Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Hotels/Motels/Motor Courts

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

adolphus_terracotta-detail_western-architect_july-1914
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.

adolphus-busch_wikipedia
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

adolphus_terracotta-detail_western-architect_july-1914

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.

The Adolphus Hotel’s “Coffee Room” — 1919


coffee-room_adolphus_tea-and-coffee-trade-journal_march-1919_photo
Jonesing for some java? Belly on up… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

You know who was really, really happy about Prohibition? The coffee, tea, and soft drink industries. In fact, they were absolutely giddy.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the nation’s thousands and thousands of bars when it became illegal in the United States to sell alcoholic beverages? What about all the hotel bars? Apparently many hotels renovated their old bars into something new and novel called a “coffee shop” or a “coffee room.”

The photo above shows what the vested interests of The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal deemed the “coffee room” of the elegant Adolphus Hotel.

coffee-room_adolphus_tea-and-coffee-trade-journal_march-1919Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, March, 1919

Yes, there were coffee urns, but it was actually the Adolphus Lunch Room. Though beverages are not mentioned in the menu seen below, it’s interesting to read what dishes were available to the Adolphus visitor in 1919 (of course the really well-heeled guests were not noshing in a lowly —  though quite attractive — “lunch room”). The most expensive item on the menu is the Adolphus Special Sunday Chicken Dinner for 90¢ (which the Inflation Calculator tells us is the equivalent of about $13.00 today). (Click to see a larger image.)

adolphus_lunch-room_menu_dec-1919
Dec., 1919

And, yes, I believe that is a spittoon at the register.

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I wonder if that “coffee room” later became the Adolphus barbershop (seen below)? Or maybe the barbershop became the coffee room?

adolphus-barber-shop_childers_adolphus-archives

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Sources & Notes

Photo from the article “The Renaissance of Tea and Coffee” from The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal (March, 1919). See other photos and read how Prohibition was spurring on this alcohol-free “renaissance” in the article, here.

Photo of the Adolphus barbershop appeared in the book Historic Dallas Hotels by Sam Childers, credited to the Adolphus Archives.

Many, many historical photos of spittoons can be found in this entertaining collection of the once-ubiquitous cuspidor. …Because when else will I be able to link to something like this?

As a sidenote, the Adolphus Hotel was, of course, built by and named for Adolphus Busch, the co-founder of Anheuser-Busch. Mercifully, the beer magnate died pre-Pro — before Prohibition.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

900 Block of Main, North Side — 1952

AR447-B1201Main Street, 1952… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

This 1952 photo by Squire Haskins shows the north side of Main Street, taken at the intersection with Poydras, looking west to the old Dallas county jail and criminal courts building seen at the far left. The Sanger’s building stands just west of Lamar, and across Lamar is the 900 block of Main, with the legendary E. M. Kahn men’s clothing store (one of Dallas’ first important retail stores, founded in 1872), the Maurice Hotel (in the old North Texas Building, built in the 1890s), and the large Bogan’s grocery store at the northwest corner of Main and Poydras. The old jail and the Records Building (way in the distance) and the Sanger’s building are all that remain. See how this view looks today, here.

There is a flyer for “Porgy and Bess” on the lamppost in front of the Bogan market. “Porgy and Bess” opened the State Fair Summer Musicals series at the State Fair Auditorium (Music Hall) in June, 1952 (see an ad here).

But what about the south side of the 900 block of Main Street? Thankfully, photographer Squire Haskins  not only took the photo above, he also turned to face the other side of the street and snapped companion photos. I posted two of his photos of the south side of Main in a previous post, here. Here’s one of those photos, with Poydras at the left and Lamar on the right:

main-poydras_squire-haskins_uta

A listing of the businesses from the 1953 city directory — there’s a little bit of everything (click to see larger image):

900-block-main_1953-directory

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Sources & Notes

Both photos by Squire Haskins, both from the Squire Haskins Photography, Inc. Collection, University of Texas at Arlington. More info on the top photo can be found here; more on the second photo, here.

More on the south side of Main Street can be found in the Flashback Dallas post “900 Block of Main Street, South Side — 1950s,” here.

All images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Cabana Motor Hotel of Dallas

cabana-motor-hotel_portal_postmarked-1967“Elegant and luxurious…” (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

The Cabaña Motor Hotel is remembered mostly for being where the Beatles stayed when they came to Dallas in 1964 and for being a hotel with high hopes but which fizzled out fairly quickly. …But mostly for being where the Beatles stayed. When the Cabaña opened in 1963 on Stemmons Freeway, it was a big deal. It was swanky and even had a very show-bizzy lounge. Celebrities stayed there. The Beatles stayed there.

cabana-motor-hotel_portal_info

The Dallas Cabaña was actually the third in a proposed chain of hotels, following locations in Atlanta and Palo Alto. It even had some Hollywood star-power attached to it: Doris Day’s then-husband Marty Melcher was an investor in the company (turned out it was Doris’ money, and she wasn’t thrilled that he was investing so much of her money in this chain of hotels).

