Downtown Dallas’ Plaza of the Americas was an instant landmark when it opened four decades ago

October 16, 2020


Downtown Dallas’ Plaza of the Americas was an instant landmark when it opened four decades ago

The Pearl Street project was downtown’s first atrium mixed-use project.

Plaza of The Americas was Dallas’ first atrium shopping center and the first with an ice skating rink. (Nathan Hunsinger / Staff Photographer)
By Steve Brown
6:01 AM on Oct 16,  2020

Downtown Dallas’ Plaza of the Americas complex was big news when it was completed 40 years ago. The office, retail and hotel project was downtown’s first truly mixed-use project. It was also the city’s first atrium shopping venue and the first local commercial development to feature an ice skating rink. The $100 million project of Dallas developer’s Clyde Jackson and Toddie Lee Wynne captured the imagination of the city when it debuted in 1979 and 1980. And after several remodelings — including one that removed the signature skating rink — the Pearl Street building complex is still one of Dallas’ most recognized developments.

“I’m sitting in the office I have had all these years looking out at the atrium,” Jackson said. “I never get tired of it.  “Plaza has been really remarkable.”


Developers Clyde Jackson and Toddie Lee Wynne Jr. with an early model of the Plaza of the Americas.
The round restaurant on top of the hotel was later removed from the plans. (Wynne/Jackson Inc. )

Wynne/Jackson Inc. teamed up with Dallas architect Harwood K. Smith to design the ambitious project with two 25-story office buildings and a 416-room hotel and shopping center at the bottom of a 15-story atrium.  “Everybody was telling me we couldn’t get it done, but we made it work,” Jackson said. “I took our HKS architecture guys and others and went on a tour of projects in North America to find out what worked and didn’t.”  Jackson said he visited with Houston developer Gerald Hines to see the skating rink in his new Galleria shopping mall.

Early models of the Plaza of the Americas project show a round restaurant on top of the hotel — an option that was later deleted. A rooftop club originally had a sliding cover to open to the outdoors.

Hotel operator Trusthouse Forte of England operated the hotel.  “It was one of the first really luxury hotels here,” Jackson said. “The Café Royale restaurant was true nouvelle cuisine coming into Dallas.” Jackson said the first tenants moved in before construction was complete. “The atrium wasn’t even hardly half finished,” he said. “We leased up in record time.” The hotel is now operated by Marriott, and the high-end shops that originally lined the atrium have been replaced with service businesses and restaurants.  “The retail over the years morphed into what the market wanted,” Jackson said. “Right now there are 14 places to eat down here.”

A remodeling of the atrium in 2013 replaced the ice rink with an almost 1-acre garden area that has lush green plants, running water and gathering spaces for employees in the project’s office buildings.  “The owners redid the atrium and did a great job of that,” Jackson said. “Plaza of the Americas still functions better than we imagined.”

Steve Brown
, Real Estate Editor. Steve covers commercial and residential real estate in Dallas-Fort Worth.    @SteveBrownDMN

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