Every hour or so, the Save the Cabana Hotel Facebook page reminds its 900-plus followers to SAVE THE CABANA HOTEL. Dallas' luxury Cabana Motor Hotel opened on Stemmons Freeway in 1962, and photographs on the fan page show legends like John Bonham and Robert Plant hanging out. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Raquel Welch were also once inside the building.
In more recent years, the Cabana hosted a man named Danny Marvin, who describes his visit in the comments section of a Dallas Voice article:
I stayed there ... the food was horrible, staff wasn't very nice, and the worst part i had to stripe naked in front of other men. Nice architecture though.
What Marvin seems to be getting at is that the Cabana Hotel is already dead. It stopped being the Cabana Hotel in 1987, when Dallas County turned it into a jail. The Bill Decker Detention Center housed overflow inmates until 2009, when the county opened another jail to put the extra inmates instead.
"I don't ever see it reopening," County Commissioner John Wiley Price told the Dallas Morning News in 2008.
Five years later, the beat-up building still sits on Stemmons, now operating as a private halfway house. So why the sudden interest in returning a forgotten building next to a freeway to its 1960s glory? Because a bunch of developers were recently offered the building and now they're fighting to get their hands on it.
Last month a real estate group announced that the building was available for redevelopment. Developers put their bids in. Then in a closed meeting on October 7, Dallas County Commissioners Court reportedly made some sort of decision about the building that nobody can definitively talk about.
Neither the county nor the real estate group will comment yet on how that meeting went down or what's next for the building. But judging by the Save the Cabana Hotel page, it appears that a company called Lincoln Property got the place and now plans to do something evil. "We fear they will demolish it and ask for your help to save the structure," says a recent Save the Cabana Hotel post.
Who is Save the Cabana Hotel? It's a page run by a man named Charles Brower who also wants to redevelop the building. He says he thinks Lincoln Property will probably demolish everything but doesn't offer proof. "Although the Lincoln Property plan is uncertain," Brower says, "it's uncertain what they plan to do with the building. In all likelihood, given the economic opportunity for them, they would tear it down and build an apartment building in its place."
Brower lives in New York City and works as a "marketing leader and digital channel strategist," but denies that Save the Cabana Hotel is a marketing ploy. He says he plans to move to Dallas soon and is a partner in a company called Hercules Development that wants to restore the building. "We'd like to turn it back into a four-star hotel," he says.
Brower uses the building's history to make his case that it should be a hotel again. "There's a very rich legacy of Dallas history and memories that go along with that structure. Once that structure is gone, you've erased those memories, you've erased that history from the Dallas area," he says. (Lincoln Property's Clay Duvall hasn't yet returned our messages to confirm what it is that they actually plan to do with building. He vaguely told the News a few weeks ago that "we've looked at it a bunch of different ways.")
Unsure if this building is worth caring about or if this is just a turf war between competing developers, I went to Dallas' preservationist-in-chief to see if he thinks the building is nice. He does. "I believe that the Cabana Hotel is an extremely interesting and good piece of architecture," David Preziosi of Preservation Dallas says via email. "It evokes the spirit of the age when it was built with its modern concrete screen façade and nod to Las Vegas architecture in its design."
I drove by myself and found a large boxy building with a drab parking garage next to a freeway. The width seems to violate every urban, pedestrian-friendly principle that Dallas' trendy neighborhoods are supposed to be embracing now. The facade was pretty cool, though. Maybe we can work out a compromise where whoever gets the building promises to just raze half of it.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.