LA DOLCE LIGURIA

LA DOLCE LIGURIA

In the oft-beaten trail of V.I.P. Italy, our transcendent traveling reporter Gordon Kendall winds his way into the most authentic  parts of the country that visitors seldom explore.

  Our little car, resembling nothing more than a collection of suitcases on wheels, crept mid-morning into the empty village of Casanova Lerrone, located in the province of Savona in the northern Italian region of Liguria, about 50 miles southwest of Genoa. If it were to have eyes, the coupé would have been casting bold glances around its church square and few shops wondering, as were we, “Where was everyone? Were we in the right 18th-century Italian hamlet?” ITALY THIS MORNING In the Ligurian countryside, there were quite a few paths from which to choose, or, as we feared,  inadvertently wind up on, leading us way off course. Like all “visitors”, we did not want to do anything wrong. Yet, even with no one to be found in the streets, in any of the forlorn appearing shops, and the darkened businesses seemingly abandoned, we had that feeling of being watched. Bashful, we and our little car, stopped at a signpost full of markers, like a multi-fingered hand, with each blue digit route marker pointing its own way and distance. Keep Going, it seemed to whisper.     Don’t Yet Turn, it beckoned.   Then, a text came through the mapping on our phones, jolting us forward into action. We sauntered out of the village and made our way up the hillside of curves and turns, climbing higher and higher into the mountains until we reached what appeared to be the ultimate dead end: a garage door with 13 ominously painted upon it. Nothing more than a pebbled path ran alongside it. We stopped again.   Make Sharp Turn Right, the screen screamed.   Cautiously, we inched forward and saw the road actually continued going higher toward the clouds. Both car and passengers took deep breaths and held our sides in, then maneuvered a hairpin turn in the truest sense of the word.   Watch Out For Goats, we learned on our own from observing.   As if on cue, a few goats soon meandered in front of us after we cautiously passed another turn. We paused as they moseyed and munched their way along, soon joined by the rest of their goat gang and herders, human and canine. Clearly, we were the visitors in this crew’s estimations―time and goat wait for no one.   Then, as with all journeys, we were there. But where, what precisely was our destination?   Our friends, who had been tracking our progress, had already opened the gates to Villa Barca as a welcome. Across the gravel drive, an orange stucco house built successively over several centuries, with multi-level gardens and sweeping terraces and patios awaited us. On a table, binoculars and its owner’s cell phone confirmed: we were, indeed, being watched; our automotive hesitancies as we made our way was the lunchtime entertainment. Away from the hurly-burly of corporate life, and, yes, the deadlines that follow every writer, to what would be our home for the next two weeks.   And so we were to find and fall in love with the rhythm of what I’m sure some marketer would term as the villa lifestyle. For us, it was a respite to do absolutely nothing at all if we wanted  to.  Our hosts had retired from owning a popular and highly successful bed-and-breakfast in a prominent r Northeastern resort town. They, then opened Villa Barca their Italian venture, on something of a referral-only basis to  truly just friends and family gleaned from their previous venture.

VILLA WAKE-UP CALL

 

Each day began with not one, but two roosters in chorus. Perhaps the younger of the two was first, then echoed minutes later by one likely of a certain age, proclaiming his was still the valley’s morning call to wake. Maybe we’d follow their twin advice to face the day with them. Well, perhaps tomorrow. What followed after a light breakfast was the difficult choices of whether to soak up the sun on the terrace, or venture to the beaches thirty minutes away in Alassio or Cervo. Maybe even help in the many gardens the owners planted to make the villa as sustainable as possible and save a trip back down the hillside to the not-nearby grocery store?  We opted to view the agricultural activity from a potting shed, turned into a breeze-cooled sitting room. The only thing we absolutely were  not to do was disturb the ghost of a prior owner whose remains and impressive marble bust resided in the villa’s very own chapel. Yes, we could handle that.

 

Affable dogs, both world travelers in their own right, one being rescued from a stray pack on the island of La Reunion, were our only distractions when reading the pile of books we had lugged across the globe. The dogs were just as likely to join us under our chairs in the potting shed to cool off. The villa cat, who greeted us upon arrival, slept outside our door, keeping her own company,  never really venturing too far from the center courtyard of the villa. She and we knew that doing nothing never felt so good.

 

Nothing except eat. Would a trip to Italy be complete without food? When we roused ourselves from watching lettuce grow…and the odd thousands of tomatoes…, or finally finished that book, we ventured to the towns of Albenga and Allasio. It was deep in the heart of  old town, the center of Albenga where we stumbled onto the treehouse-like restaurant of La Cantina di Re Carciofo. Technically, this is a small plates establishment, but, what small plates. Prosciutto, rich local cheeses of every description and the truffles, the kind you can smell two tables away, were so earthy fresh. Then, there’s the saber. In one fell stroke, the saber decapitates the bottle of prosecco, cleanly, with nary a drop spilled in a movie-worthy scene. Then the saber is put under lock and key…just in case you’d like to try it for yourself. Every bottle of prosecco is opened by not a server, but by the patron himself with elaborate twists of the wrists and tentative cork pops.. That same proprietor wields as well an industrial-sized pipette to extract the last of the locally-made gigantic size bottles of grappa.

