DALLAS - Stephanie Hutson wants to show me the treasures locked behind the cellar door at the bottom of the twisted staircase in the old Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. But she’s forgotten the key.
“I’ll get it (the key) from my office and I’ll be right back,” says the charming Marketing Manager of the historic property as she darts back up the narrow staircase.
In Stephanie’s absence I decide to explore the handsome home built by Dallas’ revered King family back in the 1920s.
The Mansion looks pretty much as it did when the Kings moved in, except for the hotel tower that was added to the property back in the 1980s. Amazingly, though, the tower was completed without compromising any of the home’s original elegance, which is why, despite the presence in the city today of such chic hotel brands as Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont and W, the classic Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek remains the desired address to stay when visiting this oil-energized city.
As I return to the room at the top of the stairs, I can’t help but be impressed by its dark wood paneling and the long bar that dominates. This once served as one of the King family’s dining areas but now offers hotel guests a cozy corner where they can sip cocktails or have a romantic rendezvous under dim lighting.
Left: Hotel features ornate columns. Middle: Stained glass dating back centuries decorates the dining area. Right: The carvings above the home’s mantle are simply divine.
The 16th century Italian Renaissance-style Rosewood Mansion still features most of the museum-worthy pieces purchased by the Kings to accent their new home during elaborate buying trips through Europe. The 19th century Spanish cathedral doors, twisted ornate columns entwined with carved grapes, the French-style elevator and fine Italian marble are as impressive today as the day they were hung.
The corridors of this Grand Dame of Dallas hotels take you on a journey back to a time when brash Texans were beginning to spend their new-found oil riches on the finer things in life.
Every room I enter surpasses the last in style and grandeur.
The original dining room where Stephanie Hutson first welcomed me earlier with a spicy southwestern-style breakfast looks even more impressive now that the morning light is spotlighting the room’s magnificent inlaid ceiling. It took six carpenters three weeks to install the 2,400 separate pieces that make up the room’s dramatic ceiling, which was designed by famed French architect Jacques Caree.
The oak-paneled library is no less impressive. Its ornately-carved plaster ceiling and stunning stained-glass windows bearing the coats of arms of the barons who witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta are simply breathtaking.
But it’s the room’s exquisite fireplace with the 16th century stone mantel which really catches my eye. Swiss artist Peter Mansbendel’s intricate carvings in the mantel’s woodwork are masterful and compliment the room - a reproduction of a parlour featured in an elegant English home built in Bromley-by-Bow outside London - perfectly.
My snooping leads me to the home’s porch, which looks out on sweeping lawns and lovely gardens. The porch was glass enclosed when Caroline Hunt, of the Hunt oil dynasty, bought the Mansion in 1979. It’s now an extension of the Mansion’s award-winning restaurant, which, over the decades, has produced some of Dallas’ most famous chefs. Included in that number is Dean Faring, a celebrity chef who moved to the newly-opened Ritz-Carlton recently.
Not to worry. The Mansion just hired pastry celebrated Chef Nicolas Blouin, so the sweet surprises will keep coming out of the Rosewood’s legendary kitchen.
Left: A cantilevered staircase greets visitors to the old Mansion. Right: Behind the cellar door, rare treasures wait within.
The garden room off the veranda is sought out for romantic interludes or special occasion dinners. It’s one of the loveliest corners in the home, which features eight rooms downstairs and five bedrooms, four bathrooms and four maids’ quarters on the upper level. The garden room’s most distinguishing feature is the old Spanish floor tiles with insets depicting the travels of Don Quixote.
Caroline Hunt spent $21 million U.S. returning the property to its original glory during a two-year renovation after she bought it and it was money well spent.
The charming Stephanie still has not returned by the time I reach the entrance of the grand home where its’ most stunning feature – a cantilevered staircase – dominates. The remarkable staircase, considered an engineering marvel at the time the home was built, tempts strangers to climb to the home’s upper level.
Who am I to resist temptation?
At the top, I find a small room with a balcony. It’s here that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor stayed when they visited Dallas in 1936 to dedicate a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The owners at the time – the King family lost the Mansion and their fortune in 1935 and it was bought by oil man Freeman Burford – quickly transformed the room’s tiny closet into a bathroom to accommodate the wheelchair-bound president.
As you can imagine, Roosevelt was just one of many dignitaries and famous names who were guests of the Mansion’s owners over the years. In the 1940s, playwright Tennessee Williams wrote Summer and Smoke while a guest at the Mansion. And Hollywood actress Victoria Principal, a star of the hit TV series Dallas, was married in the room and posed for press photos on the Romeo and Juliet balcony just outside.
By the time I stroll into the upper floor bedrooms that have all be converted into modern meeting space, Stephanie has caught up with me.
“I’ve been looking all over the Mansion for you,” the attractive Stephanie says. “I have the key, so follow me.”
Soon we are standing in front of the cellar door again and as Stephanie inserts the key, she tells me this is where the King family once stored their fur and silver.
The door swings open to reveal a room stacked with racks of vintage wine piled to it almost touches the nine-foot ceiling and a long table decorated with the finest silverware, china place settings and crystal.
“This is where we hold very private parties,” says Stephanie.
Oh, if only these musty walls could talk? What secrets they could reveal about Dallas then and now?
Afterwards, Stephanie leads me to the “new” part of the Mansion – the reception area for the sumptuous nine-storey hotel.
While it may not be able to offer the legacy the adjoining Mansion boasts, the Rosewood Mansion Hotel is writing its own history by offering a level of service usually recognized with Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and prestigious Asian chains.
The lobby area is filled with over-the-top flower arrangements and modern art, some of which are so abstract that one is left wondering what they may represent. But the mixture of traditional with the modern, all supervised by Caroline Hunt herself, blends together beautifully to create an electric ambience and a lobby that is truly unique to the hotel world.
The comfortable guest rooms and suites, which are always being upgraded; and the manicured grounds, are a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of everyday Dallas life.
The renowned Texas hospitality comes free of charge, of course.
No wonder the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek has received 5-star and 5-diamond rankings from prestigious ranking agencies.
However, after one visit, I rate the historic Rosewood Mansion in a class of its own.
- Star Alliance partners Air Canada and United offer a daily flight to Dallas from Toronto.
- The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is located at 2821 Turtle Creek Boulevard on the edge of downtown Dallas and its business and arts districts.
- For room rates and more information, go to www.mansiononturtlecreek.com
- The Rosewood Group also lists hotels in Vancouver (Rosewood Hotel Georgia), Atlanta (The Mansion on Peachtree), Bermuda (Tucker’s Point), New York (The Carlyle) and 17 others spread throughout North America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.