AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT)— The Herring Hotel is an iconic building located on the corner of Polk and 3rd Avenue in downtown Amarillo. It has been abandoned for several decades, until a recent announcement from the Herring Hotel Project website, which stated that Sandvick Architects has been chosen to renovate and revitalize this historic building.
MyHighPlains.com got a chance to interview Michael Grauer, who is the Historical Consultant for the Herring Hotel Project.
According to Preservation Texas, The Herring Hotel was built in the 1920s by Cornelius Taylor Herring, who was a pioneer cattleman, oilman, and banker. I owned 98,000 acres of the LS Ranch in north Amarillo. The Herring Hotel was one of three oil-boom era hotels and is the only hotel that still stands today. The Herring was the largest hotel of its kind.
Cornelius Taylor Herring
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Cornelius Taylor Herring was born on November 13, 1849, in Grayson County, Texas. At the age of 13, Herring began farming in Hill County near Hillsboro. I started buying, selling, and trading cattle. Herring became interested in the Texas Panhandle in 1904 after purchasing the Seen-Up Ranch in Castro County from LD Green.
“Amarillo, by 1900, was the largest cattle shipping point in the world,” Grauer said. “There were more cattle funneled through Amarillo than any other place.”
While in charge of the Flagg Ranch, Cornelius Herring and his son Will bought 100,000 acres of the LS Ranch in Oldham County near Tascosa in 1907. Herring moved to Amarillo and built a mansion south of Downtown. The Carriage House still stands today at 1710 S. Tyler Street.
Cornelius Taylor Herring became the first president of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce, and president of the Tri-State Fair Association. Herring built the five-story Palo Duro Hotel in 1923 and the 14-story Herring Hotel three years later.
“The Herring Hotel is one of several buildings that were built in downtown Amarillo in the mid-20s, coinciding with what’s called the ‘Skyscraper Era’, or partly coinciding with the oil boom, up in Borger,” Grauer said.
The Herring Hotel was one of the first stops that businessmen and travelers would visit when they got off the train.
“The corner of Third and Polk is where the three main buildings went up, the Barfield building being one of them, which was also built at about the same time,” Grauer said. “The need for a much larger hotel is what the Herring provided.”
The Herring Hotel’s location was strategically placed near the train station for businessmen to have easy access to lodging when they arrived in Amarillo by train.
“Third Street was the main conduit to the train station, which is how most businessmen arrived in Amarillo, Grauer said. “It [The Herring Hotel] was strategically located.”
The Herring hotel was unlike the usual motels that businessmen would stay on along the road.
“It had 600 rooms. It was air-conditioned, or at least air-cooled to a certain extent,” Grauer said. “It also had a ballroom on the upper floors. And then the mezzanine also functioned as the first de facto Amarillo Art Center.”
Out of the 600 rooms at the Herring Hotel, there was a combination of limited stay and extended family suites.
“Ranching families or oil families would have suites of rooms that were theirs when they got to town, because they might live on the ranch or out in the oil fields,” Grauer said. “When they came to town, it [the Herring Hotel] as a place for them to stay.”
The Herring Hotel was completed after only six months of construction. The architects Shepherd and Weiser used an assembly line style of construction to build the Herring Hotel.
“As big as the Herring is, they built it in six months,” Grauer said.
“They basically set up a tent city,” Grauer said. “They brought in a whole team of bricklayers: they did what they did then left, concrete guys came in: they did what they did they left,” Grauer said. “They bring in the frame carpenters: they do what they do, they leave, and then the door and sash guys come in, and they install it. So it was like an almost an assembly line architectural project.”
Old Tascosa Room
One of the main features of the hotel was the basement, which was home to the “Old Tascosa Room.” The room was where cattle and oil barons would gather to discuss business and participate in leisure activities.
“It [The Old Tascosa Room] was designed by Amarillo architect Guy Carlander I believe in 1942,” Grauer said. “I collaborated with Western artists, Harold Bugbee, to paint the murals on the walls to go along with his decor, Grauer continued. “And so it’s very much during the period of the 40s and 50s when Westerns really dominated everything in American Culture.”
Many businessmen would drink whiskey and smoke cigars while making deals.
“That’s just what primed the pump, what lubricated everything, and the Tascosa kind of it raised it up to a whole new level,” Grauer said. “All the deals were made with, a shot of who hit John and a cigar.”
The room also featured western frescoes painted by noted muralist and artist HD Bugbee. Only one of the frescoes is intact after a water main flooded the basement.
Famous people that visited the Herring Hotel
Many famous bands and actors visited the Herring Hotel over the years.
“The ballroom on the mezzanine level was where the big bands came to play, one of the most famous, of course, Duke Ellington and Big Band people like that. Bob Wills came into play with his orchestra, the Texas Playboys, and so it was kind of an endless slew,” Grauer said. “Then, of course, you had movie stars that would come through like Clark Gable and others.”
Feds claim Herring Hotel
The Herring Hotel served as the prime hotel in Amarillo up until the 1960s when the City of Amarillo began to adopt a more urban cityscape. The hotel was taken over by the Federal Government and used as an office building.
“Those old Grand Hotels started to fall out of favor by the 60s, and then you have a great push for urban renewal in the mid-70s,” Grauer said. “The Herring Hotel is repurposed by the Federal Government, and they put all kinds of different government offices in it, which meant it basically stopped functioning as a hotel.”
The Federal Government used the Herring Hotel as an office building in the 1970s until it was shut down a few years later and abandoned.
Sandvick Architects will restore the Herring Hotel over a three-year period. The hotel will stay true to its history, while also providing modern amenities. The hotel will be a multi-use space with hotel rooms and apartments. The hotel will also feature restaurants, retail spaces, and entertainment venues.
“Trying to get a multi-use is absolutely the way to go,” Grauer said. “You have to do that to survive.”
The Herring Hotel will provide a unique space for visitors looking to escape the regular hotel experience and take in a large part of Texas history.
“People want something different, they want something unique, and the Herring can offer that,” Grauer said. “There’s nothing cookie-cutter better about the Herring, and that’s what’s going to be attractive.”