It was a couple of sharp-eyed New Yorkers who made Houston, brothers Augustus Chaman and John Kirby Allen. Looking to cash in on the winning of Texas independence in 1836 the brothers came to the new country looking to start a port city upstream from the Galveston Bay. They first eyed land along the Buffalo Bayou that had been surveyed and laid out by John Richardson Harris a decade earlier but there was no clear title to the land to buy. Reluctantly the brothers sailed further inland and bought up land around the confluence of the White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou.

There were plenty of obstacles for the brothers to overcome in launching their dream city. The land was muddy and infested with mosquitoes which, although it wasn’t known at the time, was the cause of the region’s constant plague of yellow fever. Buffalo Bayou was clogged with navigation-hindering roots and those roots sheltered menacing alligators. And the hamlet of Harrisburg still maintained the superior access to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Undaunted the Allen brothers started their town in 1837 and named it after the most popular man in Texas, Sam Houston, the general who had just won the Texas Revolution. They hired Gail Borden, a publisher who had supposedly coined the phrase “Remember the Alamo!” and who would invent condensed milk several decades later, to draw up a map of the proposed town. On the map of the proposed town were squares marked prominently for the national capitol and other government buildings. Meanwhile the Allens embarked on a publicity campaign for their new town in Eastern newspapers, painting a picture of a frontier Eden that did not exist.   

And it worked. Houston was designated the seat of both the county and national government and population soared to more than 1,000 in its first year. The bayou was cleared, a dock built, Borden started a newspaper and theater troupes were performing in town. And then in 1839 President Mirabeau B. Lamar decided to move the Texas capital to Austin.

Many an early American town withered into irrelevance with the loss of its status as a capital. Houstonians had only to look a few miles to the east at Harrisburg that had once been the county seat and capital of Texas when it was a Mexican colony. Houston business leaders were determined not to suffer the same fate. A Chamber of Commerce was formed which actively lobbied to dig out a shipping channel, build a plank road and lobby for the construction of a railroad. The Civil War slammed the brakes of much of that development but afterwards progress resumed and by 1890 Houston was the railroad center of Texas. After a hurricane decimated Galveston on the Gulf Coast in 1900 investment moved inland and Houston was developed as a true deepwater port.

The economic face of the town was forever altered when the Spindletop salt dome oil field was tapped near Beaumont in 1901. Houston quickly became the energy capital of the world and a town that didn’t even have 50,000 residents when the first gusher came in would have more than 2,000,000 a century later. A city growing that fast doesn’t always have time to care for its relics from the past but our walking tour will seek out what remains and we will start where it all began in 1837... 

1.
Allen’s Landing
1001 Commerce Street at Main Street

Texas had just won its independence from Mexico in 1836 when two developer brothers from New York, John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen, gobbled up 6,642 acres around the Buffalo Bayou and settled at its confluence with the White Oak Bayou. A dock was built and the first boats to anchor arrived in 1837. It was the birthplace of Houston and the original Port of Houston. By the end of the 19th century Buffalo Bayou was a bustling shipping channel and continued as such until the United States government dredged a turning basin four miles to the east. No one knew the area as “Allen’s Landing” except maybe Allen descendants until the name surfaced in the mid-1900s. Today the shoreline where Houston began has been revitalized as a passive park and includes a concrete approximation of the original wharf.

WALK INTO TOWN ON MAIN STREET.

2.
Commercial National Bank
116 Main Street at northwest corner of Franklin Street

Anchoring this row of Victorian survivors along Main Street from the 1870s through the early 1900s is the Commercial National Bank from 1904, distinguished by its curved corner. The Beaux Arts design came from the pens of Houston architects Green & Svarz. The centerpieces of the facade are its trio of large arched openings on both the Main and Franklin street elevations.

3.
First National Bank/Franklin Lofts
201 Main Street at southeast corner of Franklin Street

Architects Maurice Sanguinet and Carl Staats joined forces in Fort Worth in 1903 with a plan. With Staats handling most of the design work and Sanguinet taking care of business the duo immediately set up branches in several of the emerging Texas cities and aggressively sought commissions. Sanguinet and Staats brought steel frame construction to Houston with this eight-story, classically influenced building in 1904. Skeptical onlookers expected the town’s first skyscraper to fall down - imagine what they would think about today’s skyline. The final price tag was $228,000 and the First National Bank remained here for half a century while this was still prime Houston real estate. The biggest deals in the Bayou City have moved elsewhere and the town’s pioneering skyscraper has been redeveloped as luxury lofts. 