 

An ideal day in Liguria perhaps would begin with a trip to the beach and a chaise in a bagni (beach club), complete with sumptuous towels, changing rooms, and showers. If you want to go to the beach, it may be the only option to pay the fees charged by these many places that dot the boardwalks. The public beaches, when you can find them, seem no bigger that the few beach towels that inevitably will already be there.

 

EATILY FOR A REASON

 

You’re doing something wrong in Italy if you don’t eat well. One place we found to eat and rest with our newly acquired sun tans was Clapsy, a casual dining experience on the Alassio coast. But don’t think too casual. Change into something smart at your bagni, if you want to join the crowd. Then dine on the perfect pulpo con patatei and tonno.

 

If it is to be a big evening, perhaps because it’s a special occasion, or just a Wednesday, do dress for Ristorante La Prua. Placed on the boardwalk, we asked for a table overlooking the beach here at the Hotel Savoia’s signature restaurant. We wondered which yacht belonged to the Russian-speaking gent holding voluble court at the next table, wearing head-to-toe Stefano Ricci. But the food captivated our attention even more: branzino cooked the best way, simply.

 

The night of La Prua marked our last before the much-dreaded return home. On the terrace of La Barca it was easy to reflect on the need we all have to disconnect from our daily world of constant activity. But not from that reality highlighted with visits to good friends in a welcoming environment and the villa dogs wanting to play another game of catch well into the night. We say ciao to Italy until the next visit, which we are already planning.

  

NOW THAT’S ITALIAN

 

Villa Barca

Borgata Case Soprane, 25

I-17033 Casanova Lerrone (S.V.)

 

La Cantina di Re Carciofo

Piazza S. Francesco, 38

I-17031, Albenga, S.V., Italy

(+39) 3356871785

 

Clapsy

Passegiata Grollero, 18

Alassio, S.V., Italy

(+39) 0182660573

 

Ristorante La Prua

Hotel Savoia S.R.L.

Pass. Ta. Baracca, 25

17021 Alassio (S.V.)

(+39) 0182642557

BOOMTOWN U.S.A

BOOMTOWN U.S.A

Corporate intrigue and derring-do have always had a place at the business table in Texas. Think it’s complex now? How to succeed in business was the self-proclaimed calling card yesteryear in Houston as Glenn McCarthy and Jesse H. Jones, competing Houston hotel legends, rose to the top. Here, our vintage expert Lori Duran takes us back to the sparkling days when Texas hotels became gleaming symbols of powerful glamour.

GIANT STORY

I was always intrigued by James Dean and Rock Hudson and when my stepfather recalled growing up with his neighbor, James Dean in Indiana, and having watched the movie Giant many times, I couldn’t help but recognize the parallels. The Shamrock Hotel, built in Houston after World War II and the hotel built by James Dean’s character in Giant are strikingly similar. The stories about the fabled Shamrock and its builder, Glenn McCarthy, are fascinating. He was a wildly successful oilman who, in the middle of the twentieth century built the colossal hotel. Yes, McCarthy’s own story is big, and it embodies the legend of Texas oil men who drank too much whiskey, and ballroom brawled often, and could find oil even in dubious locales.

 

Beyond McCarthy, Houston became the home base of Jesse H. Jones, an accomplished businessman who built the grand Rice and Lamar Hotels in Houston and a myriad of other hotels and buildings. Tall, distinguished Jones was a generation older than McCarthy when he came to Texas in 1898 to work at his uncles’ lumber company. Jones steadily built his wealth, which came about as he focused on building and prospering in Houston. Oil greatly changed the fortune of Houston and with the ship channel, it  became an international city. The Shamrock, Rice and Lamar Hotels were on top of the hospitality market while the city  prospered with oil & business revenue. Jones steadily became a very wealthy and powerful man while McCarthy peaked, then plummeted, with his Shamrock hotel.

 

GREEN WITH ENVY

Glenn McCarthy’s Shamrock Hotel was located at the southwest corner of Main Street and Bellaire Boulevard (West Holcombe Boulevard after 1963). Built in 1949 by the middle-aged McCarthy, the prodigious Shamrock seemed like it was the inspiration for  Edna Ferber’s book, then film, Giant. The Jett Rink character, played by James Dean in the movie, is reminiscent of Glenn McCarthy. At age twenty-six McCarthy struck oil at Anahuac, making him an immediate millionaire. McCarthy struck oil thirty-eight times between 1932 and 1942. He discovered multiple oilfields in Texas and extended several others. In Brazoria County, he drilled the highest-pressure gas well by 1946. By the late 1940s, this triumphant King of the Wildcatters, desired to diversify his empire, so he bought and invested in a variety of businesses. He also turned his attention to building “McCarthy Center” which he envisioned as a retail, amusement and cultural center that would be anchored by a hotel, a concept way ahead of its time in the now common play/work/live spaces that dot the country. Only the hotel came to fruition and he spent $21 million to build it in 1949, a colossal sum at that time.

