DALLAS - A massive overnight fire claimed a piece of Dallas history - the old Ambassador Hotel.
More than 100 firefighters were called to fight the fire at the hotel on Ervay Street around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Flames quickly engulfed the six-story building in The Cedars neighborhood.
At first, Dallas Fire-Rescue officials said they weren't sure if anyone was inside the building who needed to be rescued. Fortunately, no one was inside and no one was hurt.
"There was a brief attempt or thought that we were gonna make entry to see if anyone may have been in the hotel," said Jason Evans, the DFR spokesman. "But the fire was so far advanced that by that time command ordered everyone to pull back and it was clearly going to be a defensive effort."
The flames were visible from miles away as firefighters attacked them with multiple ladder trucks. Burning embers and other flaming debris also drifted through the air in front of drivers on Interstate 30.
"Fireballs were shooting across the highway. We were able to feel the heat with our windows up through the vehicle," said Jerry Peppers, who was driving through the area at the time. "You could actually feel maybe 150 degrees. You could feel the heat from the fire. And the structure fire was just, I mean, it was just crazy."
Firefighters were about to knock down the flames before the morning rush hour but not before the entire middle section of the building collapsed. Smoke from the fire lingered through downtown all morning.
"As you can see, the building suffered a pretty significant collapse right in the front down the middle," Evans said. "At this point the building is probably gonna be determined to be a total loss. It will be completely torn down by the time it is all said and done."
The Ambassador Hotel opened in 1904 and was considered to be the oldest remaining luxury hotel in Dallas. It was designated a Texas historic landmark in 1965 and Dallas landmark in 1982. The city designation placed specific restrictions on changes to historic or architectural features of the vacant building.
Over the years, the hotel had many famous guests including United States presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and Woodrow Wilson. During prohibition in the 1920s, there was a speakeasy in the basement.
But until recently, it sat vacant. Developer Jim Lake said his plan to renovate the building and turn it into apartments was just getting underway.
"I'm still in shock, I'm disappointed. This is the most complex project I've ever worked on. It meant so much not only to us but the city and the neighborhood," he said. "This was the oldest luxury hotel in Dallas and we wanted to repurpose that for residents to be able to experience that in Dallas."
Lane said he's not sure what he'll do with the property once the building is demolished. That will likely happen before the end of the day because it's structurally unsound.
Aurora Gomez lives nearby. She said the charred remains of the once glorious hotel are sad to see.
"Now to see that that building is gone, it's sad. It actually is," she said.
"I'm disappointed that this happened for this city but I'll say that the people that know us and our firm that we'll do our best to reinvent this site into something that the city can be proud of," Lane said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.