Hotel Santa Fe, Dallas, Texas, USA

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Hitchhikers visiting Dallas are confronted with a dizzying selection when looking for a place to rest their weary bones. Literally hundreds of hotels, motels, beds-and-breakfasts and comfortable spots in parks litter the Dallas-Ft Worth metropolitan area. The Hotel Santa Fe is an establishment, with a colourful history, which occupies a fascinating niche in the hospitality industry. It is well worth the patronage of a discerning hitchhiker, whether staying for a night, a fortnight, or indefinitely.


Early Glory - The Dallas Hilton

The early history of the Hotel Santa Fe is tied up with the early history of the Hilton, a chain which has earned its place among the Titans of the hospitality industry. Conrad Hilton (1887-1979), the founder of the chain, built his first Hotel in Dallas. He had already bought a few hotels throughout Texas, but the Dallas Hilton, begun in 1924 and completed the following year, was the first that was truly his own. In 1938, Mr Hilton sold the Dallas Hilton to Mr White, and it was renamed the White Plaza Hotel. It has since been declared an Historic Landmark of Dallas, and operates at the time of writing as the Dallas Aristocrat Hotel.

Conrad Hilton may have sold his Dallas Hotel, but he still considered the city home. It was in Dallas that he raised his children, and in 1948, a decade after selling his first Dallas Hilton, he was discussing the idea of building another. Dallas was at the time a dynamic, fast growing commercial centre, and such cities need good hotels, to attract conventions and to accomodate all of the varied travellers who inevitably accompany the movements of big business.

It took another 16 years for Mr. Hilton to capture the interest of some serious Dallas investors, but in 1964, the deal was finally made, contracts signed, and the new 'Dallas Hilton Inn' in the works. A location was chosen, at the crossing of Central Expessway and Mockingbird Lane - a busy intersection in a good old neighborhood, with easy access to downtown and to Dallas Love Field Airport. The Inn was designed by (NAME) a Dallas Architect. To ensure that the view from the nightclub at the top of the six-story tower would be suitably breathtaking, the planners hovered a helicopter at the appropriate height, and Dallas stretched out beautifully around them. The building could go ahead.

Ground was broken the following year, and construction went ahead on the newest gem in Mr Hilton's crown. One anecdote illustrates the enthusiasm, the determination, and the sheer mindless wealth of the builders: there was a billboard on a small plot of land adjoining the hotel's plot. This billboard was carrying an advertisement for the Cabana Motor Inn, a few miles down the road, and this embarassed the Hilton's investors. Inquiries were made, but the owner of the sign had a contract with the motor inn, and the space wasn't available. Not to be deterred by a problem that could be solved with sufficient funds, the Hilton team bought the land under the billboard. The tiny, fifth-of-an-acre plot was sold for $500,000 - a rate of a quarter of a million US$ per acre, which was the most anyone had ever paid for a billboard ad. The following morning, hopeful commuters on Central Expressway were left with no mistake that there was a Dallas Hilton Inn coming to town soon.

Building moved ahead, armies of decorators were brought in to beautify the completed structure in the latest styles1, and the finishing touches were applied in the spring of 1967, when Dallas' cultural elite finally got to explore the inside of the impressive single tower - now ten stories - and southward sprawling wings which had rised to dominate the busy intersection, across from the prosperous Dr Pepper Plant to the north, and the busy Mrs Baird's Bread Bakery to the west.

The new Dallas Hilton Inn was the toast of the town. From the palm-tree framed courtyard surrounding the luxurious swimming pool, to Harper's Corner, the private 10th floor nightclub with the view of downtown Dallas' growing skyline, to the ever-popular Trader Vic's South Pacific themed restaurant/lounge2 in the north wing, everything was perfect. The Hilton Inn was clearly the place to stay in Dallas. Everything was so modern, and you never knew who you might run into there. Bob Hope was a regular guest, as was Tina Turner (check this), and it's even rumoured that Elvis was spotted there - while he was still alive!

