COURTING GLAMOUR

COURTING GLAMOUR

Palm Beach’s Brazilian Court Hotel offers the perfect celebrity-style getaway with old school Hollywood glam, according to our fun seeker, Rob Giardinelli.

Photography courtesy of Brazilian Court, author’s archive

There is so much to love about the Brazilian Court Hotel, located in the heart of charming Palm Beach. It’s one of the East Coast’s premier, five-star destinations…a beautiful boutique hotel that offers luxury mixed in with Old Hollywood glamour. Founded in 1926, and restored to its original Roaring 20’s elegance, this 80-room resort is the perfect destination for a host of luxe activities ranging from quick, ritzy getaways to weddings for a hundred guests or so. Best of all, it is a place where you can unplug and recharge…without the jetlag. Yes, JetSet without the jetlag.

The great thing about Palm Beach is that it is easily accessible from the four largest cities in Texas. While Dallas and Houston residents can fly into Palm Beach directly, Austin and San Antonio residents can fly to Ft. Lauderdale, as we did via a quick two-hour flight on JetBlue from Austin. Leaving no detail unturned, the team at the Brazilian Court arranged, after we landed, to have for Go Rentals, a luxury car rental company to have our car waiting with an attendant outside arrivals.  Popping into our luxury SUV, we jetted up I-95, and in about 45 minutes, we were arrived at the famed Brazilian Court.

JAZZ AGE REDUX

Located in a residential neighborhood, we pulled into the Brazilian Court’s porte-cochère, which had the feeling of pulling into a grand Jazz Age estate, and we were promptly greeted by the valet and escorted inside to check-in. The staff, friendly and attentive, offered a series of can’t-miss recommendations that we tried out during our stay.

The porter escorted us through a stunning, leafy outdoor courtyard to our room. As we walked through the halls, we saw miles of walls adorned with vintage photos of celebrities who frequented these halls from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Our accommodations were a chic, bungalow-style room, with a massive private terrace to enjoy the beautiful weather.

After unpacking, famished, we strolled two blocks for dinner at Renato’s. It was an authentic Italian restaurant with an alfresco patio that reminded me of the delectable meals I had on my honeymoon in Rome and Venice…with the Risotto all’Aragosta being a highlight. Overhearing someone from another table mention there was a gelato place next door; we dropped into Piccolo Gelato for a light, refreshing dessert.

Against the backdrop of year ‘round picturesque weather, we savored our sweet treat as we walked to Buccan for a night-cap. An outstanding restaurant in its own right, our concierge, had recommended Buccan as the place where people in Palm Beach go to see and be seen whether it be for dinner or drinks. In the crowded and lively bar, we found two seats from another couple who finished grabbing a late supper and we toasted our first night in Palm Beach with a delectable Buccan T martini and smoked jalapeno margarita.

After a splendid night’s sleep in a king-sized bed with luxe linens, I woke up the next morning, foregoing breakfast and taking advantage of the Brazilian Court Fitness Center to burn off those calories from the night before. The gym, located in a building across the street from the main hotel, has everything you need to stay fit with treadmills, elliptical machines, free weights and medicine balls.

After my workout, we took a tour of this grand hotel with Ian Black, the director of sales and marketing. In touring the space, we learned more about the hotel’s incredible history. Designed by the legendary architect, Osario Candella, the Spanish-style resort is built through not one, but two courtyards–one built upon completion of the original hotel in 1926 and a second one added in 1936.

WORTH IT

The current owners purchased the property in 2002 and set out to restore the hotel to its original grandeur, with some of the rooms maintaining a true 20’s authenticity. In fact, there are even USB-free room options available for those who truly want to unplug and get away from it all, just like the celebrities who frequented the hotel during the 1920s and 1930s.

Many of the suites are aptly named for the plethora of celebrities that occupied them, including: Katherine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks and Texas-born Joan Crawford, just to name a few. The main reason celebrities and notables frequent the Brazilian Court, then and now, is its close proximity to the action of the main attractions of Palm Beach such as tony Worth Avenue and The Breakers, yet it is far enough away from everything for notables to slip in and out undetected.