It was fab for a while — but the high point really was John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Before the ’60s had ended, the place was shuttered and mired in litigation. Melcher had died and left Doris $500,000 in debt. Ownership changed hands several times over the years, and each time, more and more of its original hep luster was lost. The building has never really recovered. For a few years it was a rather bizarre site for a minimum-security jail! In recent months it was announced that it has been acquired by the company that has recently renovated the long-moribund Statler Hilton — so there’s hope! It needs a lot of work, but it might actually turn out to be cool again.

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Sources & Notes

The postcard at the top is from the Texas History Collection, provided by Dallas Heritage Village to the Portal to Texas History, where I found it, here.

I have to admit that I’ve never really been a fan of this building until I saw this postcard. It’s like a Dallas version of a subdued Vegas hotel.

For more history of the Cabaña (…whenever I hear reporters in historic footage pronouncing the “n” in “cabana” with that tilde, it’s a bit jarring…), read the informative article “Lost + Found: Cabana Motor Hotel” by Preservation Dallas Executive Director David Preziosi on the AIA Dallas website, here. It’s got some great photos.

Images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Adolphus By Moonlight

adolphus_night_postcard_postmarked-1914Nighttime in Big D… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

When the beautiful Adolphus Hotel opened in 1912, it was the tallest building in Dallas — in other words, it was the building nearest to the moon.

Remarkably, it, the people, and the horses, looked just the same in the daylight!

adolphus_1910s_postcard
Daytime in Big D…

“Postcard magic” is magic, indeed. It’s all about judicious addition and subtraction.

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Sources & Notes

Both postcards were found lounging in forgotten corners of the internet. The cards were issued before 1914. Both are larger when clicked

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Baker Hotel

baker-hotel_postcardLooking east on Commerce from Akard… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, a postcard view of the stately Baker Hotel, located catty-corner from the Adolphus, at the southeast corner of Commerce and Akard. The parking garage at the right looks like it might be the swanky Nichols Bros. Garage (yes, swanky — see the 1945 ad here). Built in 1925, demolished in 1980. R.I.P.

UPDATE: Check out the great (and sad…) photos by Frank Booth showing the Baker’s implosion in 1980, here. (Thank you, “NotBob”!)

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved

 

50 Years Before Main Street Garden Park

skillerns_statler-hilton_ebayHey, Skillern’s, you’re blocking the view! (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

This view showing a Skillern’s drugstore at the southwest corner of Main and Harwood was taken as the Statler Hilton was nearing its opening in 1956. The block bounded by Main, Harwood, Commerce, and St. Paul was filled with businesses (…and later a parking garage) (…and way before that, homes) has been cleared and is now the lovely Main Street Garden Park. It’s always nice to have green space downtown, but, for me, the absolute best thing about this open space is that it FINALLY allows the beauty of the old (soon-to-be-new again) Statler Hilton, the old Titche-Goettinger building, and the old Municipal Building to be seen as they should have been seen all along: in full view, from a distance, without anything impeding the view. And now … the 360°-view — especially at night — is spectacular! Below, that same block these days, captured in a fantastic photo by my favorite Dallas photographer, Justin Terveen.

statler-hilton_justin-terveenJustin Terveen

As much as I love the mid-century skyline of this city, I have to say, the 21st-century version of this end of downtown — this square — wins.

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Sources & Notes

The top photo appeared a couple of months ago on eBay.

The color photo is by Dallas photographer Justin Terveen, used with permission. See more of Justin’s incredible photos here — the one above and many others are available for purchase. I tend to get stuck in the past, but seeing Justin’s photographs of present-day Dallas make me realize how remarkably modern and vibrant the city is right now.

The same view from Main and Harwood, as seen today on Google, is here.

It always felt a little claustrophobic on Main, Harwood, and Commerce — those buildings needed room to breathe. For years, that block in the middle got in the way of fully appreciating Titche’s (this idealized postcard view shows Main Street at the right, St. Paul at the left), the Statler Hilton, and the Municipal Building (this 1920s photo shows people standing on the steps with a former drugstore occupant — Drake’s — across Harwood; Harwood was especially narrow when the building was originally built in 1914, and, as I recall, many were unhappy that such a majestic building was built in a location where it was impossible to fully appreciate its aesthetic qualities, even after the street was widened several years later).

