DALLAS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas’ Ambassador Hotel is no more. After standing on (what is now) the southern edge of downtown for more than a century, an overnight fire took just hours to reduce the once majestic structure to ashes, rubble, and regret.
“It’s another piece of the history slipping out from underneath us,” says Pat Bywaters, who came to snap a few pictures. Bywaters looks on at the debris with more perspective than most– he’s been working for years to save and restore the old Warner Brothers Exchange Building in nearby downtown. “Fortunately there’s some folks out there fighting, scrambling, cajoling other folks to try and save as much as they can…maybe if things had moved along a little faster, some of the renovations could have prevented this. I don’t know.”
By late afternoon, the exterior brick walls that survived fire, were brought down with a crane and wrecking ball.
“I’m brokenhearted,” confessed developer Jim Lake, his voice thick with emotion. Lake’s Adaptive Redevelopment firm was in the process of turning the aging gem into a mixed use development. Adding to the sense of loss, wheels were finally turning in the right direction.
“We just got approval from the city of Dallas for the thoroughfare amendment from the city council on Wednesday,” says Lake, “and we were starting the abandonment process on St. Paul this week, so we…gonna continue to move forward.”
Firefighters were called to the hotel at Ervay & Orr just after 1:30 Monday morning. Although Fire Station No. 4 was just two minutes away, fire officials say the flames already had a good head start. Determining that it was too dangerous to enter, fire officials pulled firefighters back and worked to keep the flames from spreading. The inferno, witnesses say, visible for miles.
“Fireballs were shooting across the highway,” says Jerry Peppers who captured video of the fire on his car’s dash-cam while travelling on Interstate 30.
“We were able to feel the heat with our windows up from in our vehicle. I mean, it was just crazy.”
As daylight revealed the extent of the destruction, fire officials warned that it may not be possible to determine how the fire started. Fire officials confirmed that firefighters have over the years responded to smaller fires at the vacant hotel, set by homeless trying to keep warm. A security guard patrolling the scene told authorities that, to his knowledge, no one had been inside.
According to Dallas police, an arrest near the scene Tuesday afternoon was unrelated to the fire.
“The city was looking forward to it, neighborhood was looking forward to it,” says Lake. “It’s a huge disappointment because you can’t recreate this, you can’t.”