Decline into Obscurity and Strangeness - The Dallas Hiltop

Sadly, just as the shining ideals of the late 1960 disintegrated into the decadence of the 1970s and 1980s, so did the once-fab Dallas Hilton fall into disrepair and disrepute. The same newspapers that had run special secions of raving reviews now alternated between ignoring the Hotel for years at a time, and panning its attempts to stay at the head of the cutthroat catering and hospitality industries in the ever-growing Dallas area. In 1984, when Dallas was to host the Repulican National Convention 3, the Department of Health inspected all of the hotels who had made bids to house conventioneers. Although the kitchen passed inspection the second time around, a serious blow to the Inn's already-faltering pride had been struck.

In 1990, with the old Mr Hilton having been buried for over a decade, and any sentimental connections to Dallas seemingly forgotten by his heirs, the Dallas Hilton was cut loose from the chain. They were given immediate notice to cease using the name Hilton, as it had been determined that the inn no longer properly represented the standards of comfort, luxury - even of safety - that the chain wished to be seen exemplifying. In a bit of a panic, some quick changes were made. 'Someone tell the desk clerk to stop answering the telephone "Dallas Hilton" before another newspaper calls! What? We can't afford another sign? Well we can't afford to get sued either! Go find a big red "P" and we'll be the "Hiltop Inn"! Oh, God, I need an aspirin...'4

The Hotel needed more than a big red 'P' to break its downward spiral, though. Tina Turner and Bob Hope no longer came around, living large; their once starry suites were abandoned to trick turners, and no-hope drug-dealers and ex-convicts, laying low, and not sparing a thought to wonder what had gone wrong. In 1991, the doors were closed. The ghost-inn still dominated the Mockingbird/Central intersection, but now only reminded the weary commuters on Central Expressway of the transience of wealth and fame.

In the East, there are stories of the Phoenix, a bird that rises back to life from its own ashes. So, from the East came the old hotel's new lease on life. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who, when the New Dallas Hilton was opening in 1967, was serving as spiritual guru to The Beatles, among others, had come out of India, and was finding new ways to sell his message of enlightenment through Transcendental Meditation.

The Maharishi's organization was known as the World Plan Exectutive Council, and part of their World Plan involved a chain of combination Hotels/Meditation Centers, flying the flag of the 'Heaven on Earth Inn'5. Perhaps for lack of interest due to doubts about Dallas' potential to achieve enlightenment, the 'Heaven on Earth Inn' concept was not marketed with very much energy. The flag was never hoisted, anyway, and to the casual observer, the Hiltop had just re-opened for more of the same.

Many Dallasites had some idea that the Maharishi was in charge, but this fact failed to make very many waves in the busy city. The hotel received a spot of publicity in 1995, when the Dallas Observer, the city's largest circulating representative of the 'alternative press', ran a review of a concert taking place inside. The review actually occupied a few paragraphs in the corner of a somewhat cynical story about the fact that they were actually offering meditation classes at a 'Maharishi Ayru-Veda School', discreetly housed on the fourth floor of the former Dallas Hilton Hotel. There was also a hint of disbelief on the part of the reporter that the concert being offered would ease Dallas' tension and angst, and usher in a new age of peace and calm for the city, and indeed for the world.

The Hotel Santa Fe

  • 2000 - Reopening as Hotel Santa Fe

The Hotel Santa Fe Today

Extended Stay Program

Finding the Hotel Santa Fe

The Hotel Santa Fe is located at the corner of Highway I-75 and Mockingbird Lane about 5(?) miles north of Downtown Dallas. If you are travellling on I-75, take the exit for Mockingbird Lane, and you can't miss the hotel at the south-east corner of the intersection. If you're relying on public transportation, you still shouldn't have any trouble. Get on the DARTRail (?) line running north from downtown and get off the train at the Mockingbird Station. The Hotel is just across Mockingbird Lane - be sure to cross at the crosswalk, as the traffic is unforgiving!

However you get there, and however long you stay, you are certain to find your sojourn at the Hotel Santa Fe friendly, comfortable, and memorable.

1Lots of velvet and (WHAT'S THAT OTHER MATERIAL?) in Southwestern motifs2The seventeenth restaurant in the chain, which started in Oakland, California, and the sixth Trader Vic's to be located inside a Hilton!3the second to nominate Ronald Reagan for a successful presidential run4Quotation reconstructed from actual events, as reported in the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald (GET CITATION)5Another part of their plan involved building a transcendental theme-park in Orlando called 'Vedaland', but that part was abandoned, sadly.

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