More on Main Street Garden Park is here and here.

Click pictures to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Adolphus, The Oriental, The Magnolia

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Akard looking north… (click me!!)

by Paula Bosse

This is just great. I’ve never seen this photo, which was taken sometime between 1922 and 1924. Dallas has never looked more … architectural. (Click that photo — it’s worth seeing it bigger.)

The view is looking north on Akard toward Commerce, from some building on or near Jackson Street. The Adolphus Hotel (built in 1912 and still standing) is straight ahead, the shorter Oriental Hotel (1893-1924) is in the middle, and the Pegasus-less Magnolia Petroleum Building (built in 1922 and still standing) towers above both of them.

I don’t think I’ve seen the Oriental from this angle. And I’ve never noticed all those windows in the Magnolia Building that look directly across into other windows. (That must be … strange.) And since I recently posted photos of this same block of S. Akard, I immediately recognized the short building with the odd-shaped cut-out/crest-like decoration in it opposite the Oriental.

Here’s the same view a few years earlier — about 1913, before the Magnolia was built:

adolphus_1913_dpl_via-d-mag-online

I love these photos. And how nice that two of these landmark buildings are still alive and kicking!

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Top photo appeared in the program for the 1977 Texas State Historical Association Annual Meeting of 1977 (held, appropriately enough, in the Baker Hotel, which was built on the corner previously occupied by the Oriental); I found it on the Portal to Texas History site, here. (Dear printers of things like this: please never EVER use brown ink to print photographs. If anyone knows of a cleaner, sharper copy of this great photo, please let me know!)

Second photo is from the Texas/Dallas History Division, Dallas Public Library; I found it posted on the D Magazine site, accompanying the article “How Haunted Is the Adolphus Hotel?” here.

Photos larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Thomas Marsalis’ Spectacular Oak Cliff Hotel: 1890-1945

oak-cliff_cook-coll_degolyer_smu_front“Visit the Oak Cliff…” (click for much larger image) Photo: SMU

by Paula Bosse

I saw this image yesterday while browsing through the George W. Cook Collection (DeGolyer Library, SMU). It’s from about 1890. It’s great. BUT, the other side of this card is even better:

oak-cliff_cook-coll_degolyer_smu_back

I’m not sure how realistic this drawing is, but it’s great! Oak Cliff never looked so … quaint. The best part is the depiction of the little commuter railway that Oak Cliff developer Thomas L. Marsalis built in the 1880s to handle commuter traffic between Oak Cliff and Dallas — a necessity if his development west of the Trinity was to grow. There were two little steam trains which made a complete circle and offered spectacular views of  Dallas as they headed toward the river. Here’s an account of visitors from Kansas City who enjoyed their scenic ride (click to see a larger image):

oak-cliff-train_dmn_112490
Dallas Morning News, Nov. 24, 1890

Marsalis had made his fortune in the grocery business, and much of that fortune was funneled into making his vision a reality: Oak Cliff would become a large, beautiful, prosperous community. He spent huge amounts of money developing the then-separate town of Oak Cliff. A wheeler-dealer and an obsessive whirlwind, money was no object to Marsalis as he charged at full speed to make Oak Cliff a booming North Texas garden spot.

marsalis_legacies_fall-2007
Thomas L. Marsalis — the “Father of Oak Cliff”

The jewel in T. L.’s O.C. crown was the 100-room resort, the Oak Cliff Hotel (which in its early planning had been called the Park Hotel). Ground was broken on Dec. 21, 1889. Projected to cost $75,000, it is said to have cost over $100,000 when construction was completed, or, over $2.6 million in today’s money.

oak-cliff-hotel_dmn_122289_groundbreaking
DMN, Dec. 22,1889

A thorough description of the spectacular $100,000 showplace can be read in a Dallas Morning News article from May 25, 1890, here. When it opened on July 10, 1890, the News’ coverage of the opening included the following lyrical passage:

When darkness had settled down over the cliff the large hotel showed off to its best advantage, as at a short distance away it looked like some living monster with hundreds of fiery eyes. The lights showing from every window made a startling sight to those who coming upon it had previously seen a dark pile looming up in the night.

oak-cliff-hotel_minutaglio

It was, by all accounts, a popular hotel and social gathering place. But, in November of 1891 — having been open only a little over a year — a notice appeared in the papers that the hotel would be closing for the winter for “renovations.” It never reopened. Marsalis had over-extended himself. His dreams for Oak Cliff began to dim as the stacks of unpaid bills mounted, and he found himself mired in lawsuits for the next several years. He eventually had to admit defeat, and he and his family moved to New York.

