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Thompson Dallas Hotel Breathes New Life into George Dahl’s 1965 Modernist Masterpiece

$460 Million Preservation is Touted as the Largest Adaptive Reuse Project in Texas' History

BY // 12.08.20
photography Gustav Schmiege

We love a good comeback story. The Thompson Dallas hotel, which opened downtown in mid-November in The National building, has teamed with local developer Todd Interests to rescue one of the city’s most important modernist structures. When prominent architects Thomas E. Stanley and George Dahl designed it in 1965 for the First National Bank of Dallas, the 52-story skyscraper was the tallest west of the Mississippi, with a dazzling façade of white marble and dark glass.

The building’s glamorous allure attracted powerful tenants, including the Dallas Petroleum Club, a private hangout for elite oilmen like H.L. Hunt and Clint Murchison Sr., where deals were made and fortunes lost.

The building faced an uncertain future after it shut down in 2010 for lack of occupancy, but a ray of hope emerged when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, setting the stage for a preservation-minded developer to save it. In 2019, Todd Interests, in partnership with Moriah Capital, acquired controlling interest in the redevelopment project, which includes the Thompson Dallas, office space, retail space, and The National Residences, 324 high-rise apartments that share the hotel’s room service and housekeeping amenities.

Salvaging and restoring such a significant structure was a huge undertaking, and Todd Interests and Thompson Hotels — part of the Hyatt Hotels portfolio — make an ideal team. Todd Interests has given new life to a number of aging, historic buildings in Dallas, including Three Hundred Pearl, East Quarter, 400 North Ervay, and One Dallas Center. Likewise, Thompson Hotels is known for taking historic sites and turning them into top hotels, such as The Beekman and Gild Hall in New York City, and the Thompson Nashville.

The National’s $460 million preservation project is touted as the largest adaptive reuse project in Texas’ history and restores many of the exquisite original elements designed by Dahl. A prolific architect, Dahl’s contributions include the 1927 Neiman Marcus Downtown building, the 1962 Gold Crest mid-rise apartment building, and dozens of Art Deco-era structures at Fair Park. Dahl used beautiful materials, and The National was no exception. Teakwood panels inlaid with brass that line the walls of the ninth floor have been restored, along with 17,555 hand-cut exterior marble panels, which were originally sourced from the same quarry as marble used for the Parthenon.

071 4634_JulieSoefer (Photo by Gustav Schmiege)
Thompson Dallas hotel guest room. A walnut and brass headboard and Art Deco-inspired lamps reference the hotel’s 1920s roots. (Photo by Gustav Schmiege)

The massive restoration and design effort was led by Cindy Zelazny of Interiors Limited, Caroline Todd of Todd Interiors, and Merriman Anderson Architects, with landscape design by SWA Group. Guest rooms average more than 700 square feet — of the 219 rooms, 52 are suites, and two are penthouse suites. Walnut-and-brass headboards, which reference Dahl’s original design elements, are set against blue-lacquered walls. The 14,000-square-foot fourth-floor National Ballroom has three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, 20-foot ceilings, and private suites that overlook the space. Two acres of indoor-outdoor space on the ninth floor — originally a private terrace for bank executives — now feature a full-service spa, fitness and wellness center, and a resort-style pool, along with Nine at The National, a casual restaurant. On the 10th floor is Catbird restaurant, lounge, and rooftop bar.

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Caroline Todd selected more than $2 million worth of furnishings and art from prestigious international galleries and art fairs including Frieze London and PAD London. Barlas Baylar, Hervé Langlais, and Ad Hoc designed furniture for the hotel; David Yarrow photography, sculpture by Raul Mourão, and paintings by David Bates and JD Miller are also featured.

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Kambel Smith’s The National, 2020 (Collection Thompson Dallas, photo Scott Newton)

From the Streets of Philly

Amidst Thompson Dallas’ multimillion dollar art collection, one special commission stands out.Kambel Smith’s The National, 2020, occupies pride of place in the hotel’s restored lobby. Formed from humble materials (foam board, Plexiglas, charcoal, oil, papier mâché, LED lights), the sculpture replicates the modernist architecture of George Dahl’s National building as it has been reborn under Todd Interests’ preservation. Its sculptor is a self-taught autistic artist who was discovered on the streets of Germantown, Philadelphia, three years ago, crafting iconic Philly buildings from cardboard and other salvaged materials. Since then, Smith has had a meteoric rise, with exhibitions, museum acquisitions, private commissions, and media acclaim.

There’s a Texas connection too: Chris Byrne, Dallas Art Fair co-founder and owner/founder of the Elaine de Kooning House and its residency in East Hampton, New York. Byrne has exhibited Smith’s work at the Elaine de Kooning House and the Outsider Art Fair. “The developer, Shawn Todd, was aware of Kambel’s work and contacted me about the commission,” Bryne tells PaperCity. “After researching George Dahl, Kambel was enthusiastic about the project — and I think The National is among his best.”

Todd says, “Kambel’s sculptures are ennobling to the original architectural design of each building he presents. This Autisarian is an inspiration to all.” – Catherine D. Anspon

Connecting the inspired with the extraordinary

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