Historic Texas hotel gets updated look

A palette of walnut wood, velvet and mohair fabrics, warm brass metals and hand-tooled leather create a social atmosphere in the atrium and adjacent 7,500-square-foot Ámbar Restaurante and Lobby Bar. Photo credit: Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park

In El Paso, Texas, the Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park originally opened 90 years ago as a Hilton Hotel under the supervision of Conrad Hilton himself. Late last month, the property emerged from a renovation to combine its 1930s style with modern expectations. 
 
Design firm Cooper Carry oversaw the historic rehabilitation and design refresh in association with Paul Foster, El Paso-based In*Situ Architecture and Dallas-based ForrestPerkins as well as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Texas State Historic Preservation Office. A cross-collaboration of the firm’s Hospitality studio and The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, the reimagined property has 130 guestrooms, 7,600 square feet of event space and the Ámbar Restaurante and Lobby Bar. La Perla, a rooftop bar overlooking the Franklin Mountains and border to Mexico, is available for private events and will open to the public this fall.

Originally designed by local architects Trost & Trost, the hotel’s "Pueblo Deco" design motif represents a distinct hybrid of the Art Deco style made popular in the 1920s and the naturalistic, Native American adobe architectural styles.  

The design team, partially funded by historic state tax credits and abatements, worked closely with the national and state organizations to accommodate modern hotel operation and amenities while also rehabilitating key aspects of the initial design, including all of the historic signage, brick façade, precast deco reliefs and signature medallions, bronze on many of the storefronts and second-floor windows, interior wood trim surrounding the tower widows, the clay tile roof and Spanish-tiled pyramidal crown. 

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The New Look

The Pueblo Deco influence continues throughout the hotel’s interiors. Upon entering the lobby, guests will see a reinstated double-height atrium, previously enclosed during a mid-century renovation, as well as dramatic stained glass, skylights, wood beams, decorative stenciling and an original railing on the historic staircase connecting the first and second levels. In areas where the original terra cotta tile flooring was missing and not able to be preserved, Cooper Carry used concrete flooring to create a layered texture. 
 
Pulling insight from newspaper stories and photographs published around the hotel’s first public opening, the design team reinterpreted many of the original elements with custom light fixtures, materials and color choices. A palette of walnut wood, velvet and mohair fabrics, warm brass metals and hand-tooled leather create a social atmosphere in the atrium and adjacent 7,500-square-foot Ámbar Restaurante and Lobby Bar.  
 
Rising 40 feet high and displaying one of Texas’ largest tequila collections behind a sheath of amber glass and polished stainless steel, the restaurant’s back bar is the hotel’s pièce de résistance. A new, contemporary-style staircase is partially concealed behind the bar and amber glass, providing server access to the wall of tequila as well as secretly connecting the main dining room and exposed theater kitchen down to a cellar-like private dining space located in the former trunk and boiler rooms. Check-in activity is located off to the side of the bar and plays a secondary role to the hotel’s food-and-beverage experience. 
 
On the 17th floor, The Johnson Studio also spearheaded the design of La Perla, a 5,000-square-feet rooftop bar and restaurant located in the former penthouse suite where actress Elizabeth Taylor—then a teenager—lived during her marriage to Nicky Hilton.  
 
Harkening back to classic, 20th-century luxury, the design team infused sophistication with accents such as white marble, bright florals and mirror-polished steel. The outdoor patio offers tiered seating and built-in garden planters to create intimate seating areas.  
 
“Through the historic rehabilitation and reinvigorated guest spaces, Cooper Carry accomplished our goal of telling the history of The Plaza through the design,” said Paul Foster, who owns The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park. “The hotel has held a special place in the hearts of El Pasoans for almost 90 years, and we are thrilled to welcome a new generation to join the hotel’s next chapter.” 

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