 

The Shamrock Hotel was at first the brightest star in Houston’s skyline when it opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1949.  McCarthy spent over a million dollars just on the grand opening extravaganza. Widely reported by media outlets of the era, the opening included Warner Bros. star, Pat O’Brien as master of ceremonies. The party was attended by over 50,000 Houstonians and over 150 Hollywood celebrities, including major stars of the day Edgar Bergen, Kirk Douglas, Dorothy Lamour, Ginger Rogers, Robert Preston, and Errol Flynn. Many prominent attendees were flown into Houston International Airport on a customized Stratoliner (with green interiors) airplane, which McCarthy had bought only days earlier from Howard Hughes. Others were brought in by train on a chartered Santa Fe Super Chief.  Since the Shamrock was the largest hotel built in the United States during the 1940s, the grand opening in 1949 is still cited as one of the biggest social events ever held in Houston. The live radio feed to Hollywood and New York had technical difficulties, the event got a late start, and the swelling crowds were stifled by the inadequate ventilation system, yet it still remains legendary.

 

McCarthy’s hotel was modern and breath-takingly beautiful. The eighteen-story building had a 5,000 square foot lobby with Bolivian mahogany. The 1,100 rooms had air conditioning (very uncommon for then even in heat-drenched Texas), televisions, push-button radios, and abstract works of original art. Some rooms had kitchenettes to accommodate longer stays. These were considered new luxury amenities at the time. The swimming pool was large enough to accommodate water skiing exhibitions, which it did. The pool also hosted a synchronized swimming team called The Corkettes. Both Neiman Marcus and Sakowitz department stores maintained boutiques in the lobby, while the hotel’s opulence attracted Hollywood, presidents, heads of state, and just about everyone else.

 

The venue was palatial, yet remained somewhat inclusive. It organized sports clubs featuring its pool and tennis courts and even allowed non-hotel guests to make use of the pool. The Shamrock held local celebrations such as Easter egg hunts and St. Patrick’s Day parties (of course, with McCarthy’s Scottish and Irish background), thus quickly endearing itself to the community. Interestingly, it also gained a bit of a reputation as being the scene of riotous partying by celebrities, politicians and oilmen.

LUCK OF THE IRISH?

But the Shamrock proved to more than a little unlucky. McCarthy overextended himself, was in debt and nearly bankrupt by 1952. Just three years later, McCarthy was out of the hotel game and the Shamrock became a Hilton Hotels property. Apparently, afterwards McCarthy still lived comfortably, even if not a hotel kingpin anymore.

 

The hotel remained a Hilton property until 1985. It’s been said that it was the Shamrocks’ location that led to its eventual demise. Things had looked promising in the early 1950s. But the hotel was in the wrong location for Houston’s future growth and highway construction. The Texas Medical Center (TMC) was the only big development taking place in the Shamrock’s vicinity. Plus, other rival hotels were springing up in other areas around Houston. Besides outlying competition, the Shamrock declined because of its distance to an airport, a business district, and from the lack of development down the South Main corridor. Then, in 1985, Hilton Hotels donated the Shamrock to the TMC, who found it too expensive to renovate. The grand hotel was demolished in 1987 and the land where the hotel’s landscaped gardens and pool once occupied is now a parking lot for the TMC. Some furnishings were auctioned off, but the chandeliers were saved. There are few traces that remain of what was once so resplendent. McCarthy died eighteen months later.  Some say due to a broken heart over the fate of his hotel. Many other Houston residents were upset by the loss and credit the demolition of the Shamrock as the impetus that galvanized Houston’s current preservation movement.

 

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’

Jesse Jones’s Rice Hotel, at Texas Avenue and Main Street in Houston, was built in 1911 on top of the original site of the Republic of Texas’ capitol building. The wood-frame building had served the Republic since it was built in 1836 until the capitol was moved to Austin. In 1881, even though it was the most important historic site in the city, the capitol building was razed, and the Capitol Hotel was built on the same spot. The Capitol was a five-story hotel that was considered a big deal at the time. In 1911, Jesse Jones bought the Capitol Hotel and demolished it to build the more extravagant 17-story Rice Hotel. Jones had long wanted Houston to have a world class hotel. Years earlier Jones tried to get hotel magnate E.M. Statler to build one in Houston. When that failed, Jones built the 500-room Bristol Hotel in 1906.

 

Aside from the Bristol, it was the Rice that gave Houston its first  prestigious hotel. The Rice Hotel was one of Houston’s first steel-framed high-rises with two large wings extending out from a main section. Jones continually improved and updated his hotel and the Rice Hotel was plush. It sported the finest mahogany, and air-conditioned grand ballroom and a large indoor pool. Fortuitously, it launched just before the opening of the Houston Ship Channel. Jones had been one of the people that can be credited with bringing the Gulf 50 miles closer to Houston, which empowered Houston to become a major port, providing more commerce, and thus, more customers for hotel businesses. Many of the visiting potentates in for the 1928 Democratic National Convention, that was held at the nearby 20,000 Sam Houston Hall, stayed at the Rice which served as the convention’s headquarters. “It was so hot during the convention that everyman humorist Will Rogers remarked, “the Rice Hotel is so packed I have reached and mopped three other perspiring brows before I could find my own.” That was when the population of Houston was 275,000, boasted 60,000 telephones, and 234 miles of pavement.

