|By David Wethe, Fort Worth Star-Telegram,
TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 12, 2008 - As Fort Worth native John Langston listens to the hammering and sawing of renovation echoing through the historic Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa in Dallas, it's a familiar sound.
Langston, the new managing director of the 85-year-old Stoneleigh, is overseeing the hotel's $36 million renovation. But this isn't his first rodeo.
Like a habit he can't break, the 25-year industry veteran keeps popping up in high-profile management roles at historic luxury hotels in Texas, including the Driskill Hotel in Austin, the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and the old Texas Hotel in Fort Worth, where President John F. Kennedy spent his last night.
This serial rehabber sat down with the Star-Telegram to talk about the challenges of making an old hotel new again. He landed his first hotel job as a room-service waiter at the old Texas Hotel when he answered an ad in the Star-Telegram.
What are some of the challenges working on a major renovation of a historic hotel?
The ownership laid the groundwork for a lot of that. The beautiful thing about the Stoneleigh is we're looking at a $36 million restoration. We literally took it down to the studs in the guest rooms. It's new plumbing and new electrical.
That's one of our challenges, just the repositioning of the property to make people realize it is a new Stoneleigh Hotel.
Are there any other challenges you've faced with a really old hotel like this?
A lot of great real estate deals and banking deals have been made in The Lions Den [the hotel's popular bar]. There were quite a few people who were adamant for us to not change that, to leave it as it was.
But for us to support the luxury property that we're now creating, we needed a signature restaurant. With that, the Lions Den went away.
You mentioned that one of the first weddings you'll host here after opening will be for the daughter of one of the hotel's owners. Are there any nightmares you're worried about in getting this hotel opened?
With my background in catering, I've seen everything happen. I've seen the icing start sliding off the side of the wedding cake before the bride and the groom got there to cut it. I've been around power outages. I've woken up to phone calls because there's no hot water. That's why infrastructure is so important in the Stoneleigh.
It can be easy to make presidents happy, but the true success is making the mother of the bride happy.
You've lived in homes built in the 1920s and 1940s, and you continuously seem to work in historic hotels. Do you see yourself as some kind of a serial rehabber?
I'm kind of like those people who are addicted to the home and garden channel and those restoration shows.
They love going in and having a vision to see what can be, and see the things that are uncovered as you start going through these renovations.
Why did the owners decide to shut the hotel down completely for renovations instead of staying open through repairs?
The hotel was in dire need of restoration. To try and provide a luxury experience around construction is just, in my book, not possible. It was more important for us to close and do the restoration correctly so that when we did reopen, we had a beautiful, perfect product.
That's what the Stoneleigh needed.
You're building 110 residential units in a $76 million, 24-story high-rise next to the Stoneleigh. The Omni Fort Worth will have a similar feel when it opens later this year, with condos on top of its convention hotel. What will it be like having residential users tied into your hotel services?
We're going to have a built-in clientele that is only a few hundred feet away. By elevator they can access all of the services of our property. And when their guests come in from out of town, they'll want them to stay here. It's that great core group business that's built right in.
Do you see any kind of a problem when your restaurant gets crowded with hotel guests and you can't accommodate your regular condo owners?
I'm not worried about being too full. Too full is not a problem.
Title: Managing director of Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa
Pets: Two cats and a dog
Residence: Oak Cliff
Education: Graduated from Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth; attended Texas Wesleyan College
Hometown: Fort Worth, in the Meadowbrook neighborhood
Former employers: Hyatt Hotel in Fort Worth; Hotel Crescent Court, Mansion on Turtle Creek, Plaza of the Americas hotel, all in Dallas; and the Driskill Hotel in Austin
STONELEIGH HOTEL & SPA
Location: 2927 Maple Ave., in the Uptown area of Dallas
Closed for renovations: Fall 2006
Renovation cost: $36 million
Reopening date: March 3
Daily room rates: $245 to $5,000
Claim to fame: When it opened, the 12-story building was the tallest hotel west of the Mississippi River.
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Copyright (c) 2008, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
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