The Grande Dame of Dallas Hotels
October 11, 2012
Looking back on his 100th birthday in July, my Uncle Mort admits it could have been doubly sweet had he known of another 100th anniversary observation this year.
“If I had known I shared a birthday year with Dallas’ Adolphus Hotel, I might have swung a deal to have my party there,” he lamented.
Had there been that “dual party,” it would have been a study in contrasts – one sedate, the other garish; a melodious Steinway vs. barn dance fiddles; fine china in lieu of Styrofoam, and silk stockings vs. flip/flops.
“My daddy was forever talking about the Adolphus,” Mort said, claiming it was the first hotel that didn’t have “and livery” in its name. “Staying there was beyond our dreams, but we walked through the lobby and picked up left-behind newspapers during our rare trips to Big ‘D’.”
Named and financed by St. Louis beer baron Adolphus Busch, the magnificent twenty-two-story hotel set new hostelry standards. Greats and near-greats from around the globe have enjoyed old-world hospitality in a hotel known for 18th century design – inside and out.
If walls could talk, floors and ceilings couldn’t get words in edgewise. There’d be happy afterglow chatter about the Glenn Miller Orchestra; serious talk of two world wars, the Roaring 20’s and the Great Depression; seventh-floor political discourse at Texas’ campaign center for FDR’s 1944 presidential run and gambling whispers on Texas-Oklahoma football games.
Constructed at a cost of $1.5 million, it rose at the city’s epicenter, the corner of Commerce and Akard. Never mind the nearly-new Dallas City Hall occupied the address. Busch wrote a $240,000 check for it and ordered horse-powered ‘dozers. City Hall could be someplace else.
Grandeur was worth it. After all, Texans thrive on bragging rights that come with a 1,250-room hotel that later was first in the U.S. with air conditioning.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, a siren was installed atop the Adolphus to warn citizens in the event of air raids.
“Maud and I had been married several years when we first paid money for a place to sleep,” Mort laughed. “We tried to land on relatives when we traveled, on pallets if need be. One time we showed up unannounced at my grandparents’ house in Houston. They weren’t home, and the key usually hidden under a brick in the flower bed wasn’t there. So, we went to a tourist court.”
He called it a “more than modest” accommodation¸ setting him back $1.7 – $1.85 with a dime left for the maid. Actually, it totaled two dollars – there was a fifteen-cent charge for the window pane broken when he stuck the door key in too far.
Adolphus guests feel caught in a time warp. They’re still treated by warm, down-home hospitality common there since culture reached puberty. Finery in every respect remains.
Their “operators” are never busy serving other customers. From “check-in to check-out,” guests are royalty – a little less than angels but much more than kinfolks.
Leave wake-up calls, and a “live” person interrupts slumber, warm and friendly the first time, but a bit more “mother-like” if a second call is required. (During one long-ago stay at a property akin to Uncle Mort’s “tourist court,” I requested a wake-up call. The gruff clerk said, “We ain’t got phones,” and tossed me a wind-up alarm clock.
Even the walls are silent about some goings-on. Rumor has it, though, that one of the funniest vignettes occurred years ago during an OU-UT weekend. An Okie checked in on Friday afternoon, his first-ever time for the shoot-out.
Hours were beyond wee when revelry finally gave way to slumber and his throbbing head hit the pillow. When he woke, he called room service for a pot of stiff black coffee, bacon and eggs and a Saturday morning paper. Almost an hour later, he called to ask if they had to kill the hog and gather the eggs. “No problem with the food,” the server said, “But it takes a while to find a Saturday paper on Sunday morning.”
The Adolphus has rolled with nearly all the kinds of punches a century can unleash, but it is now for sale. Nearly everything Mort owns has a price tag, too.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.
Humorist Don Newbury is author of When the Porch Light’s On.