Originally, Jones came from a family involved in the lumber business, but  he then diversified into construction, ownership of the Houston Chronicle newspaper and banking. He became one of the most prolific builders in Houston by constructing  some of the city’s first multi-story edifices. Jones was also a builder in Fort Worth, Dallas and New York City. He was a force to be reckoned with, pushing oil companies to move their headquarters to Houston where he leased buildings to them. His business dealings accelerated growth and prosperity for all of Houston, as well as for himself. He was particularly powerful during the 1930s through the early 1950s, when Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson both referred to him as Jesus Jones because of his talents to get things accomplished. The Rice Hotel was popular, and it was expanded in the 1920s, bringing the capacity up to 1,000 rooms. It became a Houston institution with its Capitol Club and the lavish rooftop garden. It was the site of both local and nation-wide celebrations for decades, as well as  the site of Houston’s biggest social functions. In 1951, an 18th floor was added just to host the exclusive Petroleum Club and in time the Club became the sole occupant of that floor.

 

Jones, the extremely successful businessman, came to own about one hundred buildings in Houston. After Jones’s death in 1956, the Rice was stable for a while, but the 1970s was not gracious to the old hotel. In 1974, a new fire code implemented by the City of Houston required bringing the Rice Hotel into compliance. Upon determining that it would cost over a million dollars to update the venerable hotelUnfortunately, instead, the hotel closed, and the property changed hands multiple times while it was sat decaying. By the 1990s, it seemed likely  the hotel would  be demolished. Fortunately, it was renovated and has started a second life as a luxury apartment loft-style building now known as The Rice.

THE LAMAR? LAUDABLE.

With all the success of the Rice Hotel, Jesse Jones’ Lamar Hotel located downtown at Main and Lamar was built by him because he reportedly wanted a home in the downtown area where he could be close to his other buildings. Jones built the residential hotel in 1927 and kept a 16thfloor suite as a home for himself for nearly three decades. The Lamar did not book conventions and instead, became an elegant retreat for the wealthy.

 

Other suites were permanently held by major players in oil, politics and banking. There was Suite 8F which was occupied by George Brown of Brown & Root Company where Brown and a group of wealthy and powerful men met there routinely. They were the people who reportedly ran Houston in that era. LBJ came regularly, and he and Lady Bird Johnson often stayed there. H.L. Hunt, the Dallas oil billionaire, enjoyed sitting in the lobby to read newspapers and observe the non-stop action it provided. During the ’50s and ’60s, Suite 8F at the Lamar Hotel was known to insiders as the secret capital of Texas. Bankrolled by Brown & Root, it’s where Houston’s most high-profile business and civic leaders shaped the city’s future development. They preferred to meet in an uber-private setting of the Lamar suite over other possible locations. The 8F Crowd reportedly wielded extraordinary influence in state and national government as well as over the oil industry.

 

After the 1960s, things changed in the hotel world and within a few years the Lamar had closed. Now, it’s physically gone. There was an auction where anything from wine glasses to crystal chandeliers were sold before the planned hotel demolition and  implosion in 1983. But, the legacy of the men who met there remains visible around the city today. 

 

Both Glenn McCarthy and Jesse Jones were leading business figures in their day. Houston’s booming economy created the perfect opportunity for their exalted hotels to set the stage for the celebrations and conferences of Houstonians for decades that still exist to this day.

 

For a closer look into these men and their historic hotels of Houston, the author consulted Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism and the Common Good by Steven Fenberg, Lost Houston by William Dylan Powell and a Texas State Historical Association web article also provided research on Glenn McCarthy.

LIFETIME OF LOVE

LIFETIME OF LOVE

Jenna McGaw And Ryan Fondren Marry In Houston

By Jake Gaines
Photography by Chris Bailey Photography

Houstonians Jenna McGaw and Ryan Fondren were high school sweethearts before they were married in their hometown. A seven-month engagement was the next step after a nine-year relationship. Ryan, the son of Kelli and Walter Fondren, popped the question to Jenna, the daughter of Trisha and Michael McGaw, with flowers, a letter and the ring at Jenna’s parents’ longtime family home. “Even though we were 15 and 16 years old when we started dating, we have grown into adults and we’ve always made each other laugh and continue to be each other’s best friend,” shared Jenna McGaw Fondren. 

The couple’s weekend of wedding festivities began at the rehearsal dinner at Hotel Zaza where they were toasted by family and friends. The ceremony and reception were held at The Revaire, an event venue in Houston. “Our ceremony was very special and personalized…our guests were able to hear how we felt about each other in our exact words,” said the bride. The décor was a sublime mix of neutrals, with all-white floral and greenery that was created by Blooming Gallery, all of which was surrounded by shades of champagne, marble, and gray tones. Rebecca Martens of Belle of The Ball Events was the wedding planner who oversaw the couple’s wishes for their dream nuptials. 

