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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The Stoneleigh, Heartbreak Hotel

Illustration by Renee Blostein
Illustration by Renee Blostein

Have you heard anyone refer to the Stoneleigh Hotel on Maple Avenue as Le Méridien Dallas? I haven’t, thankfully. Just like when the Melrose Hotel on Oak Lawn was rechristened with a corporate name — in that case, the Warwick — local tradition has remained important enough that ownership had to maintain the historic moniker.

I understand why these hotel operators feel the need to place established brands on their acquisitions. They want to reassure out-of-town visitors who’ve stayed at their other properties, but who are unfamiliar with Dallas, that they will receive the same quality of experience they’ve had in other cities. It’s the same reason that McDonald’s continues to do big business — familiarity counts for a lot with consumers. Why risk eating at a mom-and-pop burger joint that may not be any good when McDonald’s is right down the street and you know precisely what you’re going to get, as mediocre as it might be?

So there’s financial sense in enticing guests to book a room at Le Méridien Dallas, The Stoneleigh (the property’s mouthful of an official name). But I don’t have to like it, and neither should you. It dilutes and degrades the sense of place that the hotel built over the decades — even after its major renovation in the mid-Aughts — to paint it as just another link in a chain. Good for business, bad for the soul.

I feel this loss even more painfully after re-reading A.C. Greene’s November 1977 story about the prevalence of recently separated and divorced men living at the Stoneleigh. It’s one of the 40 greatest stories ever published in D Magazine.

Greene, the Texas journalist, historian, and author who was remembered as “dean of Texas letters” upon his death in 2002, wrote with a deep knowledge of the hotel’s bar (the Lions Den) and of the well-to-do men who imbibed there every evening. In 2011, when writer Moira Muldoon visited the bar — transformed into Bolla when the hotel underwent a two-year, $36 million renovation that was completed in 2008 — she found that reading Greene’s article before setting down to work on her own piece hurt her a little: “Not because of the story itself—though I had myriad responses to the fine writing and also winced at some of Greene’s language and the ways men talked about their former wives. The small hurt I felt was because I don’t know the Stoneleigh the way Greene did. He drank there regularly. I do not.”

The place that Greene patronized isn’t really there anymore. Neither is the place that Muldoon visited. Bolla proved a short-lived replacement for the Lions Den, as first the ugly Luxe brand nameplate was affixed to the Stoneleigh (in 2012) and then it joined the Le Méridien group of Starwood Hotels (last year.) Now Graze restaurant and the Bar at the Stoneleigh occupy that corner.

Maybe it’s stubborn clinging to the past, then, that makes us prefer that the names we’ve always known will persist. So much has changed already, it could be argued, what does it matter whether the Stoneleigh is always called the Stoneleigh?

It matters because the Stoneleigh has been around since 1923. It’s played hosts to famous guests the likes of Elvis Presley and Judy Garland. And in its convivial atmosphere A.C. Greene shaped this remarkable story about an indelible slice of Dallas life. That all happened at the Stoneleigh. It remains to be seen whether anything of consequence will occur at Le Méridien Dallas.