After our tour, we strolled down to Worth Avenue, the world-renowned shopping district of Palm Beach. First, everyone is beautifully dressed in brightly-hued colors year ‘round. Second, that attention to detail is evident everywhere in Palm Beach. Located only three blocks from the Brazilian Court, we did some window shopping at many of the luxury brands, including Gucci, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany, and Salvatore Ferragamo before finding a bite for lunch at Ta-boo. Known as the power-lunch place of Palm Beach, we saw that the much-coveted window-front table was available and popped into the restaurant to dine.

The window-front table proved to be the perfect spot to people watch as the chic shoppers strolled up and down Worth Avenue, among them a legendary, Academy AwardÒ-winning actor from the British Isles. While there, we enjoyed the mussel frites and Cobb salad, each the perfect mid-day bite to keep us going. After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon of pool-side lounging and siesta while the gentle breeze of the palm trees swayed overhead. There are so many characters who stay at this hotel that eavesdropping the varied conversations of fellow guests is a true pastime here. During the afternoon, the hotel staff arranged for a treatment at the Brazilian Court Salon, where I was treated to my first, and very best, mani-pedi.

DINING DELUXE

We ended the day staying at The Brazilian Court and dined at Café Boulud, the award-winning restaurant of celebrity chef Daniel Boulud. A mainstay in the Palm Beach dining scene since 2003, with additional locations in New York and Toronto, it would impress the most delicate of palettes. 

Opting for a table alfresco to take advantage of the picturesque evening, we enjoyed the five-course tasting menu and wine pairing. The tasting menu, which changes seasonally, offered red pepper risotto and one of my favorite fish dishes, pan-seared grouper. The meal was capped off with the most delectable dessert I have ever experienced at any restaurant, a transcendent grapefruit sorbet, which served as the perfect palate cleanser to an absolutely delectable meal.

Waking up early on our final morning in Palm Beach, we decided to walk to Ocean Drive and up and down the blocks of estates along the Atlantic Ocean for which Palm Beach is famous. Walking down street after street of the eight-figure Gatsby-eque homes, we could see  Old Hollywood influences in many of the homes, which had a Beverly Hills vibe and made me wonder how many of the stars of yesteryear stumbled from the estates’ parties to the Brazilian Court after a night of revelry.

Before taking off for the airport, we decided to grab a final bite at Surfside Diner. Located just a block from the Brazilian Court, it is a small, chic space with an old-style u-shaped counter in the middle. If you want to see a place that offers a slice of what life in Palm Beach is like among the locals, this is the place to go. We saw the proprietor engaging with regulars from 8 to 88, giving each guest the white-glove treatment for which Palm Beach is known.

After our meal, we bid adieu to Palm Beach, where our 48-hours felt like a week. So, the next time you are looking for a quick getaway from Texas to a beautiful, intimate and familiar resort, you must check out the Brazilian Court for a wonderful experience. I cannot wait for my next visit to this paradise.

IN EXCESS

IN EXCESS

The 70s and 80s, in Texas and beyond, were a time of unbridled prosperity for the state’s movers and shakers. The can-do attitude of anything being possible unleashed a wild, unabashed party and caused a glorious hangover that exists to this day. Join our Lance Avery Morgan and a merry band of marauders as they time travel to the not-so distant past to recapture the Texan magic of yesteryear. 

DESIGNER NIGHTS

Phillippe Starck, Designer & Creator of Starck Club, Dallas

 And to think it all started in Paris, New York…and in Dallas. Dallas? French designer Philippe Starck created a sensation in the mid-80s by creating the first European-style nightclub in Dallas, named  appropriately, Starck Club. It took the city by storm, as well as the state because it was in complete contrast to the ostentatiousness of the times. Then something happened. Philippe Starck brought cool and clean to what was, at that time, a very cluttered state. From his five-minutes-from-now contemporary vision sprang a streamlined, white warehouse club that the world, and certainly not Texas, had ever seen before. There was the night Grace Jones came in riding an elephant during the 1984 Republican Presidential Convention. And, the night Prince had a party after he performed at nearby Reunion Arena. Everyone has a story about the Starck Club.