As Jenna walked down the aisle, escorted by her father, she wore a dress designed by Amsale and delicately perched atop her head was Ryan’s family’s heirloom veil. The bride had 15 bridesmaids led by Ashley McGaw, her maid of honor and sister. The bridesmaids were: Kendall Allen, Maggie Buscha, Addie Clark, Keni Fondren, Lauren Gray, Carroll Ison, Meredith Knight, Katherine Lange, Adrianne Leibman, Lauren Maguire, Carson Miller, Allyson Poujol, Cynthia Ormiston, and Lindsey Smith. Her house party attendants consisted of Carolina Roberts, Mary Curry, Anabelle Reade, and Ava McBath. The groom had 13 groomsmen led by Chase Fondren, his brother and best man. They were: Mitchell Austin, Mason Hunt, Alex Ghadially, Robert Lartigue, Adam McCauley, Matthew Moldawer, Jared Smith, Luke Utley, Chris Varalla, Matt Weisberger, Stewart Wombwell, and Joseph White. The ushers were: Jake Molak, Sammy Condurso, Keller Towns, and Luke Walter.

The reception kicked into high gear with the Empire 6 band that provided the entertainment for the evening. Guests enjoyed a myriad of buffet cuisine options before the ceremonial cake cutting. Susie’s Cakes created both masterpieces: the all-white bride’s cake had white fondant flowers trailing down the side while the groom’s cake, in the shape of Texas, was dotted with all the favorite spots the couple has enjoyed throughout the state. Guests also enjoyed photo opportunities in front of a huge feather wall that was built as the backdrop of the photo booth.

 Jenna and Ryan Fondren traveled to Curacao in the Caribbean for their honeymoon. They will continue to reside in Houston where the bride works as the manager of the Safe School Institute for Crime Stoppers of Houston and the groom is a project manager for Thomas O’Neill Homes. In addition to spending time outdoors and on the water, they enjoy visiting Ryan’s family ranch in Columbus.

ROOM AT THE INN

ROOM AT THE INN

There is a renaissance happening in Dallas’ sleek hotel world these days. In a city that’s always offered its visitors the finer things in life that’s no surprise. But where did it all begin? Our ardent pop culture adventurer Lori Duran takes a look at how the city’s hotels earned their famed reputation for luxurious hospitality.

While brushing up about Dallas history recently I found out that a young Raquel Welch was once employed as a cocktail waitress at Dallas’ Cabaña Hotel. Who knew? Curious, I wanted to find out more about that hotel which hosted the Beatles and Led Zeppelin during its short run, too. I’d also heard the humorous story about the Adolphus Hotel guest who went there with his grandmother to eat Baked Alaska. In the end, he loved it while grandmother thought there should have been more bourbon in it. So, I wanted to look into a few of these legendary and historic hotels and how they came into prominence.   

Most of the hotels that opened before the 1930s were relatively small by today’s standards with few exceptions. Ones that opened between 1930 and 1965 were larger and brought some mid-century glamour to Dallas. And the hotels that opened between 1965 and 1986 were relatively large with a few exceptions. For this look into Dallas hotels I consulted Sam Childers’s The Historic Hotels of Dallas and Liz Carmack’s Historic Hotels of Texas: A Travelers Guide. Interestingly, the ascent of Texas hotels correlated with the epic rise of the state itself.

TEXAS RISING

Before 1930, Dallas acquired mostly small stylish hotels that shaped the city to be a highly desirable destination for business and travelers. The Oriental Hotel opened in the late 1800s with every conceivable and available luxury in its day and notable citizens of Dallas attended the festive opening ceremony. It was the epitome of Victorian opulence. The Oriental was the best hotel in town when President Theodore Roosevelt stayed there in 1905. Unfortunately it was torn down about thirty-one years after it opened. The Ambassador Hotel opened near City Park in 1905 as the Majestic Hotel. The building was once considered Dallas’ most luxurious residential property and was touted as the city’s “first suburban luxury hotel.” In 1907 it became the Park Hotel. Stories circulate that this hotel held a speakeasy in the basement during prohibition. In the late 1930s the brick and stone building was given a covering of stucco and renamed the Ambassador Hotel. Presidents, celebrities and members of the Dallas mafia stayed there. Despite its exciting history the Ambassador became a retirement home by the mid-1950s. The current owners plan to renovate the 114-year-old former hotel into residential micro lofts that will offer tiny house living in the city’s urban core as trendy affordable housing.

When the Adolphus Hotel opened in 1912 at 1321 Commerce Street it was the grandest and the largest of the early hotels and for the next ten years, plus it was the tallest building in Texas. It was built by, and named after, Adolphus Busch of Anheuser Busch. At the time Busch had a brewery in Dallas. The Adolphus was built to be a posh downtown hotel in Dallas and by 1950 it had expanded to nearly 1,300 air-conditioned rooms. This beaux arts grand dame structure had an impressive Mansard roof and Baroque details in bronze and granite. It’s restaurant, the French Room, matched the rest of the hotel’s lavishness with Rococo artistry and gold ornamental plaster along with crystal chandeliers. Luminaries stayed and performed at the Adolphus, like Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip who stayed there in 1991 and notable comedians like Bob Hope and Jack Benny honed their comedic talents there. Within its environ of a walnut paneled lobby, a marbled grand staircase and a Louis XIV styled dining room, The Century Room was once the place for dancing and being entertained by the likes of Glenn Miller and his orchestra. When the hotel was remodeled in the 1980s, much of the hotel’s grandeur was restored, yet it greatly reduced the number of rooms in the process. In 2005, the Adolphus renovated its 422 remaining guest rooms and suites and today it continues to operate as Dallas’ prestigious downtown hotel. The French Room has also just recently reopened after an extended renovation.

