The sixties-styled building along Stemmons Freeway has a long and varied history, but the first step to revive the Cabana Motor Hotel was demolition and that meant asbestos abatement for this 1960s structure.
Designed by Melvin Grossman, construction began in 1961 and opened in 1963. The hotel had a modern design new to Dallas and the interior projected an ancient Roman theme throughout. A replica of Michelangel’s David as well as Venus de Milo and Winged Victory adorned the lobby. Intricate tiles and marble added to the luxurious furnishings for the time period. The hotel was 10 stories tall with a grand staircase and a wide array of amenities.
The developer was Jay Samo who had previously build two other Cabana Hotels, but the Dallas one was his most opulent. He went on to develop Caesar’s Palace and Circus Circus in Las Vegas.
Marty Melcher, Doris Day’s husband at the time, invested her money in the project. The Teamsters were also investors under the direction of Jimmy Hoffa.
Glory years: The Beatles and the Cabana
For long-time Dallasites, the Cabana Hotel was known as the “hotel where the Beatle stayed” in September of 1964. It was a place for celebrities in its early years including, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Jimmy Hoffa. Raquel Welch was employed there as a waitress in the lounge. As a waitress, she would have been called a “goddess” and worn a short toga. Many top names in show business performed at the hotel in rooms such as the Bon Vivant Club and Nero’s Nook cocktail lounge.
The dream soon ends
Just six years after opening, the hotel was sold to the Hyatt House and renamed the Hyatt House Hotel. Then seven years later, Hyatt sold it to Holders Capital Corporation and it was renamed DuPont Plaza. The most shocking development came in 1984 – just over 20 years from its opening as a grand hotel –when it was purchased by Dallas County and turned into a minimum security jail.
Almost thirty years later it was sold again; this time to Lincoln Properties with plans to demolish the building and replace it with a data center. That never happened and it was on the market again in 2016 and purchased by Circa Capital Corporation. Finally, the hotel was once again valued for its unique design and history, but was passed again to Centurion American Development Group – a firm that recently completed restoration of the Dallas downtown Statler Hilton.
Demolition began with removal of asbestos throughout the building. Asbestos was used extensively for construction in the 1960s, but is a dangerous, and sometimes fatal, health problem when disturbed. When fibers are released into the air, they are easily inhaled and can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma – a fatal disease.
The company is retaining historic elements that remain, but as the CEO of Centurion American, Mehrdad Moayedi said, “We are demoing stuff that is not historic. There were holding tanks and bars between the balconies and rooms.” The lobby and ballroom were converted from the original two-story design to separate floors during the prison phase. The pool was filled in and interior finishes were removed. The final plan calls for converting the hotel to 262 new rooms plus restaurants. In addition, the plan includes a 140,000 square foot apartment tower on top of the hotel’s garage.
Next steps to revive the Cabana Motor Hotel
At present, a historic plan from the developer is in Austin to be approved. In 2015, Preservation Dallas named the building as endangered to assist in saving the old hotel with its mid-century architecture. These historic designations are important for acquiring special financing for historic structures.
If all plans proceed as expected, construction will begin in 2019.
Photo from the Texas History Collection, provided by Dallas Heritage Village to the Portal to Texas History