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The Barfield: Built to Last

After a decade of discussions, more than three years of construction, and the chaos of  pandemic-year supply struggles, The Barfield is scheduled to reopen to the public in time for Memorial Day weekend. Built in 1927 by fabled Amarillo businesswoman Melissa Dora Oliver-Eakle (see sidebar), the historic 10-story building was the city’s first skyscraper. It will reopen this month as a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel and the first true luxury hotel property downtown.

The new hotel features 110 guest rooms, along with two premier suites on the 10th floor, a farm-to-table Italian steakhouse called Toscana, a 1,200-square-foot ballroom and even a speakeasy hidden in the basement of the building. The total renovation cost was $35 million.

The development and construction team used federal and Texas state historic preservation tax credits, which required them to work closely with the Texas Historical Commission to retain as much of the building’s original character as possible. “One of the reasons we’ve been so delayed is [renovation teams] get in there and they start realizing, ‘Oh, we didn’t know this was here,’” says Christy King, director of sales for the new hotel. “So it’s definitely a much longer process than building from the ground up.”

For instance, the historical commission required at least one of the building’s floors to retain its original “bones,” and The Barfield team applied that rule to Floor 10. That top floor has remained nearly intact, including the paint, trim and original doors. “The marble wainscoting that lined the hallways is just like it was in the 20s,” says King.

Oliver-Eakle, the skyscraper’s original developer, intended her structure at the intersection of Polk Street and Route 66 to be the crown jewel of Amarillo. And it was. But until this project, the Barfield sat vacant for three decades, a downtown eyesore with boarded windows. It wasn’t quite crumbling—the solid concrete construction allowed it to stand up to the harsh Panhandle climate—but it was far from a jewel.

That’s why the building’s new life brings excitement to people like Beth Duke, executive director of Center City. “Saving a building like The Barfield is important because it is irreplaceable,” she says. Beyond its position in the Amarillo skyline, the landmark holds personal memories for Duke. “My dad had an office there for a while,” she says. “I remember that on one Saturday each year, we were allowed to go to his office and watch the Tri-State Fair parade. Those are the kinds of experiences that encourage my passion to keep downtown thriving so others will have
great memories.”

Travelers and locals alike are already planning to create those memories as soon as the hotel opens. “People call every day to book rooms,” King says. Events are being booked in the hotel throughout the summer. “It’s just been phenomenal.”

The fine detail work was still being completed as of press time, but King shared renderings of a few Barfield highlights with Brick & Elm.

The Lobby

Around 2,500 square feet in size, The Barfield’s lobby makes an immediate impression on hotel guests. “When you walk in from Polk Street into the historic lobby, it will look exactly like it did in 1927,” says King. The developers restored the original elevators, kept the luxurious marble floors and trim, and even retained a 1920s-era revolving door that allowed entrance from Polk Street. Rich mahogany wood throughout keeps the space warm and inviting. “It feels like West Texas—like the home of a West Texas woman,” says King.

While the main entrance to the lobby is along Sixth, the Texas Department of Transportation considers that street a “highway” because it represents the original Route 66. For that reason, valet parking will only be offered on Polk Street. “We are full valet but it’s complimentary with the restaurant or Paramount Recreation Club,” says King.

A complimentary Mercedes Benz shuttle will be available to ferry guests to and from the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

The Restaurant

One of the design highlights of the Toscana Italian Steakhouse is the building’s original boiler plate, mounted to one of the walls. (It’s visible in the center-back of the rendering at left.) “It’s been fully restored and was a big ordeal,” King explains. The plate weighs 1,500 pounds and came from the original boiler in the building’s basement. “Just the process of figuring out how to mount that on the wall and make sure it doesn’t pull the whole wall down, that took several months. But it is now in place on our wall and it is beautiful.”

The restaurant will serve scratch-made pasta and dry-aged steaks. It seats 64 people, with a private dining room that can serve another 30 guests.

The Toscana Bar

A “belly up” bar accompanies the restaurant with space for another 20 guests. “You can walk in right from Sixth Street,” says King. Rather than surrounding the horseshoe-shaped bar with barstools, the space is designed for people to just walk up and order a drink “without having to squeeze between chairs.”

Behind the elegant bar is a mural of Palo Duro Canyon, hand-painted by the muralists Robert Solache and Brian Walsh. A skylight above spills natural light onto the painting.

The Paramount Recreation Club

Ms. Oliver-Eakle was a polite member of Amarillo society, but she was also a no-nonsense West Texas pioneer. So she secretly carried a pearl-handled Derringer pistol, and her building—constructed at the height of Prohibition by Oliver-Eakle, one of the drivers of Amarillo’s temperance movement—hid a speakeasy in the basement. “We’re bringing it back to life,” says King. That original speakeasy was called the Paramount Recreation Club, and the new hotel is keeping the name. It has a mostly hidden marble-stairs entrance off Sixth Street plus other secrets built into the design, like a hidden room within the secret bar, accessed by a trick bookcase.

“It’s just added cool factor,” she says. The hotel wanted as much meeting space as possible, and the basement was originally going to be a board room. But the design team wanted to prioritize unique experiences. “That’s how all this got birthed. Let’s do the whole thing. There’s so much more we can do with it.”

Part of the basement extends beneath the street, and speakeasy patrons will be able to observe pedestrians
passing overhead through a transparent walkway. Center City’s Beth Duke calls the speakeasy “a time capsule of the building’s history.”

The Rooms

The average size of an American hotel room is around 330 square feet. Due to the design of the original building, however, rooms at The Barfield average 400 square feet each. “They feel big when you walk in,” King says about the standard double-queen guest rooms. All have blackout shades, soundproof walls and a minibar.

“Everything in our rooms, anywhere you go, is all custom-designed for The Barfield,” she says. “Nothing came out of a catalog. A designer said, ‘This belongs in the Barfield,’ then sketched it. And then had someone create it.” 

Sidebar: How the Duchess Made Amarillo

Completed in 1927, the Barfield Building was Amarillo’s first skyscraper. The original 10-story structure was known as the Oliver-Eakle Building after its owner and financier, Melissa Dora Oliver-Eakle. She arrived in Amarillo in the 1890s with an enormous personal fortune, having recently been widowed after the death of the industrialist William Oliver—the principal stockholder of Mississippi Mills, the largest textile manufacturer in the South. 

She was sometimes known locally as “The Duchess” due to her wealth and elegance. By all accounts, “The Duchess” had more money herself than the capital of all the area banks combined, and used that money to help those banks and the city grow in those early years. It was unusual for a woman to wield power or prestige in the Panhandle, so she often used the name M.D. Oliver-Eakle. Many of her financial beneficiaries never knew she was a woman.

In addition to the skyscraper, Oliver-Eakle helped establish the Tri-State Fair and developed Amarillo’s Oliver-Eakle subdivision, including the land where Amarillo College and Memorial Park are today. Most reports indicate that she, more than anything else, helped keep local businesses afloat at the start of the Great Depression. She passed away in late 1931.

“Melissa Dora Oliver-Eakle was an amazing pioneer business woman,” says Center City’s Beth Duke. “She was a visionary to build a skyscraper in downtown Amarillo.”