Tulsa’s Ambassador Hotel: A Link to the Past
On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA
EXTERIOR ORNAMENTATION: The Ambassador Hotel at 1324 S. Main St. was completed in 1929 by General Patrick J. Hurley. He built it to serve as an extended stay hotel to provide upscale housing for traveling executives and oil barons and their families while waiting for their mansions to be built.
It is said that some men lead lives of quiet desperation while others lead interesting lives filled with achievements. Early day Tulsan Patrick J. Hurley was one of the latter.
Hurley was born in 1883 in Colgate, Oklahoma, and worked as a ranch hand, putting his way through Bacone College. He went on to receive a law degree from George Washington University. Following graduation, he moved to Tulsa and built one of the city’s largest legal practices. During World War I, he enlisted in the army and received the Distinguished Service Medal. Later in his career, he achieved the rank of General. After World War I, he returned to Tulsa and was involved in various real estate ventures. He was one of the developers of the Riverside Drive addition, which includes such homes as Harwelden Mansion. In 1921, he built a large home at 2700 S. Boston Ave., which today is owned by Architect Buck Davies and is a next-door neighbor to the soon-to-open A Gathering Place for Tulsa.
Hurley went on to become Secretary of War under President Herbert Hoover and the wartime Ambassador to China under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hurley helped Tulsa officials restore order in the city after the 1921 Race Riot, but it is his hotel which addresses the theme of this article.
In 1929, Hurley completed his plan of building an extended stay hotel that would provide upscale housing for traveling executives and oil barons and their families while their own mansions were being built. The architect was N. E. Peters of Kansas City, assisted by the Tulsa architectural firm of Smith & Senter. The result was a 10-story Mediterranean-style building at the northwest corner of 14th and Main streets.
The exterior of the Ambassador Hotel is lavishly clad in terra cotta and limestone ornament. Included are twisted terra cotta Corinthian columns, supporting triple arches at the main (south) entrance. Above these are three panels of terra cotta, featuring foliage-enhanced shields with diagonal stripes, fleur de lis accents and stepped finial terminations. The exterior building skin is a light red brick with every fifth course corbelled for a strong horizontal effect. The base is terra cotta as are the quoins at each corner. The window pattern rhythm incorporates fenestration of pairs and triples at typical floors.
Because of the site elevation, which slopes down to the east, the original coffee shop, now the Chalkboard Restaurant, is in a semi-basement with outside ground access to Main Street.
In 1960, the building was converted into an apartment hotel catering to senior citizens. However, this facility closed entirely in 1987 due to low occupancy. During this period, almost all of the historic interior detail was removed.
In 1987, developer Paul Coury purchased the property and revitalized it with a $5.5-million renovation. The result is a 55-room boutique hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with seven suites per floor. A nearby meeting room/ballroom building, part of the International Building (previously discussed in this column), is used by the hotel.
Today, the Ambassador Hotel continues to reflect our Tulsa of today with a strong connection to the past.