4.
Houston National Bank/Islamic Da`wah Center
202 Main Street at southwest corner of Franklin Street

The Houston National Bank took its first deposits in 1876 when it was known as the Fox Bank. In 1926 Humble Oil founder Ross S. Sterling added the bank to his burgeoning portfolio of Houston properties. He hired the architectural firm of his son-in-law to design a suitably impressive new headquarters for his new acquisition. Not that it was a case of blind nepotism - that firm was Hedrick & Gottleib, the successors of the star Fort Worth architectural shop of Saguinet & Staats that constructed the town’s first skyscraper across the street. Hedrick & Gottleib created a Greek banking temple that was accented by splendid bronze entrance doors. Sterling was in the governor’s office three years later when the stock market crashed, leading to his personal bankruptcy. His bank avoided the same fate thanks to the financial wizardry of Jesse H. Jones who assumed a controlling interest in all seven of Houston’s major banks, keeping every one afloat. Today the bank is doing spiritual duty as an Islamic center. 

TURN RIGHT ON FRANKLIN STREET.

5.
Southern Pacific Railroad Building/Bayou Lofts
915 Franklin Street at northeast corner of Travis Street

This brawny, Chicago Commercial Style office building was erected in 1910 for the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Southern Pacific, that came to dominate railroad traffic along the nation’s southern tier, was chartered in 1848 to construct tracks between Galveston Bay and the Red River in North Texas; two miles of track were laid through Houston in 1855. When this building was constructed Southern Pacific tracks ran from Chicago and New Orleans to the Pacific Ocean. In the 1990s the historic property was converted to 108 residential lofts.

TURN LEFT ON TRAVIS STREET.

6.
1884 Houston Cotton Exchange Building
202 Travis Street at southwest corner of Franklin Street

Jared Ellison Groce was a Virginia native who became a planter in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama in the first two decades of the 19th century. In 1821 he got wind of Stephen F. Austin’s new colony and loaded fifty wagons with supplies and 90 slaves and set out for Texas. The state’s cotton industry was born. Groce became the wealthiest settler in the new Texas colony before he died in 1839 and cotton became Houston’s biggest builder of fortunes. The Board of Trade organized a Cotton Exchange in 1874 and sent architect Eugene T. Heiner back east on a tour of other town’s cotton exchanges. He put his findings to work in this exuberant Victorian confection fashioned from dark red Philadelphia brick and gray sandstone. The Exchange moved from here in 1924 and trundled on into the 1970s before disappearing. Its original building has been renovated for office use. 

7.
Kennedy-Foley Building
214-218 Travis Street

Early developer John Kennedy constructed the core of this building in 1860. It performed duty as a Confederate armory during the Civil War and was gutted by fire in 1888. Along the way Kennedy handed the property off to his son-in-law, William L. Foley, who was known around town as the “dean of Houston dry goods merchants.” The family ran the W.L. Foley Dry Goods Company here until 1948. Note the sidewalk roof that was built around the lamppost. 

TURN RIGHT ON CONGRESS STREET.

8.
Kennedy Bakery
813 Congress Street

Across the street from Old Market Square stands the town’s oldest two-story structure, raised in 1847 by Nathaniel Kellum that operated as the Kennedy Trading Post. For many years afterwards the family also operated a bakery on the premises. Market Square, developed on land donated by Augustus Allen, was intended to be the centerpiece of downtown Houston. City Hall was located in Market Square a few times, each time the building fell victim to a fire. Today the historic square is maintained as open space.

RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO THE INTERSECTION OF CONGRESS AND TRAVIS STREETS.

9.
City Hall Clock Plaza
s
outheast corner of Congress and Travis streets 

This clock originally hung in the 1904 Houston City Hall. When the building was demolished in the 1930s the clock was stashed in storage and forgotten. One day in 1996 someone recognized it in a local amusement park. City officials hauled it back and constructed a brand new tower for the newly-appreciated timepiece.