 Lance Avery Morgan: How different is Dallas now than when you were here in the 80s?

Philippe Starck:  It’s a huge difference. When I arrived decades ago, downtown Dallas was a ghost city; everything was empty. And when I said that I wanted to make the Starck Club downtown,  people laughed. They said, ‘Oh, you’re completely crazy–nobody will come.’ And because of those presumptions, I think we were the first.

 LAM: Without a doubt, you were the first big city night club of that level in Texas.

PS: Yes, and the first thing like it downtown, and I think we really rocked. Just for being downtown. The cultural level of Dallas has incredibly increased in the decades since the 80s. The sophistication. The people.

 LAM: And J.R. Ewing-types. No more of those, really.

PS: Ah, yes.

 LAM: During the ‘80s, when your club was so popular, he probably came there…J.R…you know, Larry Hagman.

PS: Lots of important people came to the club.

 LAM: Right.

PS: So, before, it was really difficult to bring a new idea and things like that. Now, Dallas is one of the main important international cities in the world. That’s why everybody’s here…our tribe. That’s why we don’t have to fight for the vision, no need to explain.

 PS: I worked with people everywhere… in Dallas,  Miami,  Hong Kong, and other key hotspots… And when they need us, they call us, and we come.  And when a place needed us, they would call us, and we would come.If a city didn’t call us, that meant a part of our “tribe” wasn’t in that city. I’m not a fancy guy. I started in night clubs just by luck. Some friends found this place and we said, ‘Oh, perhaps we can make something to bring the tribe all together.’

 And because I arrived completely away from the nightclub business, I brought fresh ideas, and a sort of natural violence, so it was a huge success. We completely exploded because we were naive and pure. At that time, the night club was the people. The nightclubbers were people working in the day, and they would go out to have fun at night. It was not like some nightclubber people now.  Now, they sleep  all day and go to clubs all night. In my nightclubs years ago, there were all the best people, the people whonow drive the world. Everybody was there. And that’s why it was very interesting.

(Excerpted from an interview, 2006)

LET’S GET SOCIAL

Robert Godwin, Austin’s Society Scene

 From the leftover hippie-dippie 1970s to the Dynasty-esque 1980s, the clothes may have evolved, yet Austin’s social elite never wavered in their aim to help the plethora of causes for those much less fortunate. “When I started covering the non-profit scene in 1976, the big four social events were already in place—Admirals Ball in August, Symphony League Jewel Ball in September, Bachelors Ball (which was in the fall, but moved to January) and the Helping Hand Ball in February,” remembers Robert Godwin (who now chronicles the St. David’s Foundation events) in his book about the city’s pre-1990 social scene, Austin Faces of Philanthropy. He goes on to say, “Philanthropy is a thread found throughout the fabric of everyday life in Austin. I’ve documented that thread running through three generations of families and am beginning to see the initial efforts of the younger fourth generation,” muses Godwin. “As that fabric is woven, it extends to cover friends, neighbors, and draws in those newly arrived. As it grows to shelter those in need, those clients add their own stitches to the fabric to create a cloth that is uniquely Austin. The city is a patchwork quilt of different colors, different hopes, and different dreams—but a common desire to be of service to others.”

PREP 101

Lisa Bernbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook

 It was like a shot heard ‘round the world when The Official Preppy Handbook appeared in 1980 after a raucous 70s. “Thinking back, for our moment in time, it was big,” confides the book’s author, Lisa Birnbach. “What I didn’t know in the intervening 30 years was that it was still big. People are so proprietary about what Preppy means to them. Preppies do love their art museums as well as conservation societies, which are both about preserving that which is old. It’s also a way to give without being reminded that people are suffering. Giving to the mentally disabled is a big one–look at the Kennedy’s who created the Special Olympics as an example.” “Let’s face it,” Birnbach muses, “I knew the Preppy world from the inside and  outside. It has helped insiders feel more inside and has allowed people to understand more. I am a social observer and majored in Semiotics [every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication], which is about what things represent. I didn’t try to change anyone’s life or make it over with The Official Preppy Handbook. I didn’t want to be famous.”

