Ghost stories, murder and a basement speakeasy are all part of the colorful history of Dallas' Ambassador Hotel.
Renovation that begin Monday will transform the building into loft apartments with shops, restaurants, a swimming pool and once again, the speakeasy bar.
The six-story building with a lower level is between South St. Paul and Ervay Street south of Interstate 30 in The Cedars neighborhood adjacent to Downtown.
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Visitors have been drawn to the place for generations, and so it was for Dallas developer Jim Lake.
“I’ve driven by this property my whole life and when we were able to acquire it a few years ago I just felt really blessed,” he said.
Prayers are in order given some of the mayhem said to have occurred in the speakeasy years.
During prohibition, when alcohol was illegal, there was an outdoor entrance to the lower level gathering place, but also a tunnel that connected to the hotel’s horse stable across Ervay Street.
“The agents might come to arrest people for one reason or another. That was the escape route,” Lake said.
Lake hopes to remove the brick wall that now seals off the tunnel to reconnect the hotel with the horse stable building, which will soon be a tap room for the Four Corners Brewing Company, moving in across the street.
Other new residential construction is underway in The Cedars. Lake believes timing is perfect for revival of The Ambassador.
“Everybody has kind of got their eyes on it because I think the really can serve as an anchor for this end of The Cedars,” he said.
The original Ambassador Hotel had features that were very modern for its day including what Lake said is the oldest elevator west of the Mississippi River. The building operated as a hotel from 1905 to 1955 and became a retirement home after that.
The renovation will make structural repairs and add modern equipment under tough restrictions for historic preservation. The guest rooms with 12 foot ceilings will be converted into 103 small apartments of around 500-square-feet each.
Some building features added during subsequent renovations in the 1970’s and 1980’s will be removed to make way for improvements while keeping key original design elements.
Lake’s company has historic renovation work underway in Waxahachie and has done other Dallas projects.
“We redevelop these historically significant properties that may be in an area that may be a little bit edgy and we’re willing to take a chance,” Lake said.
Workers were removing furniture and light fixtures Friday. The Ambassador renovation is due for completion in 2019.