CONTINUE ONE BLOCK BACK TO MAIN STREET

10.
Union National Bank Building/Hotel Icon
220 Main Street at northwest corner of Congress Street

Partners Jesse H. Jones and founder of Gulf Oil Andrew Mellon spared no expense in raising this banking palace in 1911. The St. Louis architectural firm of Mauran, Russell & Crowell contributed a lavish Neoclassical design and Bedford limestone was imported for the full-height Corinthian columns on the outside and rare Yule marble from Colorado was used for the opulent interior. A century later money was again spewed when $35 million was spent to create the lavishly appointed Hotel Icon.

11.
Sweeney, Coombs & Fredericks Building
301 Main Street at southeast corner of Congress Street

This eclectic Victorian building has stubbornly held its corner since 1889. Its design is attributed to George E. Dickey, a New England architect who arrived n Houston in 1878 when he was 38 years old and became the town’s go-to builder. Of the many landmark commercial buildings planned by Dickey this is the only one that survives. The original tenant was a jeweler.

TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.

12.
Stuart Block
304-308 Main Street

Some of the last souvenirs of Houston’s Victorian era grace this block. Here, this 1880 building is enlivened by three different facades.

13.
Kiam Building
320 Main Street at northwest corner of Preston Street

English architect H.C. Holland designed this exuberant Romanesque-styled commercial building in 1893 for Edward Kiam’s clothing store. The five-story building sported Houston’s first electric passenger elevator. Thanks to a 1980s facelift if shoppers from that age were still around today they would still recognize their favorite clothing store.  

TURN RIGHT ON PRESTON STREET.

14.
Majestic Metro
911 Preston Street

Although it no longer screens movies this is the last remaining theater in Houston from the silent motion picture era. Opened as the Ritz on April 15, 1926 it was an intimate house with seating for 1,260. Stella and Lillian Scanlan, who had been spreading their late railroad magnate father’s money around town in real estate, were behind the new theater. The Ritz struggled more than most with the coming of suburban multiplexes and home television. It began showing Spanish language films as early as the 1940s and was featuring exploitation films in the 1970s when its name was switched to the Majestic Maestro. The theater went dark in 1984 and re-opened six years later as an event space.

RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO MOVE SOUTH.

15.
Scanlan Building
405 Main Street at southeast corner of Preston Street 

Francis Richard Lubbock left school when he was 14 years old in South Carolina in 1829 to earn money for his family. By the age of 22 he was running a general store in Houston and living in a one-and-a-half story house on this spot. The Republic of Texas bought the home for its Executive Mansion and presidents Sam Houston and Mirabeau lived in the old Lubbock place before the government moved to Austin. Lubbock himself would spend time in a Texas Executive Mansion when he was elected governor in 1861. The current building boasts an historic pedigree as well, having been designed in 1909 by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, one of the fathers of the modern skyscraper. The daughters of Thomas Howe Scanlan, a railroad baron and sugar plantation scion, erected the tower in their father’s honor three years after his death.

16.
Public National Bank Building/Citizens Bank
402 Main Streetat southwest corner of Preston Street

James Ruskin Bailey crafted this nine-story Beaux Arts bank building in 1925 at a time when this chunk of Main Street was the town’s commercial hub. It was the scene of considerable drama six years later when Jesse H. Jones engineered a secret takeover of the bank’s assets, changed the name to Citizen’s Bank and saving it from failure. He also propped up the Houston National Bank. His actions insured that not a single bank went out of business in Houston during the Depression and made Jones, who would serve as the country’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation chairman through the 1930s, the most influential money man in town.

17.
State National Bank Building
412 Main Street

Alfred C. Finn, who learned his architecture at the drawing board of Fort Worth skyscraper masters Maurice Sanguinet and Carl Staats, designed this bank tower in the 1920s. Its 14 stories rise from a rusticated base of Texas pink granite. The client was the omnipresent Jesse H. Jones. This was the heart of the Houston financial community at the time but in the 1950s the banks began moving south and one by one traditional towers like this one became parking lots. Now it stands alone on its block. Look up to see a unique red-roofed penthouse.  

18.
Stegeman Building
southwest corner of Main and Prairie streets

This slice of Victorian Houston has seen quite a bit of history since these buildings were erected circa 1880. The corner structure was constructed by Frederick W. Stegeman, whose business produced ornamental ironwork, in 1879. Although it has lost its mansard roof its showy roof brackets remain. The connected buildings at 910-914 Prairie streets, including the Henry Brashear Building and Packard’s Troy Laundry, have accumulated an eclectic string of tenants (an adult movie theater, for one) and alterations but today resemble their original appearance from 130+ years ago.      