TEXAS-STYLE BEAUTY

Dana Rogers Martin, Miss Texas 1983, San Antonio & Las Vegas

 In the 80s, everything was big. Big hair, big shoulder pads, long nails, lots of makeup, tanned skin—that was the 80s pageant girl. We personified Madonna’s Material Girl and pageants ruled because everyone was trying to be a Miss Somebody long before social media.

 The 80s proved to be an incredible decade for pageants since each year the competition for the highest TV ratings was between the two annually televised giants: Miss America and the Super Bowl. Miss America was big business. Everyone in America, and hundreds of countries around the world, tuned in to hear ‘There she is, Miss America’ and see a beautiful crowned Barbie doll walk down the runway in Atlantic City. The Miss Texas telecast was also a ratings giant–each year the pageant was broadcasted to millions of people in Texas and the surrounding states. There was no shortage of contestants, either. In my year, 1983, a record number of 82 girls entered. That record is yet to be broken.

 After I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 1984, I competed in the Miss America pageant the same year (the state title is one year behind the national title in name only even to this day). There were a couple of firsts: Vanessa Williams, Miss New York would be crowned the first African-American Miss America, and I would be the first contestant to admit publicly that I had undergone plastic surgery. Vanessa and I were interviewed by every major TV morning news and entertainment shows. Ironically, I was considered the scandal of the pageant that week. We know who beat me out in the ultimate scandal that year.

STEEPED IN HISTORY

Charity Ball, San Antonio

 A constant in the social history of Texas is San Antonio society. The  Charity Ball  Association of San Antonio, lnc. supports the children of Bexar  County by  distributing grants each year since 1954, now totaling more than $21 million.The  Association’s tenet is Children Benefit Always.

The 1980s were particularly prosperous times for the organization and its annual Chrysanthemum Ball. Full tafetta gowns and elaborate hair, that was also scene in the rest of the state’s society circuit then, was in full force in that decade of decadence.

TEEN DREAM

Brooke Shields, Model, and Actress, New York

 For me, the 70s was a rather extraordinary time. I was able to meet and work with people like…Debbie Harry. I was able to be in rooms with Warhol and those incredible photographers who were renowned in what they were doing. The artistic matrix around that was so free and unfettered. There was a purity to it, I think.

 Plus, I was working with extraordinary directors and talent. I mean, to come out of the gate and your first photographer is Scavulo, and your first director is Louis Malle? Clearly, I thought then that it was always going to be like that. It was a really beautiful and creative time. Sure, it was also tumultuous and political, but I was so young, that part didn’t really affect me.

(Excerpted from an interview, 2019)

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Bradley Bayou, Designer, Dallas & Los Angeles

 What happened to me and my wife, Twinkle, at the time, could never happen today. All of us then thought, why is everyone coming here? Yes, Dallas was the #1 show in the world and the Dallas Cowboys were the #1 team in the country. In fact, Twinkle and I were even in a couple of Dallas episodes at the time as extras. Instead of looking to New York, Los Angeles, and London for style and energy, the world seemed to look to Dallas because there was a sort of mystique about the city then. Before that, they just associated Dallas with Kennedy.

 I’ll never forget when we hosted three parties for Andy Warhol since we knew him from the New York scene. He was dying to come to Texas. He and Jean-Michel Basquiat stayed with us when they each visited. Our parties were legendary–Catherine Oxenberg, who was on Dynasty at the time, came to stay with us, and we hosted a dinner party for Rock Hudson…two weeks before he announced he had AIDS. It was all like being in an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, which we actually appeared in, too.

