• The brick-and-cast-stone facade of the historic Colored Knights of Pythias Temple. - photo by Leonid Furmansky

Deep Ellum’s Kimpton Pittman Hotel marries a contemporary tower with a historic temple.

Location Dallas
Client Epic Dallas Hotel
Architect Perkins&Will
Historic Preservation Architect Skotnicki Studio
Contractor Balfour Beatty US
Interior Designer Busta Studio
Civil Engineer Kimley-Horn
Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti
MEP Engineer Schmidt & Stacy
Elevator Consultant HH Angus
Landscape Architect Talley Associates

The new Kimpton Pittman Hotel was named in honor of William Sidney Pittman, the first Black architect to practice in Texas and the architect for the 1916 Grand Lodge of the Colored Knights of Pythias Temple. The building is located at 2551 Elm Street in the neighborhood of Deep Ellum just east of downtown Dallas; it sits prominently on a corner across from the DART light rail line. Designed by the Dallas office of Perkins&Will for Westdale Real Estate Investment and Management, the new 165-room project is composed of renovations and alterations to the existing 32,000-sf four-story Beaux Arts-style temple, along with a new 108,000-sf seven-story contemporary addition designed by the Dallas office of Perkins&Will.  

Pittman and his wife, Portia, daughter of Booker T. Washington, moved to the nearby State Thomas neighborhood in 1912 seeking opportunity in the growing urban communities of Texas. They quickly set about creating a new home with space for their two children and Pittman’s growing architecture practice. Sometime around 1914, the Deep Ellum fraternal order of the Knights of Pythias approached Pittman about designing a new temple building to be located on a diamond-shaped lot at the corner of Elm and Good streets, adjacent to the Texas and Pacific rail yard. 

The period between 1890 and 1934 was the golden era of American fraternal societies. For a period following its completion in 1916, the Beaux Arts-style temple became the dominant hub of social and commercial life in the segregated community of Deep Ellum. The multitenant building housed doctors, lawyers, dentists, and insurance and financial businesses, rounded out by a lively barbershop scene.

When the Great Depression swept through Texas, many commercial ventures throughout Dallas and Deep Ellum were shuttered, including the temple building. The Knights were forced to sell, and the building changed hands many times over the ensuing years. When it was finally bought by Union Banker’s Insurance Company in 1959, the new owners made alterations of dubious quality to accommodate the new office use. In 1989, the city of Dallas stepped in to halt the infilling of the original incised frieze reading “Knights of Pythias.” Soon thereafter, the building was designated a historic city landmark over the objections of Union Banker’s Insurance, who subsequently moved out in the mid-1990s.

Entombed in a thick coat of gray paint, the brick-and-cast-stone-faced temple was finally stabilized in 1998 and then sat empty and unrestored for two decades. The building’s open plan, high ceilings, and ballroom made it a natural choice for conversion to a new hotel, which was completed in 2021. The hotel became an integral part of the mixed-use development known as the Epic (also designed by Perkins&Will and covered in the January/February 2021 issue of Texas Architect), which is located at the intersection of Downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum.  

The existing temple, at the heart of the project, was a notable design challenge due to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Strict historic preservation requirements and a program necessitating more space than the existing temple building could accommodate drove the final design solution: the construction of a second distinct but complementary building 10 feet to the north of the historic temple. The two buildings are hinged together by means of a transparent glass lobby at ground level that functions as the single main-entry point and provides circulation space between the two buildings. The only other place the two buildings connect is hidden below grade at the basement level, which contains back-of-house management and guest service functions. 

The two-building project required two separate, challenging design and construction approaches. Headed by Perkins&Will Design Director Ron Stelmarski, FAIA, in close collaboration with historic preservation architect Gary Skotnicki, the alterations and renovations to the historic temple building were carefully considered by the design team and executed through methodical historical research. Special attention was given to uncovering, saving, and reusing the best of what remained. As part of their research, the design team studied the proportions and patterns of the existing Beaux Arts-style fenestration, which directly informed the facade design of the much larger contemporary addition. The resulting sleight of hand breaks down what would have been a large mass into a scale that blends with the exterior elements of the existing historic temple. The angular serpentine floor plan is a response to the adjacent bulging curve of the North Good-Latimer Expressway to the east. At the interior of the site, this configuration creates a winding pedestrian-scaled path that takes advantage of the tight site and provides an inviting, sheltered approach to the project’s main entry from Elm Street to the south. 

Because the historic temple building also housed commercial business space, the original plan at the second and third levels was designed with 12- and 15-ft-tall floor-to-floor heights and columns every 13 ft-6 in. The space was converted into spacious boutique guest rooms, with columns delineating the demising walls between rooms. The open fourth-level ballroom, with its 25-ft-tall ceiling, large overhead trusses, and no interior columns, was originally a grand temple room reserved for the Knights of Pythias meetings and rituals. Around 1959, a poorly considered floor plate was inserted into the room. This cut its height in half and bisected the original floor-to-ceiling windows, severely diminishing the once grand space. As part of the new alterations, this floor structure was demolished, and the grand temple room was restored to its original grandeur. It now functions as a ballroom to accommodate special hotel events. The full height of the restored arched windows is now prominently featured, once again flooding the space with natural light. To the delight of guests, the historic renovations and alterations to the temple building have resulted in a unique section of the new hotel reflecting the culturally significant history of Deep Ellum while preserving an authentic Beaux Arts luster. 

In a nod to the Roaring Twenties and the entertainment history of Deep Ellum, Elm & Good, a new hotel restaurant with a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge, was created behind what had been the main ground floor entry of the temple off Elm Street. Much to the appreciation of executive chef Ben Smallman, large streetside windows overlooking an outdoor dining area were incorporated into a new large commercial kitchen addition at ground level on the west side of the building.  Featured just outside the restaurant to the east is an outdoor gathering space that includes a new pool featuring signature “Pittman” tilework on a submersible dance floor. 

As part of the new seven-story addition housing standard guest rooms, a spa, and conference areas, the design team wished to honor the brick construction technique used in building the exterior walls of the historic temple building. Pittman chose a steel-framed internal structure bracing and supporting an exterior masonry shell in lieu of full load-bearing masonry walls. Says Gary Skotnicki: “The historic exterior triple-wythe masonry walls were erected surrounding the structural steel columns and beams within the walls without a veneer void, enclosing and bearing on the frame itself. The columns and walls were all founded on spread masonry footings without piers.”

According to Stelmarski, “Lifting the exterior brick on areas of the facade at the new addition allows for storefront activation and visual connectedness from the internal court to Good Latimer and the train line, while also hinting at the non-load-bearing condition of the brick, similar to the original building.” 

Creating a unique signature hotel that honors the past while accommodating a modern business model is challenging at best — let alone while adhering to strict historic preservation requirements and the design rigors of a new complementary addition. The new Pittman Hotel manages to speak to both modern downtown Dallas and the adjacent and uniquely historic community of Deep Ellum. As the first multistory building designed, financed, and built exclusively by and for the Black professional community in Texas, it’s fitting that the building, after many years of neglect, is once again part of a new design renaissance taking place in Deep Ellum. 

Lee Hill, AIA, is an artist and architect and works as a project director at VLK Architects in Fort Worth.

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