19.
Rice Hotel
909 Texas Avenue at northwest corner of Main Street 

This was the site of the Capitol building of the Republic of Texas before the government loaded up its oxcarts and headed for Austin in 1839. That two-story, frontier-style building was converted into a hotel and torn down in 1881. A five-story hotel building replaced it. William Marsh Rice, a Massachusetts native who made his money merchandising and investing in Texas, bought the property in 1885 even though he was living back on the East Coast by then. His Rice Hotel would be razed in 1911 by Jesse H. Jones who recruited the St. Louis architectural firm of Mauran, Russell, and Crowell to create this grand multi-winged hotel that quickly became the place for power brokers and celebrities to gather. The last guests checked out in 1977 and the Houston landmark has been re-born as apartment lofts. 

20.
Kress Building
705 Main Street at southeast corner of Capitol Street

Samuel Henry Kress looked on his stores as public works of art and he retained a staff of architects to achieve that end. He took as much pride in the appearance of those stores as the nickels and dimes that piled up in his coffers. There would eventually be 264 Kress five-and-dime stores throughout the United States and many of them adopted the Art Deco style in the 1920s and 1930s. Samuel Kress made Houston his first Texas location, opening a store in the 400 block of Main Street in 1900; Kress would be the leading discount presence in downtown for 80 years. This store, slathered in terra cotta, was built in 1913 and sported the chain’s trademark golds, greens and reds. Samuel Kress’s fondness for Houston did not end with his stores - he donated 33 pieces of his matchless personal art collection to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

21.
Gulf Building/JPMorgan Chase Building
712 Main Street at northwest corner of Rusk Street

Jesse Holman Jones grew up on a Tennessee tobacco farm and was managing a tobacco factory when he was 14 years old. When he was 19 years old in 1893 he was running a lumberyard. Jones came to Houston in his early twenties and built a fortune in Texas lumber. In 1908 he entered banking and it was Jones money that did more to shape the Houston skyline in the first half of the 20th century than any other. Jones funded this 37-story tower in 1929 and it reigned as the tallest building in the city until 1963. Architect Alfred Charles Finn tapped the Gothic Revival style to create one of town’s Art Deco masterpieces inside and out. Look up to see the skyscraper step back on its upper floors.

TURN RIGHT ON RUSK STREET.

22.
Esperson Buildings
west side of Travis Street between Walker and Rusk streets

Mellie Keenan was a Kansas farm girl who married Danish immigrant Niels Esperson in Oklahoma in 1893. The couple kicked around the midwest chasing oil with indifferent success until they landed in Houston in 1903 where Niels helped develop the first of what would be over 150 million barrels of crude from the Humble Oilfield that helped establish the Texas oil industry. Niels died in 1922, leaving Mellie considerable property and wealth. She proved not to be an absentee landlord. In 1924 she constructed the Majestic Theater, bringing architect John Eberson down from Chicago the build the town’s premiere stage. In 1927 she hired Eberson again to construct Houston’s tallest building and he delivered an Italian Renaissance confection topped by an ornate terraced temple draped in gold leaf. Roman marble was everywhere inside and there were bronze elevator doors and terra cotta urns at every turn. Mellie Esperson had the name of her late husband inscribed across the front and settled into a suite of offices on the 25th floor to manage her real estate empire. In 1941 she called Eberson once more to construct a 19-story annex which was inscribed with her name. It was the largest construction project in Depression-era Houston and the Art Deco tower was the first in the city to boast central air conditioning. Mellie Esperson died in 1945 and some say her spirit still patrols the halls of her two buildings.  

TURN RIGHT ON TRAVIS STREET. 

23.
Texas Commerce Tower/JPMorgan Chase Tower
600 Travis Street between Texas and Capitol streets

At 75 floors and an arm’s length higher than 1,000 feet this is the tallest five-sided building in the world. Modernist architects I.M. Pei & Partners had planned for five more stories but city officials were concerned the tower might interfere with air traffic. Completed in 1981, this remains the tallest skyscraper in Texas.

TURN LEFT ON CAPITOL STREET. TURN LEFT ON LOUISIANA STREET. 