 But, really, it was all about Twinkle since she had the big blonde hair and a huge personality. People naturally gravitated to her. I just happened to be the guy standing there wearing a Zegna suit. It could never happen again–the innocence, timing, and over-the-top life that people lived vicariously through us like they saw people living on TV. Could you imagine if we had Instagram then–we weren’t ready for that. Life was more mysterious. We were in the right place at the right time.

DRESS TO IMPRESS

Bob Mackie, Fashion Designer, Los Angeles

 The 70s were really busy for me. I was doing both The Carol Burnett Show and dressing Cher for her show. Sometimes dresses for them had to do double duty. Carol liked to accentuate her beautiful back and legs, so I’d make something backless for her. Then, later, to repurpose it for a Cher costume in a pinch, I’d turn it around and make the back of Carol’s dress into a low plunging neckline for Cher, and it usually worked fine.

 Also, in the 80s, I could always tell a woman from Texas walking down Fifth Avenue. She always wore color amongst a sea of black.

OH, WHAT A NIGHT

Wendy Ward Payne, 1980s Debutante, Houston & Dallas

 Party, party, party comes to mind when I think of the 80s. Of course, there were grand cultural events such as the opening of the Wortham Center in 1987, and thinking about events at Tootsies, as well as going to events at the Metropol, Michele’s, and Riches brings a smile to my face. At my deb party, at Rich’s in 1985, I wore a lovely Arnold Scassi dress. In fact, the dress happened to end up on the cover of a fashion magazine the following month. The party was called A Neon Night. How 80s is that?

MODEL BEHAVIOR

Jerry Hall, Model and Muse, Gonzales & New York

 God that was a fabulous time. I was so young, hanging out with Andy Warhol. Neither of us drank so there we’d sit with our Perrier’s. Can you imagine? I adored it. It was so much fun, and I met every movie star there was…people such as Nureyev and Baryshnikov. I’d only read about them, and then I got the chance to know them.

(Excerpted from an interview in 2006)

GIVING BACK PASSIONATELY

Carolyn Farb, Philanthropist, Houston

 The 80s was a life-changing decade for me, and I was on the front line of the call to duty. I was asked by the Challenger Space Shuttle widows and their families to create a living legacy in memory of  the fallen heroes. We gathered at the Museum of Natural Science, where Jane Smith and June Scobee officially asked me to create the first Challenger Learning Center out of the nation’s collective grief. There are now 50-plus Challenger Centers across the nation and they are a favorite of Queen Elizabeth in England. 

The late folk humorist from Austin, John Henry Faulk,  said that I needed to help people with AIDS. So, the Evening of Hope came to be, and it began a movement of compassion. 

Marvin Hamlisch and I joined together to fulfill a promise to Dr. John Stehlin to raise a million dollars in a single evening for the Stehlin Foundation. This raised the bar for all fundraisers to follow and was the first in the state of Texas that reached that goal. We invested our energy and  passion enlisting superstars Ann-Margaret, Liza Minnelli, Crystal Gayle, and Allen King who donated their time and talent on behalf of cancer research.

 Clint Eastwood and I did a benefit for the premiere of his movie, Sudden Impact, and his star power was so bright that we needed security to keep the guests at the after-party in check. I learned that Clint liked Mexican food and so that’s what we prepared for the dinner in his honor. We left in a motorcade of white cars that took us to The Galleria, where there were once movie theaters. I was accidentally quoted as saying, “The dog stole the show.” 

 My beloved son, Jake, got his first car as  I watched him grow into a handsome young man. That was an interesting decade in my life with so many changes, and I feel I lived through the 80s with passion and heart.

REAL LIFE, IMITATED

Dwight Adair, Television Director, Dallas TV series, Austin

 My first job in the movie business was serving as the dialect coach for John Travolta on Urban Cowboy. Dallas, at that time in 1979, was the number one show on the planet. I became the dialogue coach for the cast and guest actors in the series’ fifth season and became one of the principal rotating directors four years later. 

 To be one of the directors was the triumph of my career; that and directing another 80s icon, Dynasty. The inner relationships of the two casts could not have been more different. Everyone on Dallas understood what a fantastic ride they were on and were having a great time together, creating the first night-time soap opera. Dynasty, however, was another matter altogether.