Six months after that notice of “renovations” appeared, the huge building was leased to Prof. Thomas Edgerton, who planned to open a “female seminary.”

oak-cliff-college_flickr

The Oak Cliff College For Young Ladies opened  in the fall of 1892. And it was a spectacular-looking schoolhouse.

oak-cliff-college_dallas-rediscoverd_dpl

The college lasted until the beginning of 1899 when it changed hands and became Eminence College for a brief year and a half.

eminence-college_southern-mercury_062299
Southern Mercury, June 22, 1899

After Eminence College appears to have gone bust, the building was vacant by 1901. There was talk that Oak Cliff should purchase the property and reinstall a school, but, eventually, the building went up for auction in September, 1903.

oak-cliff-hotel_dmn_082603_for-sale
DMN, Aug. 26, 1903

The building sold to T. S. Miller, Jr. and L. A. Stemmons for $6,850, a fraction of what Marsalis had spent building it. That’s a pretty steep depreciation.

oak-cliff-hotel_dmn_090203_sold
DMN, Sept. 2, 1903

But, no fear, Hotel Cliff opened on April 18, 1904. Still looking good.

hotel-cliff_degolyer

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DMN, July 11, 1904

Hotel Cliff was in business through about 1915. There were some “lost” years in there when it seemed to be in limbo (during some of this time it was undergoing extensive renovation), but in 1921 it re-opened as the Forest Inn.

forest-inn_dmn_042421
DMN, April 24, 1921

forest-inn_bartlett-tribune-and-news_070424
Bartlett News, July 4, 1924

The Forest Inn had a long run — 24 years. In 1945 the property was sold, and T. L. Marsalis’ spectacular resort hotel was demolished. It was estimated that it would take ten weeks to finish the demo job — Marsalis had spared no expense building his hotel, and it had been built to last.

The destruction is a tough job, Jack Haake, wrecking contractor, said. Despite its age, the building is so well built that much time is being required to take it apart. The lumber is of the best grade and much of it still is in good condition, Haake said. Scores of huge 2×6 planks, thirty-two feet long, were used in the building, and that timber is in excellent condition. (“Historic Oak Cliff Hotel Being Razed For New Structure,” DMN, Sept. 10, 1945)

The land apparently remained vacant until Southwestern Bell Telephone announced plans to build a three-story office building on the property in 1954; the building opened the following year. In 1986, the building was renovated and became the Oak Cliff Municipal Center, which still occupies the site.

Where exactly was that huge, wonderful hotel that Thomas Marsalis built? It was located at what is now the southwest corner of East Jefferson Blvd. and South Crawford Street. A view of that corner today can be seen here. To get an idea  of how much land the hotel/college once occupied, check out the 1905 Sanborn map, here (and this is after 15 years of explosive growth of Oak Cliff, so it obviously originally had much more open land around it); by 1922, encroachment was well underway, and the property was already being chopped into smaller parcels.

oak-cliff-hotel_map_google
Google Maps

I wonder what Thomas Marsalis would think of Oak Cliff today? And I wonder what Oak Cliff would have become had Marsalis never put his money and energy into its early development?

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There is a lot of misinformation on various online sources about the timeline of this building. As best I can determine, here is the correct chronology:

  • 1889: groundbreaking for hotel, in December
  • 1890-1891: Oak Cliff Hotel
  • 1892-1899: Oak Cliff College For Young Ladies
  • 1899-1901: Eminence College (also for young women)
  • 1902-1903: vacant
  • 1903: building sold at public auction, in September
  • 1904-1914: Hotel Cliff
  • 1914-1915: Oak Cliff College (reorganized, back for one last gasp)
  • 1915-1920: basically empty, with a couple of token tenants
  • 1921-1945: Forest Inn
  • 1945: demolished

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Sources & Notes

First two images show both of sides of an advertising card; “Visit Oak Cliff” is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University — more information is here.

Photo of Thomas Marsalis from Legacies, Fall, 2007.

Colorized image of hotel from the front cover of The Hidden City: Oak Cliff, Texas by Bill Minutaglio and Holly Williams. The sign is hard to read, but this may show the building during the Hotel Cliff days.

The detail of an Oak Cliff College envelope comes from the Flickr page for the Texas Collection, Baylor University, here. (Sure hope Mr. Edgerton was able to get a refund on that printing job — having “Oak Cliff” misspelled on official college correspondence probably caused a grimace or two!)

Large black and white photograph of Oak Cliff College appeared in William L. McDonald’s Dallas Rediscovered; photo from the collection of the Dallas Public Library.

