas Hilton, furthermore, established Hilton's reputation among Texas investors as a good risk for venture capital. The hotel was one of his most difficult to finance, but its success paved the way to receptive, if not eager, investors for later Texas hotels.

The impact of the Great Depression on Hilton was debilitating. He lost four hotels and saved five, one of which was the Dallas Hilton. By 1937, the impact of the Depression was just beginning to lessen and Hilton began looking toward new vistas. His move to California and purchase of a hotel there launched the beginning of a new phase of his career. In 1938, he relinquished the operating lease of the Dallas Hilton. George Loudermilk, the owner, contracted with another well known hotel operator in Texas, A. C. "Jack" White, in July of 1938 to run the hotel.

White changed the name of the hotel to the White Plaza, a name it would bear for the next 35 years. He also undertook improvements totaling $150,000, including improvements to the air conditioning system. The White-PIaza Hotel Company operated the hotel for 23 years, until 1961. Loudermilk resided there from the time the hotel opened until his death in 1953.

Loudermilk's estate sold the hotel in 1961 to Earlee Hotels, a Texas chain, but the hotel continued to bear the name White Plaza until 1974. During these years, observers say, the hotel began to deteriorate physically and decline in popularity. In November of 1977, Opal Sebastian, real estate investor, purchased the building. She changed the name to the Plaza. All floors above the fourth level had been closed for an unknown period of time, and all rooms were in poor condition. Sebastian reopened the floors one at a time as they were rehabilitated . In 1980, it was cited in a preservation planning report by Ellen Beasley as having potential as a national and city landmark.

Opal Sebastian sold the hotel on February 15, 1985, to the Dallas Plaza Partners of
California, made up of Hotel Equity Management and Blackmond, Garlock and Flynn real estate merchant banker of San Francisco. The Dallas Plaza Partners contracted with Corgan Architects Associates to restore the hotel and Jerry O'Hara to renovate the interior, a ten month project. In December, 1985, The Dallas Plaza Hotel was sanctioned a Dallas Landmark and opened its doors to the public, once again, as a beautiful, active part of the Dallas Central Business District.

The Hotel is now enjoying public recognition as the Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas and it proudly displays its National Register of Historic Places, the City of Dallas Landmark and the prestigious Texas Historical Marker .

Aristocrat Hotel Dallas, Texas

1933 Main Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
Tel: (214) 741-7700
Fax: (214) 939-3639

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