 Larry Hagman’s character, JR, was the quintessential 70s and 80s conniving, hedonist manipulator. In real life, you could not find a more generous, supportive, or loyal friend than him. The series was a worldwide phenomenon, and everything would stop everywhere on Friday nights for the show. And, I must say, one of the most humorous depictions of the character of JR was the version on Italian television. Hilarious.

THE ULTRA EFFECT

Ultra Magazine, 1980s

 In the world of glossy magazines, Texas finally got its own in the 1980s, and it became the must-read for the affluent set and those aspiring to climb the social heights. It represented oodles of jewels, sky-high hair, and yes, lots of furs.

 Appropriately titled and similar in spirit to Town & Country and Tatler, the Houston-based Ultra presented the richness, literally, of the Lone Star State. From its very beginning, the magazine reflected the upscale, grandiose, and intelligent personality of its reader.

 The covers ranged from Patrick Swayze to Dennis Quaid to Jaclyn Smith, and other potentates of the era with Texas ties. Liz Smith, Liz Carpenter, and Rex Reed were just a few of the high-life chroniclers the publication enlisted to capture the essence of the globe-trotting Texan, from ballroom to night-club.

 Gone, but not forgotten since it folded in the 90s, Ultra was the first publication to showcase the glamour of this state’s residents, and it remains a robust historical reference where we can reflect back to the way Texas was.

STUDIO 54’S MAGIC

Neal Hamil, Model, Houston

Of course, there had never been anything like it before, or since, like Studio 54. It was a moment in time that I can’t imagine will ever be fully replicated. I was a 19 year-old tall Texan model, which opened the door to Studio 54, and many other hotspots.  I truly had the most fun ever. What a time to be alive.

 I was lucky the first time I attempted to go, I exited my cab, looking over and past the throng of people hoping to gain entry. There was Steve Rubell, who pointed at me and signaled to me to come forward, and whooooosh I was standing inside. I went back for the next 120 nights and a million more over the years. I was never denied entry, and I met and made so many friends there because it truly seemed to be the center of the universe. Every night the place was crawling with the most glamorous people from all over the world, and I saw a lot of famous people doing a lot of naughty things. 

My favorite moments were those when I was on the dance floor tripping the lights fantastic, and all of a sudden in the DJ booth would appear Michael Jackson, Diana Ross or Donna Summer…so many mega-stars. One night Peaches & Herb were performing on the movable bridge over the dance floor–it was surreal. Betty Ford, Liza Minnelli and Liz Taylor hosted a party once that was beyond fun. This was pre-Betty Ford Center, of course.  

 Plus, the fashion was really experimental and outrageous.  Glittery and glamorous. I’ve always felt lucky to have  experienced Studio 54 in its prime and to have been allowed “all access”.  

THE IT GIRLS

Farrah Fawcett and Gray Hawn, Corpus Christi, Austin & Los Angeles

 I’d been friends with Farrah since junior high school and I knew intuitively that there was something really special about her… and we remained dear friends all of our lives. Hollywood pursued her because she was that All-American golden girl. After being pursued by talent scouts at The University of Texas in the 1960s, she decided to go Hollywood, fell in love and then, married Lee Majors. It didn’t take long until she was cast in Charlie’s Angels. While working on that series, the iconic poster and the role really made her career take off. She was a phenomenon. I think America was falling in love with her, and it was for more than just beauty. I can remember everybody cutting their hair to try to make it look like Farrah’s…and she was on the cover of every magazine.

 She did the series as long as she could, until she was ready to leave, which was not easy to do.  I remember her wanting to pursue more serious film work. Later on, she was nominated for her television films, like 1981’s Murder in Texas, and her work became more appreciated. In 1983, she did Extremities on Broadway. We went to New York to watch her perform, I was totally blown away by her performance.

After the show, we had dinner with Farrah, Liza Minnelli, and Robin Williams. After that, Farrah kept reinventing herself. She was very smart and always negotiated her  contracts. She was an advocate for the equality of women in Hollywood long before any of the things we see today had come to light.