Hotel Cliff postcard from the Cook Collection, SMU; information is here.

See the beautiful house Marsalis built for himself (but which he might never actually have lived in) in my post “The Marsalis House: One of Oak Cliff’s ‘Most Conspicuous Architectural Landmarks,'” here.

Thomas L. Marsalis is a fascinating character and an important figure in the development of Oak Cliff, but his post-Dallas life has always been something of a mystery. I never really thought of myself as a “research nerd” until I started this blog, but reading how a few people in an online history group pieced together what did happen to him was surprisingly thrilling. This round-robin investigation began in the online Dallas History Phorum message board, here, and finished as the Legacies article “Where Did Thomas L. Marsalis Go?” by James Barnes and Sharon Marsalis (Fall 2007 issue). If you have some time, I highly recommend reading through the Phorum comments and then reading the article. It’s very satisfying!

All images and clippings larger when clicked. 

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Jefferson Hotel and Its “Wireless Telegraph” Rooftop Tower — 1921

jefferson-hotel_1921_UTAThe view from Union Station… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I haven’t seen many photographs showing this striking view of Dallas along Houston Street. This is what visitors saw when they emerged from Union Station after having arrived in the city by train: in the distance, the John Deere Plow Co. Building on Elm, the Dallas Jail and Criminal Courts Building, the Dallas County Courthouse, the Texan Hotel, the Jefferson Hotel, and (mostly out of frame at the right) the very pretty Ferris Plaza.

This photo was taken as one of several coinciding with the formal opening of the Jefferson Hotel’s major new addition (the addition is the taller, lighter-colored half of the hotel) — it was published in the May 8, 1921 edition of The Dallas Morning News in a special Jefferson Hotel section of the paper. I guessed that the the date of the photo was later because of what looks like a radio broadcast tower on the roof. Commercial radio broadcasts were not available in Dallas until June of 1922 when WFAA went on the air (their rooftop towers looked like this). WRR — the municipal broadcasting station — was a little older, but in those early days it was used exclusively for police communication (they appear to have had an aerial on top of the City Hall by at least September of 1921, if not earlier). So what was that tower on the roof?

jefferson-hotel_UTA_tower

It took a while to find out what it was, but … turns out it was, in fact, an antenna. It was part of the “wireless telegraph” equipment owned by the Continental Radio Telegraph Co., which had a Western Union-like office in the hotel’s lobby (the company had to relocate their tower and office from the Southland Hotel, their home for a little over a year before moving to the Jefferson’s roof).

The Continental Radio Telegraph and Telephone Co. began in about 1919. It was one of the first companies in the Southwest to attempt to commercialize the nascent “wireless” technology which allowed the sending and receiving of messages via radio waves. The initial motivation for establishing this new-fangled business appears to have been the inability of those with interests in the remote Texas oilfields to communicate with their workers in areas not served by telephone and telegraph wires. The plan was to build radio towers in these areas to broadcast and receive messages. When a “radiogram” was received and transcribed, a “polite, intelligent boy” would be dispatched to deliver the message to its recipient — all for about the same price as sending a regular telegram. Not only did the company envision the ability to one day communicate with ships, trains, and airplanes that were in transit, they also hoped to develop “wireless telephone” communication.

The Continental Radio Telegraph Company was based in Dallas from at least January of 1920, but they were gone by the time the 1922 city directory was printed — gone just a few short months after planting that aerial on top of the Jefferson Hotel. They seem to have erected only four towers: in Dallas, Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, and (possibly) Breckenridge. Then, as now, technology has a way of racing ahead of somewhat limited business plans.

But at least we have a nice photograph of their rooftop tower as proof that they existed.

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(Click articles to see larger images.)

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Dallas Morning News, Feb. 27, 1920

continental-radio_jefferson-hotel_dmn-042921
April 29, 1921

continental-radio_jefferson-hotel_dmn_073121
“Wirless”! — DMN, July 31, 1921

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Here’s a shot from the same location a few years later; the tower has been replaced by the huge Dr Pepper sign which became something of a city landmark, and the Hotel Lawrence has popped up and is open for business next door.

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Sources & Notes

Top photo is from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, UTA Libraries; more information is here. When the picture ran in the May 8, 1921 edition of The Dallas Morning News, the credit line read “Photo by Raymond.”

Photo with the Dr Pepper sign was purchased at an antique mall/flea market and was uploaded to Tumblr, here.

The tower didn’t last long up on the roof, but that space hosted a gigantic Dr Pepper sign for many years (see here).

The Jefferson Hotel — which opened in October, 1917 — was demolished in 1975.

All images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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