Although it’s currently unclear just when the blaze began, reports began to appear around 2 a.m. Tuesday that the currently vacant Ambassador Hotel was in flames.
Dallas Fire and Rescue arrived to find the second and third floors burning, and by 2:15 a.m., the structure was fully involved. It appears that more than 45 units responded to the four-alarm blaze, according to a rough count of the active call list on the DFR website.
What remained in the light of day was heartbreaking.
The building was vacant, so there were no injuries. There had been reports early on about the potential cause of the blaze being attributed to a transformer blowing, but Dallas Fire and Rescue spokesperson Jason Evans said that may not be the case.
“During the course of fire suppression efforts a transformer in front of the hotel blew, but I never heard any reports indicating power lines to be down before that point,” he said Tuesday morning. “As far as the cause is concerned, it is currently undetermined.”
“Considering the amount of damage done by the fire, debris left by it and the likelihood that the amount of debris will only increase when the rest of the structure is demolished, the chances are slim that investigators could get the access that would allow them to fully examine the evidence they’d need to in order to rule anything out,” Evans added.
A Youtube user captured this video (you may want to leave the sound off).
Dallas Fire and Rescue officials said the 9-1-1 calls came in shortly after 1:30 a.m. The building appeared to be a total loss. Nearly simultaneously, fire crews were battling blazes at the 600 block of South Harwood Street and the 1800 block of Corsicana Street. Reportedly, the roof of another hotel on Harwood caught fire after embers from the Ambassador fire fell there, but was quickly put out by firefighters.
Around 4 a.m., eastbound I-30 from Akard to I-45 was shut down, as were most side streets. The fire made visibility difficult, plus debris was an issue. By 5 a.m., the lanes had reopened, but there were still debris issues around Griffin Street, and firefighters were still on the scene putting out hot spots, as the fire appeared to be contained by then. The frontage road along eastbound I-30 near the scene was still shut down at 5:20 a.m., as were side roads like northbound Ervay near Belleview and southbound St, Paul closed at Cadiz.
Social media reacted in horror and disbelief as the flames ravaged the historic hotel. Neighbors in The Cedars discussed helplessly as the building that was an important part of the neighborhood burned to the ground.
“The Ambassador Hotel was just entered on the National Register of Historic Places on April 4. It was built in 1905 with a red brick exterior with the stucco cladding added in 1932,” said Preservation Dallas on Facebook. “Presidents Theo. Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson all stayed there. It was designated a city landmark in 1982 and became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1965. Sadly the red brick can be seen clearly in some burned areas.”
— FOX4Terry (@FOX4Terry) May 28, 2019
Dallas Fire Rescue on scene fighting a fully involved structure fire at the old Ambassador Hotel on Ervay. pic.twitter.com/ok2VV6TgaV
— Mike Forbes (@mikeforbeswfaa) May 28, 2019
— DALLAS FIRE-RESCUE (@DallasFireRes_q) May 28, 2019
Ambassador Hotel going up in flames overnight. Air 1 assisting with locating spot fires. pic.twitter.com/TYbhOYMn8h
— Dallas Air One (@DPDAir1) May 28, 2019
And then, as sunrise came and went, the devastation was even clearer.
Overnight a fire overtook our historic Ambassador Hotel. As much as we are devastated by the loss of a Cedars icon, we thank the first responders @DallasFireRes_q and @dallaspd
The Cedars community is grateful pic.twitter.com/obhWRR6yeu
— CNADallas (@CNADallas) May 28, 2019
In February, we reported that the process of obtaining permits for a historic structure had held up progress by Jim Lake Companies, who bought the structure in 2015 with the intention of developing multifamily housing.
“Steve Owen, JLC Project Manager, said the current construction hold up is related to the company requesting the City of Dallas to amend the thoroughfare plan at the St. Paul Street connection to Ervay Street by abandoning part of St. Paul,” our Deb R. Brimer reported, adding that Ashley Eubanks, assistant director of the Real Estate Division of the Sustainable Development and Construction Department for the City of Dallas, JLC filed those applications in late 2017, and they were under winding their way through the process.
Built in 1904, The Ambassador was first The Majestic, and until today, was considered to be the oldest luxury hotel still standing in Dallas. Located in the 1300 block of Ervay in The Cedars neighborhood, the six-story hotel was considered to be a high rise at the height of its popularity, luring famous guests like Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.
During the Prohibition, it was the site of an underground speakeasy.
“The Ambassador Hotel, in the Cedars neighborhood immediately south of downtown Dallas, Texas, is a six-story stuccoed brick building built in 1905 and remodeled to its current Mediterranean-inspired appearance in 1932,” reads the National Registration of Historic Places registration form filled out recently. “The building opened as the Majestic Hotel and was considered at that time as one of the city’s premier hotels, but soon went into receivership and reopened as the Park Hotel under new owner F.W Boedecker in 1907.”
But the Majestic was something else, apparently.
“The original Majestic Hotel design was a six-story building in red brick with contrasting white limestone entrance portico, dentilled pediment, and belt course above the first story. Before renovations in 1932, there was a gable on the west façade roof that was Georgian in style and a balustraded deck on the flat roof. All windows had limestone lintels.
The west entrance porch was supported by Ionic columns and was topped with a balustrade. The north and south facades were largely symmetrical. On the north façade of the building was a dining room and kitchen annex, which was torn down in the 1930s, along with the south portico. When the Majestic Hotel opened in 1905, it was promoted as a premier hotel in Dallas. Sarah Bernhardt stayed there while performing in Dallas as well as other actors, actress and opera stars of that era. Three presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and Woodrow Wilson, reportedly stayed at the Majestic while visiting Dallas. On November 18, 1905, the Majestic was the site of the Dallas social event of the year, the Idlewild Club Ball, covered by the Dallas
Morning News with description of the scene: ‘The ballroom was resplendent in the Club’s colors…the center pillar represented a birch tree … an orchestra of twenty-eight pieces was stationed on the balcony.'”
“Eclipsed by the establishment of luxury hotels in downtown Dallas, such as the 1912 Adolphus, as well as the transition of the Cedars neighborhood from an upscale residential district to an industrial and commercial district, the hotel served long-term and short-term tenants under different owners until its purchase in 1955 and conversion to affordable housing for elderly residents following the innovative plan of developer Charles Lavin,” it continued.
“The Ambassador stands as an important local example of a mid-rise commercial building in the Cedars neighborhood and reflects the dramatic transition of south Dallas through the 20th Century. The building is nominated to the National Register under Criterion A in the area of Commerce at the local level, with a period of significance extending from its renovation in 1932 through 1956, when it became a long-term residential retirement facility following the Lavin Plan.”
In 1981, Sadrudin Alani bought the hotel and began to renovate it. By 1982, the Great Texas Development Corporation bought the Ambassador and announced it would complete the renovation, and after the company declared bankruptcy and reorganized as TAP Historic Properties, it opened the property once again as a luxury hotel in 1983. By 1990, times apparently were hard again, and the hotel temporarily closed due to lack of funds. By 1993, it was purchased for $800,000 by Bill Gothard to establish the Institute in Basic Life Principles, operating there until it sold the building to Jim Lake Companies in 2015.
This isn’t the first time the building has caught fire in recent years, either. On Nov. 18, 2017, a fire on the second floor brought firefighters out as well, but the fire was much smaller and was contained to the second floor, only required two units to combat it, and caused minimal damage.