A Brief History of Dallas’ Ambassador Hotel

On Monday, May 27, 2019, a Dallas Landmark, widely known as the Ambassador Hotel, burned nearly to the ground. The structure’s remaining walls were bulldozed Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

The Ambassador Hotel has a rich history. It was not, however, first known as the Ambassador Hotel.

An early postcard showing the Majestic Hotel.

The land on which the Ambassador Hotel sat was actually acquired in 1903 by the Majestic Apartment Building Company. C.H. Alexander, who sold the lot to the company, loaned the company $60,000 secured by the lot and an additional $17,500 to construct the building.[1] At some point, the idea purpose of the company switched from residential apartments to a hotel.

On October 26, 1905, Thomas Narcross, M.P. Exline, and Lewis M. Dabney filed a corporate charter showing $20,000 in capital stock for the Majestic Hotel Company, for the purpose of “maintenance of a hotel and steam laundry.”[2]

Lewis Meriwether Dabney, from his personal memoirs.

Marcus Page Exline was the founder of M.P. Exline Printing in Dallas and later had what was then a segregated park named in his honor.[3] Lewis M. Dabney appears to have been “Judge” Lewis Meriwether Dabney, Sr., although it is unclear that Dabney ever actually served on the bench. As an attorney, he represented the Central Bithlithic Company, which actually suspended its work across the state for his funeral in 1923.[4] Dabney, interestingly, played a role in the selection of the University of Texas’ school colors of orange and white.[5]

Thomas Narcrosse hired Dallas architect Earl Henry Silven to design the Majestic Hotel.[6]

Silven later served during World War I, first assigned to Naval Aviation, he was later reassigned to be a draftsman.[7]  Little else is known of Silven. A person of the same name is connected with criminal matters and the Ku Klux Klan in Dallas at the time, according to the archives of the Dallas  Morning News, but it is unknown if they are the same E.H. or Earl Henry Silven.

Silven was already well-known as an architect by the time he took on the Majestic job. Farm and Ranch magazine published a series of his designs for “practical southern homes,” for a two year period beginning in 1901. The homes were built around the country. Silven sold the plans direct to the public through the magazine.  Two still stand in Dallas at 2902 Swiss Avenue and 2906 Swiss Avenue.[8]

One of Silven’s home designs from Farm and Ranch magazine.

Contractor Alex Watson was hired to construct the building. Stonemason Theodore Beilharz, the Vilbig Brothers, and M.H. Peterman were all involved in the hotel’s construction. Their varied building affiliations run from the old Dallas City Hall to the Neiman Marcus store downtown.[9]

The hotel opened its doors in 1905. Three presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson stayed at the hotel. Sarah Bernhardt stayed in the hotel while performing in Dallas.[10]

The annual Idlewild Club Ball, the social event of the Dallas season, was held in the hotel’s ballroom November 18, 1905.

The hotel went in to receivership in 1906. The bank hired Samuel McIlhenny, former manager of the Oriental Hotel in Dallas and the Driskoll in Austin, to manage the hotel.

The Park Hotel after Boedecker’s restorations.

F.W. Boedecker, president of Boedecker Manufacturing, purchased it in 1907 and changed the name to the Park Hotel.

The front façade of the building was altered during this period.

A framed photo of Electra Waggoner Wharton. | Portal To Texas History

Electra Waggoner Wharton, a daughter of the storied Waggoner family of Waggoner Ranch fame, bought the hotel about 1910. When she divorced her husband, A.B. Wharton in 1921, he got the hotel. He spent $50,000 on interior renovations in 1921.[11]

In 1932, the hotel was sold to the Ambassador Corporation, giving the hotel the name it is known by today.[12]

At this time, further interior and exterior renovations were undertaken. It was a popular hotel for celebrities in town for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936.[13]

Col. C.R. Tips, a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging and a consultant on housing for the elderly for the U.S. Department of Defense, acquired the hotel in 1954 and set about making it a retirement hotel. It remained a residential hotel until 1965, when it became a retirement hotel. [14]

In 1981, the hotel was listed for sale. Sandrudin Alani purchased the hotel to restore it.[15]

It was declared a historical landmark for the city of Dallas, but fell in to disrepair in the 1980s and 1990s. Dallas Real Estate Broker and investor Jim Lake purchased the hotel in the 2010s, and it was undergoing renovation when it was destroyed by fire.

Postcard of the hotel as the Ambassador Hotel.

NOTES

[1] Landmark Survey Task Force, City of Dallas. “Ambassador Hotel City of Dallas Designation Report,”May 4, 1982, Dallas, Texas.

[2] “Charters Filed At Austin,” The Dallas Morning News, October 22, 1905.

[3] Repko, Melissa. “Segregated parks gone, but they still divide,” Dallas Morning News, Feb. 15, 2016. http://interactives.dallasnews.com/2016/segregated-parks/

[4] “Haskell Avenue Opened When Paving is Complete,” Dallas Morning News, July 14, 1923, p. 9

[5] “‘Old Timers’ Recall Early Days at The University of Texas; How Varsity’s Colors Were Selected,” Austin Statesman, May 13, 1923, p. 2.

[6] Landmark Survey Task Force, City of Dallas. “Ambassador Hotel City of Dallas Designation Report,”May 4, 1982, Dallas, Texas.

[7] History of Texas World War Heroes – World War, 1914-1918.  Army & Navy History Company, 1919, p. 157.

[8] Culbertson, Margaret. “Mail-Order Mansions,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 4, Number 2, Fall, 1992, p. 13.

[9] Landmark Survey Task Force, City of Dallas. “Ambassador Hotel City of Dallas Designation Report,”May 4, 1982, Dallas, Texas.

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] ibid

 

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Vince Leibowitz

Publisher & Editor at Contemporary Texas History
Vince Leibowitz is a journalist, author, and historian. He is the Publisher and Editor of Contemporary Texas History.

He lives in Colorado County, Texas with his two dogs, Lyndon "Puppy" and Senfronia.

He serves on the Colorado County Historical Commission and as Managing Editor of The Colorado County Citizen.

He recently secured a Texas Historical Marker for Etta Moten Barnett. the first black woman to sing solo in the White House. In April, 2019, he was named South Texas Press Association Journalist of the Year for Division I.
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