HOW THE 20s ROARED

Competing nearby was The Baker Hotel, which opened in 1925 on the same spot where the Oriental Hotel had been torn down the previous year, at the southeastern corner of Commerce and Akard streets. It was known for its Peacock Terrace and Crystal Ballroom. In the early years, before air-conditioning, the main dining room closed during the summer and the rooftop Peacock was used for meal service. At the end of World War II people celebrated enthusiastically and some revelers in Dallas got carried away ripping up pillows at the Baker and Adolphus hotels rooms and dumping the feathers out the windows and into the street below. It closed in 1979 and the building was imploded in 1980.

The Stoneleigh Court Hotel opened in 1923 and with a 7500 square foot penthouse it was once described as the finest apartment hotel in the south. The penthouse was well known for its English manor décor as well as the extensive art, sculpture and antique collections. Past guests of the Stoneleigh included Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Oliver Stone and Britney Spears.  Nearby, The Melrose Hotel was built in 1924, on farmland originally owned by the Civil War veteran, Confederate Col. George Mellersh. It was designed in the Sullivan-esque Chicago style. Now known as the Warwick Melrose – Dallas and continues to serve graciously in the Oak Lawn neighborhood.

The Hilton Hotel was built in 1925 by Conrad Hilton. This was his first hotel to bear the “Hilton” name and was built by Conrad Hilton himself to be a prominent high-rise hotel, located at the corner of Main Street and S. Harwood Street in downtown Dallas. The Hilton had two large towers in a horseshoe design with a connecting bridge. Hilton’s personal and family life was certainly star-crossed. He was married, at one time, to Zsa Zsa Gabor and one of his sons later married Elizabeth Taylor. Hilton developed his own chain of international hotels and resorts over the following years and the Hilton Hotels expanded in Dallas including a hotel close to Southern Methodist University in the 1960s which included a Trader Vic’s Polynesian restaurant. Today that site is now the boutique Hotel Palomar. After Hilton relinquished his lease on its original Dallas hotel in 1938 it changed hands and names a few times and currently houses the Hotel Indigo.

MID-CENTURY MAVERICKS

The years between the Depression and 1965 produced several stylish hotels in Dallas that added mid-century glitz and rock ’n roll royalty to the Dallas hospitality field. The ultra-modern 1000-room Statler Hilton Dallas opened in 1956 amid great excitement. Located at 1914 Commerce Street it boasted having the first heliport in Dallas. At that time it was one of the largest hotels in the Southwest, and the Statler attracted conventions to Dallas. Conrad Hilton acquired controlling interest in Statler Hotels, so the name of the hotel reflected this bond. This hotel had many innovations geared towards trade shows. It had flexible and large ballrooms, exhibitors panels with hidden electrical outlets, hoists for lifting automobiles into the ballroom and more. The opening ceremony brought in celebrities like Ann Miller, Hedda Hopper, Dorothy Malone and George Gobel. Interestingly, this is the hotel where Tina Turner left Ike Turner as he slept in their room.

But all good things come to an end. In 1988, the Statler became the Dallas Grand Hotel and then it closed completely in 2001. It reopened in 2017 as the Statler Hotel and Residences. Then there was the Sheraton Hotel was built in 1959 and boasted “Texas-sized” rooms. As the key focal point of the landmark Southland Center the Sheraton attracted Jayne Mansfield and Johnny Weissmuller among the celebrities that attended the opening gala.

The Fairmount opened in 1969 and its stunning and legendary Venetian Room showcased top entertainment that was rarely seen outside of New York or Las Vegas. In 1970, Jill Kohnert Nicholson recalls seeing Diana Ross & the Supremes at one of their last performances before Diana Ross would start her solo career. Nicholson reflects, “Diana Ross was beautiful and a supremely confident singer and entertainer.  Her group of three harmonized beautifully together and almost every song they sang was at the top of the charts. I remember that I dressed in a formal for the intimate concert and the hotel was very opulent. In fact, the Venetian Room was intimate, and golden in color, and it was like having a concert in one’s living room—very special and memorable.” The chic venue also booked other top talent over the years including Lou Rawls, Patti Page, Carol Channing, Bobby Short, Peggy Lee, Tina Turner, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett and more.

The Cabaña Hotel opened in 1963 on Stemmons Freeway, and it instantly acquired an allure since the Beatles stayed during their first American tour in 1964. It was stylish with some unusual décor. The exterior had a latticework pattern of delicate concrete X-shape blocks while the lobby was designed with two-story glass walls connected to a porte-cochère with an arched roof. The spacious lobby had gold and white accents and a grand sweeping staircase. The interior was lavish and colorful with a Roman style offered s sunken circular conversation area carpeted in aqua with a crystal chandelier hanging above. Artwork included replicas of Michelangelo’s David, Bacchus, and Venus De Milo. The large hotel rooms had mirrored walls and gold-accented furniture. 

