If some of Texas’ historic bank-turned-hotel walls could talk, they would tell stories of wealth and loss. Tales of ranchers and merchants living high on the hog and settling up their business in some of the glitziest high-rises of their day in Houston and Dallas, but also times of great hardship during national banking panics of the early 1900s and the Great Depression.
Historic banks reimagined as luxury hotels have been part of an international trend in recent years, as hoteliers seek to preserve the grand neoclassical architecture and luxe marble interiors, breathing new life—trendy bars, spacious guest rooms—into spaces that formerly held vaults and bank teller counters. And Texas hotels have embraced this trend, delighting travelers who are interested in staying in places with historic cache. Here are a few options across the state.
Formerly known as: Dallas National Bank
Year built: 1927
Before this tall and narrow neo-Gothic building opened at Main and Stone streets, local businesses took out Dallas Morning News ads praising this “splendid new building.”
“When the doors to our new home are open Monday morning, we will be ready for any and all patronage, however large and however small,” then-bank president J.D. Gillespie said to the newspaper in 1927. “The bank will represent the very latest in complete banking equipment. We will serve Dallas and the Dallas trade territory with courteous efficiency. Visitors are invited to make the bank their headquarters when in Dallas.”
“It was one of the tallest buildings in the city for some time,” says Jeny Bania, chief marketing officer at Headington Companies, which owns and developed The Joule. Each floor had a different layout, complicating the challenge of hotel renovation. In its new life, the building retains its vintage elevators with “This Car Up” light-up signage over the top indicating the floor. Rooms have oversized windows, touch-screen lighting controls, and a muted palette. A cantilevered pool juts out over the rooftop of the building, and a contemporary Eye sculpture sits across the street, overseeing the building’s new life.
Formerly known as: Union National Bank of Houston
Year built: 1912
In its day, the Union National Bank of Houston was one of the first concrete and steel skyscrapers in the U.S. Today’s hotel guests can still see the original bank vault located behind the check-in desk. Though it won’t appeal to people seeking the latest, modern-style hotel stay, Hotel ICON has historical charm, says general manager John Sevilla.
“As you walk into our lobby, it’s the look of the high ceilings, the marble columns, the chandeliers, all those things made for a grand appearance as you walk through a building like this,” he says.
And for fans of the supernatural, Sevilla says the hotel is rumored to be haunted.
Formerly known as: First National Bank
Year built: 1965
In contrast to the older bank buildings on the list, the Thompson Dallas represents true mid-century styling. It was constructed as a tangible representation of its financial might and stood as the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi at the time.
Thompson, under parent company Hyatt, has added several properties to its portfolio in recent years in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and soon in Houston. The group spent $460 million to preserve this historic building—the largest adaptive reuse preservation in the history of Texas, according to the company.
The interior design plays with shapes and textures in an inventive way so that there are references to tumultuous 1960s Dallas—but also a contemporary, luxury vibe.
The Driskill, Austin
Formerly known as: American National Bank
Year built: 1886
The oldest building on the list is The Driskill, deemed “one of the finest hotels in the whole country” at the time of its debut by the Austin newspaper. It wasn’t until 1895 that a bank was added to the hotel lobby. Cattle baron and banker Major George R. Littlefield bought the building in cash and relocated his American National Bank to the Driskill. Though the bank is now defunct, you can still enter the original vault.
Year built: 1904
The smallest bank on the list is actually rented out as an Airbnb and grants people full access to the entire building during their stay.
Bartlett National Bank, originally helmed by Mary Bartlett, the widow of the town’s namesake John Bartlett, shuttered during the Great Depression and had sat abandoned in this small town about an hour northeast of Austin. Real estate broker Jennifer Tucker purchased it and fixed it up in 2019. In the process of learning the history of the Beaux-Arts building, she met with descendants of some of the original tellers and amassed a collection of old ledgers and documents. A local handyman even helped her recover the original stairs.
Three original vaults still exist—two were able to be opened, though a third remains locked.
“One of the things that makes people really want to come and see it is that it’s almost like a living museum,” Tucker says.
Formerly known as: Alamo National Bank Building
Year built: 1929
Alamo National Bank opened during the days of the Great Depression, and newspaper advertisements of the time stressed that it was a “Safe—Sane—Sound” place to do business. “I like the idea of having a bank account at Alamo National Bank … a good strong bank … with friendly officers and tellers,” read one advertisement in the San Antonio Evening News in 1929.
The remnants of that era include a cast stone exterior on the first two floors, and a lobby gilded with decorative bronze and art deco-themed artwork framing either side of the lobby doors with the phrases “Trust binds the nation together” and “Thrift drives the nation tomorrow.” This hotel is also one of many San Antonio hotels swirling with rumored hauntings.