Texas Architect May/June 2008: Healing Environments
Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other editorial content largely written by AIA members in Texas. That collective participation was the basis of Texas Architect’s recognition by the national AIA with a 2010 Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement.
The new owner plans to return the Settles Hotel to its former elegance, as shown in the postcard above. When first opened in 1930, the 15-story hotel was the tallest building between Fort Worth and El Paso. Photo by Anne Read; postcard image courtesy Settles Hotel Development Corporation Big Spring’s Historic Settles Hotel Seen as Future Mixed-Use Project b i g s p r i n g The Settles Hotel, a prominent reminder of Big Spring’s prosperity during the oil boom of the late 1920s, still towers over the downtown although abandoned for almost 30 years. Despite several failed attempts within recent years to revive the neglected landmark, the 15-story Neo-Classical/Moderne icon is again being studied for rehabilitation. This time by a native son who plans to convert the old hotel to commercial and residential mixed-use. A community embarrassment because of its obvious vacant status and woeful disrepair, the once-elegant Settles was long ago stripped of its distinctive interior embellishments. Claimed by the city for back taxes, the building seemed marked for demolition until Brint Ryan bought it in 2006. Ryan, a Dallas-based accountant who grew up in Big Spring, formed the privately funded Settles Hotel Development Corporation to accomplish his goal of returning the luster to the property. Ryan and his brother, Kristopher, who is the corporation’s general manager, hired Dallas architect Norman Alston for the rehabilitation project. 5 / 6 2 0 0 8 As might be expected with Depression-era construction, the greatest challenges Alston face are related to bringing the hotel up to code, including installation of a fire-sprinkler system without damaging decorative plaster ceilings, locating a second stairway in a building with 4,000-square-foot floor plates, and updating services to existing public spaces (including ballrooms and banquet halls “with almost no bathrooms, much less accessible ones,” says Alston.) New amenities are expected to include a fitness center, a full-service restaurant, and a conference center. The tower’s lower floors will be used again as hotel rooms, with the upper floors reconfigured as apartments. The hotel’s new owner is optimistic despite the fact that Big Spring’s population has been declining and its local economy has never recovered from the closing of Webb Air Force Base in the late 1970s. The spoils of the oil boom of the late 1920s enabled W.R. Settles to purchase the downtown tract, retain architect David M. Castle of Abilene, and finance his optimistic hotel project. Built for the reported cost of $500,000, the hotel was the tallest building between El Paso and Fort Worth. Opening in October 1930 to great fanfare and support by the local community, the Settles hosted dignitaries and celebrities that included Elvis Presley, Lawrence Welk, Herbert Hoover, among others. The Settles is being nominated for the National Register of Historic Places distinction, which if accepted will make the project eligible for federal tax credits. The new owners have tracked down the original marble flooring, wrought iron railings, doors, furnishings, dinner ware, and other historic artifacts marked with the hotel’s emblem. Also, the local Heritage Museum has offered to return the lobby’s opulent chandelier. Guided by Castle’s original drawings, the owners plan to accurately restore the ballroom and lobby, along with the building’s original neon roof-top and frontentrance signage. The Ryan brothers have also purchased other nearby properties to directly support and/or complement their mixed-use development. Rehabilitation will begin this summer, with completion scheduled to coincide with the building’s eightieth birthday in 2010. L aw r e n c e C o n n olly , A I A A TA contributing editor, the writer is principal of Connolly Architects & Consultants in Austin. t e x a s a r c h i t e c t 13