Throughout all her fame, she never forgot her friends. She would always call when she knew someone might be going through a hard time, to check on them and see she what she could do to help. I had so much respect for her. I remember so many times that I’d meet her in Houston, but the very last one stands out. I was with my daughter, Joy, who was sitting between me and her and she said to me, ‘Even today, it’s hard to be Farrah Fawcett.’ It was a couple of months later that she found out she had cancer, she had more courage and bravery than anybody I knew. She wanted to share this experience to give hope to other people; She was a fighter and she was fearless. In the end, it took her life, but her legacy lives on in her diverse work generations to come will enjoy.

INTERNATIONAL GLITZ

Evelyn Haney Anestos, Austin and New York

 I loved being a model in the 80s…you would have thought I hit life’s lottery. I have been obsessed with fashion my entire life, so getting to work with creative people from around the world, who would style inspirational outfits on me in unique locations, was a dream come true. It was mind blowing to me that I got paid to travel, wear beautiful clothes, and have so much fun. I worked with so many photographers over the years like Chris Micaud, Gregg Stevens, and Ian Lowry. 

 Modeling in Texas, we were always doing the shoots during the opposite seasons of the clothes. So, it would be 100 degrees outside and I’m wearing a wool coat and acting cold or… wearing swimsuits in the Texas winter, while jumping into a production car with the heat blasting in between shots. 

 I traveled around Texas quite a bit and  then other parts of the US in my teens, and then in my early 20s, I moved to Barcelona and then Paris to model.  This was a time when it was extremely uncommon for semesters abroad so for me to get to live in and travel around Europe for months was a life changing experience and one that was very uncommon for other young Americans at the time.

 Reviewing my 80’s modeling pictures, I thought my hair was going to look bigger, but in the professional shoots, they actually made my hair look normal. I remember teasing and spritzing my hair all the time. Once I went to a casting at Christian Dior in Paris, the first week I moved there, and a guy came up to me and said, with his European accent, ‘Where in the United States are you from?” And, I proudly said, Texas. He then said, ‘It’s obvious because of your hair,’ turned his back on me and walked away. 

 I got to travel to so many interesting and beautiful places and met so many fun, fascinating, and cool people. I am still very close to many of the models I used to work with, and we have all stayed in touch over the years.

WELCOME TO THE CLUB

Charles Ward, PR Wiz, Dallas & Houston

 I represented public relations for the hottest club in Houston in the 70s and 80s, élan. It was unique because there were no private clubs like it 40 years ago.

 In our initial teaser ads, we showed Clark Gable with the headline, Clark Gable Had élan, yet it had no address or phone number. You had to find us. In the beginning, we assembled 7,000 names of affluent Houstonians and sent them complimentary 90-day memberships. Then, we deleted every fourth name, knowing that they were all friends, and the deleted ones we knew who would immediately buy a $125/year membership. The exclusivity worked.

 Our client, Lance McFaddin of McFaddin Ventures, allowed our agency to do outstanding creative, unlike most club operations. The club attracted all ages and was known for having beautiful people as members.  Happy hours were packed to prime the pump for an evening of socializing and dancing.

 There was room to roam because we Texans love our space. The club was multi-level, with 17,000 square feet of game tables, dancing, a cozy library, bars, and an elegant restaurant. Backgammon was becoming popular, so we had backgammon tables in the bar, and that was a great way to meet new people.  

 Halloween was always a crazy, packed theme night. We targeted high profile Houstonians to throw parties for their friends. We published a magazine for members showing élan activities around the country.

 Many may recall that élan was a major location in the 1979 film, Urban Cowboy…and my personal high rise was another location in it, too.

SUPERMODEL? SENSATIONAL.

