Dallas in “The Western Architect,” 1914: The Adolphus Hotel

by Paula Bosse

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Behold… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

My look at buildings and houses featured in the 1914 issue of The Western Architect continues — today: the Adolphus Hotel.

In June, 1910 it was announced that St. Louis beer magnate Adolphus Busch would buy the land beneath the then-current city hall at Commerce and Akard for $250,000 in order to build a 20-story, one-million-dollar hotel. The City of Dallas — who owned the land — was all for it, even though their city offices, the police department, and a firehouse were currently occupying the site. Talk about clout. (Money talks, and the amount that Mr. Busch was about to sink into Dallas was equivalent in today’s money to about 34 million dollars. Desks were being cleaned out before the ink was dry on the check.) It was agreed that the city would quickly establish a temporary city hall (on Commerce, opposite the YMCA), find new quarters for the police department, and relocate the No. 4 Engine Company. The old city hall was demolished in October, 1910, and the city scrambled to come up with plans for a new city hall.

This new hotel — when completed, Dallas’ tallest building — was built catty-corner to another Busch-owned hotel, the swanky Oriental Hotel (in later years the site of the Baker Hotel). During the early days of construction, this new million-dollar building was referred to as “the New Oriental,” but it was ultimately decided to call it “The Adolphus” (ostensibly by a groundswell of the grateful people of Dallas, in a newspaper contest). When informed of the city’s desire that this great new hotel be named after himself, Busch responded thusly in a telegram to the Dallas Chamber of Commerce:

If all those interested in the new hotel and the good people of Dallas desire to name the great hostelry now being erected “The Adolphus” I shall cheerfully acquiesce and be proud of it. I sincerely and earnestly hope that this new palace will be a source of pride and pleasure to all concerned and may be another step in the movement for a greater Dallas. Very sincerely, Adolphus Busch. (Dallas Morning News, March 10, 1911)

Excavation of the site (by Vilbig Bros.) began in January, 1911 and took 4 months.

adolphus_excavation_dmn_052111The old Oriental watches over the “New Oriental,” DMN, May 21, 1911

The rest of the construction of what The News described as “the tallest hotel building in the world” went smoothly, except for one hitch: the dreaded prospect of Prohibition in Dallas. All work was halted in July, 1911 by the powers-that-be in the Busch camp. After recent Texas elections, it seemed a very real possibility that Dallas would go for the “local option” and put laws into place severely restricting, if not downright banning, the sale of alcohol. The Busch representative issued a lengthy statement on why they could not go ahead with the project if that were to happen — not because the money was coming from a man with massive brewery holdings, he said, but because such a prospect would be death to a major hotel: out-of-town visitors accustomed to imbibing would avoid Dallas like the plague. (Read the very strong — though likely disingenuous — statement, here.)

But something happened between that “we absolutely will not build here if Prohibition is on the horizon” proclamation made on July 30, and August 1 when work was resumed. All that was said in news accounts was that the Busch representative was swayed by stockholders, local businessmen, and concerned citizens who urged the completion of the hotel (which was already up to seven stories high when worked had been stopped). This all sounds odd — like some sort of power-play or shake-down, but whatever it was, work resumed, and the hotel opened to a rapturous welcome in October, 1912.

…And Prohibition did come to Dallas — it went into effect in November, 1913, one year after the hotel opened and just seven-and-a-half weeks after Adolphus Busch had died while on vacation in Germany. RIP, Adolphus. Your beautiful, no-expense-spared hotel continues to be, as you had hoped, “a source of pride and pleasure” for the city of Dallas.

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Adolphus Busch, via Wikipedia

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All of that is a bit of a lengthy prologue to the article about the Adolphus which appeared in the 1914 issue of The Western Architect. The photos from the article are below; the text is here (it is, incidentally, the same text provided by the Busch company to local newspapers when the hotel opened). (All photos are larger when clicked.)

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THE ADOLPHUS HOTEL, northwest corner Commerce and Akard, designed by Tom Barnett of Barnett, Haynes & Barnett of St. Louis.

adolphus_western-architect_july-1914

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adolphus_entrance-detail_western-architect_july-1914Akard Street entrance (those lamps!)

adolphus_ladies-tea-room_western-architect_july-1914Ladies’ tea room

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Next: a hotel, a theater, clubhouses, and a school.

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Sources & Notes

The Western Architect, A National Journal of Architecture and Allied Arts, Published Monthly, July, 1914. This issue, with text and critical analysis in addition to the large number of photographs, has been scanned in it entirety by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as part of its Brittle Books Program — it can be accessed in a PDF, here (the Dallas issue begins on page 195 of the PDF). Thank you, UIUC!

Adolphus Busch never saw the Adolphus Hotel or the Busch Building (later renamed the Kirby Building) in person — in fact, he visited Dallas only once, in 1892, when he arrived to check out his new endeavor, the Oriental Hotel. Read an interview with him published during his Dallas stay (DMN, Dec. 1, 1892), here. (One of the questions he is asked is “Can beer be brewed successfully in the south?” To which Busch responds, “A kind of beer can be made here, but not good beer.” Something about the yeast….)

In this 7-part series:


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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.