ETBU Marshall Grand Hotel

The lobby of ETBU’s nursing program which is housed in the renovated historic Marshall Grand Hotel on Thursday November 14, 2019. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

When the Hotel Marshall was built in 1929 in downtown Marshall, the interior brick walls were coated with a black substance that provided insulation and weather proofing.

Some 90 years later, those brick walls were painstakingly cleaned so they could help connect the past to the present in the building’s newest incarnation. Known in more recent years as the Marshall Grand, the structure was remodeled and opened in early 2019 as a home for East Texas Baptist University’s nursing program. University President Dr. J. Blair Blackburn said the renovation process experimented with several methods before successfully removing the coating on the walls. That allowed the building’s design to incorporate sections of exposed brick into the offices and classroom spaces the nursing students use.

People from the era from the structure was built probably wouldn’t have valued an interior view of the bricks, said Dr. Thomas Sanders, the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, but it’s his favorite feature in the building’s remodel.

“The exposed brick and retreating, that, to me, adds texture to the offices and the classrooms that I think really warms up the rooms,” he said.

Blackburn said the exposed brick, “complements the modern with the reflection to its past, to its original creation.”

It’s a theme found throughout the building’s transformation to a modern facility.

“I guess it’s more than a remodel. It’s more than a build-out,” Blackburn said. “It’s a creation of an academic building within this existing hotel.”

The hotel was constructed by S.B. “Sam” Perkins and designed by famed Fort Worth architect Wyatt Hedrick, who also designed such well-known structures as the Shamrock Hotel in Houston, the Lone Star Gas Company Building in Dallas and the Texas and Pacific Terminal and Warehouse in Fort Worth. The Grand was a center of social activity in Marshall for many years, until time moved on and the hotel closed.

East Texas Baptist University actually owned the building twice before, using it for different purposes each time and then selling the building. It was vacant and falling into disrepair when it was purchased in 2003 by two couples interested in preserving the building: local businessman Jerry Cargill and his wife, Judy Cargill, and former Texas state Sen. and Harrison County Judge Richard Anderson and his wife, Christina Anderson. They renovated several portions of the building, and it housed an event and meeting center and restaurant for about six years, according to information Blackburn provided.

The Cargills and Andersons donated the building to the university in 2013, and Blackburn became president in 2015. University trustees tasked the new president with figuring out what to do with the structure.

“There were certainly lots of people who thought this building should come down,” Sanders said.

It was Sanders’ vision, Blackburn said, to create a place for the nursing school. Housed in a 1953 building on campus at that time, the growing program had achieved great success despite its lack of modern facilities, achieving a 100 percent pass rate on the nursing licensure exam and being ranked sixth among 119 nursing programs in the state by .

“We said, ‘You know, it’s structurally sound, it’s a beautiful building. It’s an icon for the city — it shouldn’t be an eyesore for the city,’ “ Blackburn said, describing the building as a “beautiful, architectural masterpiece.”

The university invested more than $4 million in the renovation, he said, with the help of the Cargills and Andersons, city of Marshall, Marshall Economic Development Corp., Downtown Development Corp. and numerous donors and foundations.

Blackburn has overseen the design and development of about 40 buildings during his career, and he personally selected the colors, materials and furniture used in the building’s remodel.

The lobby is one of his favorite spaces.

“I love that we were able to maintain the integrity of the original design of the lobby and to be able to create a space that can be multi-dimensional,” Blackburn said, with spaces for students to study and have fellowship, and places for luncheons and performances. Blue and white sofas and chairs were selected to complement the building’s Art Deco style of the 1920s.

Sanders and Blackburn noted that the renovation incorporated the lobby’s original golden brown terra-cotta style Saltillo tile. The wainscoting and chandelier at the entrance are original, as well.

Blackburn noted that the lobby bathrooms — bathrooms are spaces that are often overlooked, he said — also were designed to reflect the building’s history, with basket weave tile floors, subway tile walls and period lighting and mirrors.

The building has a basement and eight other floors, five that have been renovated. The nursing program’s new simulation laboratory is on the third floor. Designed to look like a hospital with a nurse’s station, wireless computerized mannequins allow teachers to stage a variety of situations for the nursing students to respond to.

The next stage, Blackburn said, is the eighth floor that once was known as the garden ballroom. Blackburn expects it will be restored to a place for university and community activities.

Preservation says a lot about a community, Blackburn said, describing the Marshall Grand’s new role as a “rebirth.”

“It’s bringing it back to being relevant, but a different kind of relevant. In reality, this place is more relevant now,” he said, because it’s being used to train nurses who will care for people and save lives — they’ll be the ‘healing hands of Christ.’”