24.
Pennzoil Place
711 Louisiana Street at southeast corner of Capitol Street

In a career stuffed with awards and honors, his design for Pennzoil Place in the 1970s stands out among architect Philip Johnson’s creations. When it was constructed in 1975 Pennzoil Place shattered the conventional glass box skyscraper motif and ushered in an age of postmodernism. The dueling 36-story trapezoidal towers are set just ten feet apart and intended as an optical illusion, presenting a different appearance from every perspective. The entire composition is dressed in dark bronze glass and aluminum. 

25.
Republic Bank Center/Bank of America Center
700 Louisiana Street between Capitol and Rusk streets

Master modernist architect Philip Johnson punctuated the Houston skyline with this gabled tower and its massive arched entrances in 1983. At 780 feet it is the seventh tallest building in Texas, fourth in Houston. This was the site of the main Western Union transmission center in the city and when it was discovered to be impossible to relocate the cables the building was left intact and incorporated into the new structure.

TURN RIGHT ON RUSK STREET. TURN LEFT ON SMITH STREET.

26.
Tranquillity Park
bounded by Smith, Walker, Bagby and Rusk streets

This urban park honoring the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969 opened ten years later. The mounds and depressions and landscape elements are intended to mimic the surface of the moon where the historic module named Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility (one “L,” unlike the park). The Eagle was not the first spaceship to land in the Sea of Tranquility; NASA had previously sent the unmanned Ranger 8 spacecraft crashing into the same spot after transmitting close-up photographs of the cratered surface.

27.
One Shell Plaza
910 Louisiana Street

After spending almost four decades in the old Post-Dispatch Building the Shell Oil Company went house hunting in 1971 and hired skyscraper specialists Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to build its new headquarters. The result was the tallest poured-in-place concrete building in the world; it is skinned in cream-colored Texas Cordova limestone. The roof was 715 feet above the street, the tallest in the city at the time, and the antenna skied another 304 feet. It still didn’t have enough offices for Shell which added a companion 26-story tower the following year.

28.
Houston City Hall
900 Bagby Street between McKinney and Walker streets

To help kickstart the economy during the Great Depression of the 1930s the federal government went on a building spree. Its architects favored the stripped-down classicism of the Art Deco style and looked a lot like this building from 1939. Joseph Finger, an Austrian-born architect who gave Houston several Art Deco-inspired landmarks, did his best work on City Hall that was executed with cream-colored Texas Cordova limestone and aluminum doors. A government annex has been constructed across Bagby Street and out front is a peaceful square dominated by a reflecting pool; it is named for oilman George Henry Hermann.

29.
Julia Ideson Building/Houston Public Library
500 McKinney Street at northwest corner of Smith Street

The first books were lent in Houston as early as 1837 through a subscription library and the Houston Lyceum. The collection bumped around town for most of the remainder of the 19th century until merchant and financier William March Rice pledged $200,000 to promote a free library. Using additional funds from steel baron Andrew Carnegie an Italian Renaissance buulding was constructed in 1904 to become the first central public library. Ralph Adams Cram, a celebrated Boston architect, drew up plans for this Spanish Renaissance replacement in 1926. It served the city for half a century until a six-story gray granite library came along next door. This building was adapted to serve as a history and research center and took the name of Julia B. Ideson, a librarian for 41 years. The Houston Public Library now curates over 6,000,000 items across thirty-three branches.  

30.
Allied Bank Plaza/Wells Fargo Plaza
1000 Louisiana Street between Lamar and McKinney streets

Completed in 1983 this is the tallest all-glass building in the western hemisphere. Richard Keating, in the employ of skyscraper specialists Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, designed the 992-foot building. It is the second tallest tower in the Houston skyline.

TURN LEFT ON MCKINNEY STREET AND WALK DOWN TO MAIN STREET.

31.
City National Bank Building
1001 McKinney Street at northeast corner of Main Street

Architect Alfred C. Finn was still clinging to the Art Deco style in 1947, almost a decade after its heyday had ended, when he designed this burly office building that spanned a full block along McKinney Street. Houston would not see its like again.

TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.

32.
Foley’s/Macy’s
1110 Main Street between Lamar and Dallas streets

In 1900 brothers Pat and James Foley borrowed $2,000 from an uncle and began peddling men’s furnishings and novelties in a small store at 507 Main Street. By the time the Foley brothers sold out in 1917 there were only two stores in Houston ringing up more sales. By 1922 Foley Bros. was the town’s largest department store. The nameplate was acquired by department store holding company Federated Stores in 1945 which immediately paid out $13 million to build what was trumpeted as the “most modern department store” in America. It started with six floors and four more came along in 1957. The downtown Foley’s and its suburban branches were re-branded “Macy’s” in 2006. In 2013 Macy’s was closed and this monolith prepared for a date with the demolition crew.