The Cabaña had a flashy lounge with young attractive cocktail waitresses wearing short toga dresses. Raquel Welch worked there as a cocktail waitress for a time in 1963. And it had other connections with well-known people. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hoffa also stayed there. Doris Day’s money was invested in the Cabaña by her then husband Marty Melcher. The Dallas locale was the third for the investors of the Cabaña hotels, with the other two in Atlanta and Palo Alto. With 300 rooms, 57 of those were suites, it was fabulous for a while, but by the end of the 1960s it was in financial and legal distress. Day’s husband had died and left her deeply in debt. It was sold in 1969 to Hyatt House and was renamed Hyatt House Hotel. It changed hands again just six years later and it became Dupont Plaza. In 1984, the Cabaña was purchased and re-purposed by Dallas County, into a minimum-security prison that operated until 2013. In 2017 it was sold to a developer who will revitalize it’s former glamour for a modern audience to enjoy upon completion. Since the mid-1960s, Dallas has added some large hotels whose scope and size have forever changed the convention business and Dallas has emerged as a major player amongst large cities.

SEXY 70s & 80s

In 1978, Hyatt Regency Reunion re-energized the hotel business with its location near the Trinity River, the convention center and major thoroughfares. The adjacent Reunion Tower with its rotating Antares restaurant became a new destination. Plus, the tower helped transform the Dallas downtown skyline in the 1980s.

Loew’s Anatole Hotel opened, as a major convention and meeting hotel in 1979. It’s in the Market Center district at 2201 Stemmons Freeway just north of the downtown and features 1,606 guest rooms, one of the largest hotels in the South. Described as being part hotel and part art museum, it displays over a thousand priceless art objects. The addition of the Anatole and Hyatt Reunion hotels made it attractive for Dallas to host a national political convention in 1984 with Ronald Reagan’s campaign headquarters at the Anatole. The Anatole also hosts the annual Crystal Charity Ball, one of the largest charitable events in the country. Today, the Anatole still operates as the Hilton Anatole Hotel.

In 1981, The Mansion on Turtle Creek opened after Caroline Rose Hunt founded the Rosewood Property Co. in 1979 and purchased a private mansion near Turtle Creek. The Italian-Renaissance styled mansion was turned into a stylish hotel. While not as massive as some hotels, it was unique. The former estate’s  fur and silver vault were reconfigured as a wine cellar. And the Mansion on Turtle Creek was awarded a five-star rating by Mobil Travel Guide and lives up to its reputation.  

The Rosewood Crescent Hotel opened in Dallas in late 1986 with a gala event that many still recall. The property is part of a complex that includes a postmodern office, hotel, and retail space in Uptown Dallas. Originally owned by Dallas oil heiress Caroline Rose Hunt, the 10-acre complex retail space includes upscale shops such as Stanley Korshak and a myriad of restaurants. The hotel was the last large hotel opened in Dallas just before the economic downturn in the late 1980s. At first it struggled to attract enough customers in the depressed economy. But it has succeeded and has set the standards of quality as a beautiful centerpiece of Dallas’s re-vitalized Uptown area. In recent years, the luxurious hotel has been renovated and changed ownership and is now known as Hotel Crescent Court and with its recent renovation is still a stunner.

Today, hotels like The Joule, the Lumen, the Saint-Germain, the Ritz Carlton, the Canvas, the Belmont. the ZaZa, the NYLO Dallas Southside and others all compete for the trendy upscale tourist dollars. With so many choices, why not try them all on future visits as you travel to your next home away from home?    

MEET ME IN HAVANA

MEET ME IN HAVANA

Cuba of yesteryear was the international destination of the Jet Set. Then it was out with Batista, in with Castro and all the fun evaporated under the Communist regime. Here, our roving vintage culture chronicler Lori Duran hops back in time to share why Havana was the sultry hotspot for Café Society.

Photography courtesy of Library of Congress, Author’s Own

COMPLETELY CUBAN

There is a reason why Havana was called the Paris of the Caribbean before the Communist regime took over. I still recall my grandfather telling me how he and grandmother never understood why the Cuban people turned to communism since they seemed to all be living a good life. Then my mother reminded me that her parents never ventured beyonf its capitol city, Havana, when they visited. If they had maybe they would have seen some of the poverty in the countryside. But they only saw the inner city with its dramatic architecture and its beautiful suburbs like Miramar that went on for what seemed like hundreds of blocks. So, it appeared to be a land of plenty.

It’s been said that when Christopher Columbus first saw Cuba her described it as “more beautiful than any I have ever seen”. Sometimes I’ve also heard Havana was just a highly decorated watering hole mostly owned and operated by the American mafioso. But others have explained that Cuba was a successful and complex capitalistic society that had growing middle and upper-classes. Yes, it had casinos and mob-related business and also, diverse and homegrown economies. For example, it was an agricultural leader in the sugar industry which created wealth and sugar barons who were skilled at manipulating the markets for sugar.

