The Tulsa Club burned three times in less than two weeks, damaging several rooms and leaving scorch marks on the exteriors walls in April 2010. But Pete Patel remembers a fourth fire that engulfed the ninth-floor ballroom in October that same year.
“Flames were shooting out the windows,” Patel said. “And it didn’t look like there would be much left.”
Once an upscale and prestigious social club, where generations of Tulsans attended weddings and galas and high school proms, the building sat vacant for years. Vandals took light fixtures and door knobs and pretty much everything else that could be carried away. Graffiti covered the walls. And the ceilings suffered extensive water damage, some of it coming from rain and some from firefighters’ hoses.
Other developers considered the building too far gone to salvage.
“But we saw an opportunity,” Patel said.
The Ross Group, a Tulsa-based construction company, bought the building in 2015 for $1.5 million. And Promise Hotels, where Patel serves as CEO and president, became an equity partner.
“We did the numbers, and they added up,” Patel said. “Back in the ’20s when they built these buildings, they were solid. So the bones were always good, and that’s what made this project viable.”
The Ross Group originally laid out plans for a $24 million renovation. But by 2018, the price tag had increased to $33 million. And now, with the Hilton Curio-branded Tulsa Club Hotel set to open this weekend, Patel puts the cost at $36 million, making it “the most expensive hotel in Tulsa, if not in Oklahoma.”
Legendary Tulsa architect Bruce Goff designed the building in 1927 as a joint venture between the Tulsa Club and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, which originally occupied offices on the first and fifth floors before moving into its own building in the 1950s.
In a tribute to that history, the new hotel’s restaurant will be named Chamber, featuring “global cuisine with French influence,” and the bar will be named Commerce.
The interior design, created by Dallas-based Forrest Perkins, combines traditional Art Deco style with modern touches, drawing from a palette of wood, leather and marble.
“We went with bold, modern aesthetics,” said Kimberly Honea, the hotel’s vice president of sales and marketing. “It’s very rich in color.”
Crews restored as much of the original interior as possible but had to replicate what had been lost or destroyed. Chandeliers in the ballroom and lobby were recreated from historic photos. And in the Petite Lounge, the eighth-floor room once reserved for club members’ wives but now part of the hotel’s bridal suite, an intricate mosaic mantelpiece has been so meticulously restored that it’s impossible to tell which tiles are original and which are reproductions.
New elevators had to be custom built because no manufacturers made the right size anymore, which contributed to the project’s lofty price tag.
Without state and federal historic tax credits, the finances would have been impossible and the building would have faced certain demolition, said Tina Patel, Pete Patel’s wife and CFO of Promise Hotels.
“It would have been cheaper for the development team to bring the building down and build something new at the site,” she said. “But nobody wanted to do that.”
Downtown Tulsa lost too many landmarks in the so-called “urban renewal” of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Pete Patel said.
“We weren’t going to lose this one too,” he said.