When it opened in downtown Dallas in December 1954, the 36-story Republic National Bank Building was the tallest tower west of the Mississippi. Besides its height, the 275,000 sq. ft. structure also stood out for its glimmering, aluminum exterior and rocket-sculpture top — an illuminated, modernistic feature that extended the building's height by 150 feet.

This month, work will wrap up on a $46 million redevelopment of this landmark, which will become a luxury apartment high-rise, Gables Republic Tower.

The building was designed by the late Wallace K. Harrison, the prolific architect behind some of New York City's most famous projects, including Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center. His Dallas client, Republic National Bank, wanted a bold look that represented an optimistic future for Texas. Harrison designed an exterior of interlocking aluminum panels embossed with the former bank's logo, a four-point star.

Upper floors were hung from above in order to create a column-free, expansive lobby, grandly finished with marble, inlaid wood and 3,000 sq. ft. of pure gold leaf. Seventeen elevators sped at a rate of 1,400 feet per minute.

In 1964, a second, 50-story tower was added to the complex. And in 1980, an eight-story building was constructed to link the two towers. The newer facilities were given a $75 million renovation in 2000 and still have office and retail tenants.

Gables Residential, a real estate investment trust in Atlanta, put the tower under contract in 2002. Traditionally the multifamily REIT develops properties and owns about 35,000 units in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, southern California and Washington, D.C. With urban revitalization trends taking hold in major U.S. markets, Gables wanted to branch out and explore conversion opportunities, says Tom Bakewell, regional vice president for Gables.

“It was a lot of work initially, that frankly required a lot of resources and manpower,” says Bakewell. “But now that we've gone through the process, we have the knowledge base and can use it to do similar projects in the future.”

After three years of negotiating complex contracts and incentive agreements, Gables closed on the property in October 2005 and kicked off construction two months later. The difficult task involved removing 13 of the elevators to free up more floor space; locating a mine in Italy that provided the original travertine; and replacing all windows, electrical and HVAC systems. The original entrance and directory signs were preserved, as were 19 Andy Warhol prints that were fixtures of the lobby. RTKL Associates was the lead architect on the project.

The end result is 229 one- and two-bedroom luxury units that are renting for about $1.60 per sq. ft. About 12% of the units are leased so far. Gables Residential Tower also includes four penthouses, each created by four different interior designers. They range in size from 2,200 to 3,400 sq. ft. and are leasing for $2.25 to $2.50 per sq. ft. When it opens later this month, Gables Republic Tower will be the tallest residential property in Dallas.

“The quality of the finished units has surpassed our expectations,” says Bakewell, “and rents are coming in higher than projected.”