Havana residents enjoyed their fast-growing economy, famed restaurants, fashion shows, coming out parties for debutantes, country clubs, beautiful beaches and balmy weather. They also briefly had a Cuban Gran Prix. Many Cubans enjoyed the good life and the Cuban capitol was firmly cemented into the Jet Set circuit of must-stays. It was this affluence that many saw when visiting the island just 105 miles from Florida. The Havana suburban homes were well-built and not dominated with tall protective fences surrounding them like they are in more impoverished countries.

Then came revolution and the Cuban president fleeing on January 1, 1959. George Raft, the Hollywood actor, was managing the Hotel Nacional in Havana at the time and was awakened by the sounds of gunfire that night. In the end, Fidel Castro was immediately successful in overrunning Havana and took up headquarters in the posh and just then recently opened Havana Hilton.

MI CASA, SU CASA

Havana had its share of world class hotels. The Havana Hilton had been built just before the revolution, at a cost of $24 million. The venue opened with five fun-filled days of festivities in 1958 and with Conrad Hilton himself in attendance, accompanied by his companion, actress Ann Miller. The Havana Hilton was Latin America’s tallest and largest hotel. In fact, it boasted 630 guest rooms, including 42 suites; an elegant casino; six restaurants and bars, including a Trader Vic’s and a rooftop bar; a massive supper club; extensive convention facilities; a shopping arcade; an outdoor pool surrounded by cabanas; and two underground garages with a capacity of 500 cars.

In the late 1950s work had also began on the Havana Riviera. Already envisioned as “The Riviera of the Caribbean”, it was considered the epitome of resort-construction, and was certainly one of the costlier hotels in Cuba. The hotel was not only near downtown Havana, it was advantageously close to residential Miramar and its Country Club. When the Havana Riviera opened on December 10, 1957, it was the largest purpose-built casino-hotel in Cuba or anywhere in the world at that time outside Las Vegas (the Havana Hilton surpassed its size a year later). The opening act that night at the Copa Cabaret was Ginger Rogers and her music revue directed by former MGM musical director Jack Cole

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba where Raft fled for his life, also known as Hotel Nacional, was developed with a mix of styles including Sevillian, Roman, Moorish and Art Deco. The hotel was constructed in just fourteen months on the site of the Santa Clara Battery, which dates back to 1797. Parts of the battery has been preserved in the hotel’s gardens, including two large coastal guns dating from the late 19th century. Interestingly, it is speculated that the Eloise books by Kay Thompson about a mischievous  six-year-old may have actually been inspired by a Cuban girl who grew up in Hotel Nacional, not the Plaza Hotel that ended up being Thompson’s setting for the stories.

STYLE FOR MILES

During the first half of the twentieth century was a time of unbridled prosperity in Cuba. The lives of many in Havana revolved around family gatherings and lavish social events. Cuba had a rich vibrant merchant economy including the formidable El Encanto department store known for its sizeable Christian Dior boutique.

Just before the revolution, the late 1950s were a magical time in Havana. Earnest Hemingway had stationed himself at the El Floridita where he helped popularize the Daiquiri cocktail. Havana was a compulsory stop for jet-setters and movie stars. The Havana night clubs featured entertainment like Nat King Cole at the Tropicana, Tony Bennett at the Sans Souci, Maurice Chevalier at the Montmartre and Frank Sinatra at the Hotel Nacional.

The only problem Cubans seem to have was their politics and their president. Never widely popular, President Fulgencio Batista had come to power as a dictator in 1952 and capitulated quickly by the end of December 1958 after finding out that he had lost all support and no longer was effectively in control. In stark contrast was Fidel Castro, a well-educated son of a wealthy landowner. Some Cubans, who had vast resources and much to lose, originally supported Castro in driving out and replacing Batista.

As soon as Castro, an authoritarian communist, took control of Havana his true intentions became apparent and those who had the means to escape did so. Cubans who had assets abroad were the lucky ones. Baggage of those leaving was limited to one suitcase per person. There are stories about people who had jewelry and pieces of their family silver taped to their bodies, sewn inside their clothing, or made other surreptitious arrangements to leave with as many of their valuable assets as possible.

So many years after the communist revolution there is still hope for a return to more freedoms and a return to prosperity. They physical decay of Cuba since the revolution is well documented. Isadora Tattlin wrote in her book Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana, when flying into Havana in 1990 that as their airplane descended for landing her view out of the window was described as, “…we see houses and roads. We search for cars. There are none; then, closer, we see one, moving patiently. Closer, we see Olympic-sized swimming pools with (now it begins) no water in them, with high platforms for diving boards but no diving boards, just bent rusted metal supports. We see rusted metal supports for billboards; the billboards having fallen off long ago.”

Cuba’s economic losses and decay s has caused great suffering and poverty. It’s understandable that anyone questions whether the Cubans really needed this revolution. Hopefully capitalism will return, and travel restrictions will continue to relax so that someday again Cubans can live well and Americans can more easily travel to Havana with hopes of a glimpse of its glamorous tropical past.