Jan Strimple, Model, Dallas

 I tip my hat off to J.R. and Sue Ellen for piquing the fashion world’s curiosity of Texas. My savvy European agents played up the Dallas angle by marketing me as ‘the 6-foot redhead from Texas’ and, the world’s top fashion houses took the bait. I’d slip on my Sergio Valente jeans, or a new pair of stirrup pants and dash off to my show fittings. While I couldn’t muster a sugared Texas accent, I non-apologetically delivered the fantasy glamour the fashion biz expected, wearing peplum jackets with projectile shoulders, dramatic scarves, and earrings large enough to float a family of four down the Nile. While sporting Madonna’s colored mascara or playing the Pac-Man between flights was not my thing, Flashdance-inspired layering was perfect for traveling. Donna Karan provide the biggest moments of the 80s good taste fashion which she split from Anne Klein and introduced gender power into the workplace.

Walking the finest runways in the world in the 80s was a wild ride. Theatrical shows ruled with the backstage consisting of a mélange of the top walkers, drag queens, the press, and supermodels. I seldom saw Cindy Crawford without her laptop, Anna Bayle without her cigarettes, Iman without her diva attitude, and Diane Dewitt without her Texas-bred warmth. They were all beauties with their own distinct style. We were like thoroughbred racehorses being prepped for the races–except those tracks were the runways. We were traded by agents to make zillions for them and hundreds of thousands for us. We’d hop on planes to do the circuit, starting in Paris, followed by a long weekend of shows in London, then it was off to Milan for fittings and shows.

 Occasionally, the shows in Barcelona could be slipped in before New York and the Spanish designers were thrilled to get us on their runways. They encouraged us to return by giving us clothes in appreciation, which was a lovely job perk. Then, we were back on American soil to walk for the New York designers. That was the twice a year schedule of the fashion rat pack––seven weeks of non-stop fashion insanity. I’d be at tents in London, on Avenue Marceau in Paris, on Corso Garibaldi in Milan, or in New York’s garment district for fittings and see the same people in the airports, the showrooms, and at the shows. By the time the core models landed back in New York, we had all reduced one full size and the New York designers had to refit our looks. Madness. Complete, fabulous, fashion madness.

PLAYED BY

Todd Allen, Actor, Austin & Los Angeles

I became an actor while being a business major at UT.  I was driving to our ranch in Johnson City to get my head together and think about what I wanted to do in life–I was supposed to be the one to take over my father’s insurance empire, but I knew that was not what I wanted.  As I was driving,  I saw movie trucks and lights at another ranch off the highway. I pulled over and walked in the gate.  They, mistakenly, assumed I was the son of the property owner and immediately whisked me over the meet the director (an Oscar winner, which I did not know at the time) and the producer.  After a couple of minutes, the director asked if I wanted to help rehearse the actors. So, I did. And then he asked if I’d like to be in the scene. So, I was.

 After a scene where I thought I royally messed up, the director looked at me, reached into his wallet and pulled out a card. He said, ‘This is my private number in LA.  When you get home, and you think about today…and you decide that this is what you are going to do for the rest of your life, and if you move to LA…call me. I’ll help you.’

 I then decided to go to New York to attend acting school, and toward the end of my first year there, I was invited to attend a screening of Walter Hill’s great 1981 film, Southern Comfort. As luck would have it, I sat next to Hill. I introduced myself and we had a good chat. He told me he was about to do a film in Los Angeles called 48 Hours. A couple of weeks later, I got the call to come to LA, got an agent and got the role.

 My ICM agent team kept trying to drag me into Brat Pack since I was young and the age of most of them.  I was always invited to parties with Judd Nelson, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, and the others, but I never wanted to be part of that group. I met Lawrence Kasden and was cast in Silverado, which meant I couldn’t play Demi Moore’s husband in St. Elmo’s Fire, the ultimate Brat Pack 80s movie.

I did tons of films, like Witchboard, which remains a cult hit, Swing Shift with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Mask that was directed by Peter Bogdonovich and starred Cher, Uncommon Valor where I played Gene Hackman’s son and tons of television. One of my favorite times was researching a role in an F-4 Phantom jet to play test pilot Chuck Yeager. There were so many fun times and rich experiences. It never occurred to me that I would not be successful. I just put my head down and went to work.

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?