33.
Humble Oil Building
1212 Main Street at southwest corner of Dallas Street

The tiny village in East Texas named for Pleasant Smith Humble became on oil boomtown early int he 20th century and Humble Oil & Refining Company was organized in 1911. By the 1940s Humble would be the largest domestic producer of crude oil in the United States; it eventually was part of the consolidation that would lead to Exxon. Humble erected this headquarters in 1921 and stayed until 1963. The New York architectural firm of Clinton and Russell, which had previously constructed the world’s largest apartment building and largest office building, was imported to design the Italian Renaissance building that consumed half the block. Local architect John F. Staub, who made his reputation creating grand private residences, added the 17-story tower in 1936.

TURN LEFT ON DALLAS STREET. TURN LEFT ON FANNIN STREET.

34.
Stowers Buidlng
820 Fannin at northwest corner of Walker Street

G.A. Stowers was born in Atlanta where he entered business with his father in 1885 when he was 18 years old, running a furniture store. He sold his share to a brother two years later and went to sell furniture in Birmingham, Alabama. In short order he had stores in Tennessee and Texas; in Houston he bought up the assets of the Lincoln Furniture Company in 1900. Stowers Furniture relocated to this ten-story Beaux Arts building in 1913. A century later the entire rest of the block has been cleared away for new development which is planned to be built around the hold-out Stowers Building.

35.
Texas State Hotel
720 Fannin Street at northwest corner of Rusk Street

This Neoclassical U-shaped hotel, planned by Joseph Finger, was targeted for the 1928 Democratic Convention but it didn’t open with its $2.50 single rooms and $4.00 doubles until the following year. After lean times the hotel is once again greeting guests.

36.
Texaco Building
1111 Rusk at northeast corner of Fannin Street

This office tower, notable for its limestone arcade that marches around the ground floor, was constructed in 1915 as the home for Texaco, which led the stampede of major oil companies into downtown Houston. Texaco moved out in the 1980s and the building has resisted any viable redevelopment plans ever since.

TURN RIGHT ON RUSK STREET. TURN LEFT ON SAN JACINTO STREET.

37.
United States Customhouse
San Jacinto and Rusk streets

This block-swallowing federal building that spreads across two acres was constructed between 1907 and 1911. The Renaissance Revival design came from the office of James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury. The building began life as a post office and courthouse, necessitated by the explosive growth in Houston that saw 17 railroads bringing passengers into town in the first decade of the 20th century. 

TURN LEFT ON CAPITOL STREET. TURN RIGHT ON FANNIN STREET.

38.
Houston Post-Dispatch Building/Magnolia Hotel
609 Fannin Street at southeast corner of Texas Avenue

Fort Worth architects Maurice Sanguinet, Carl Staats and Wyatt Hedrick built nearly every tall building in that town in the first three decades of the 1900s and the firm left its fingerprints on the Houston skyline as well. This 22-story Beaux Arts tower was the tallest in Houston when it was topped off in 1926. It was designed in the manner of the first skyscrapers from 40 years earlier to resemble an ancient column with a base (the oversized lower floors), a shaft (the unadorned middle 14 stories) and a capital (the decorative upper stories, including a pride of lion’s head gargoyles along the cornice). The client was Ross Sterling who wanted a headquarters for his Post-Dispatch newspaper and KPRC radio station. Sterling lost his fortune in the Great Depression and sold off his building in 1932. It became the regional headquarters for Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company until 1971 when the company shuffled over to One Shell Plaza. Today it carries on as a hotel.  

39.
Christ Church Cathedral
1117 Texas Avenue at northeast corner of Fannin Street

This congregation traces its roots back to 1839 and Texas Republic days. It is the oldest surviving church in Houston and has sprouted many surrounding missions. Land was purchased here for $400 and the first meetinghouse was raised in 1845. The current Gothic Revival church was built in 1893 on designs provided by by J. Arthur Tempest and Silas McBee. In 1949, Christ Church became a cathedral church during the centennial celebration of the Diocese of Texas.

AT THE INTERSECTION OF PRAIRIE STREET LOOK RIGHT TO SEE...

40.
Sam Houston Hotel
1117 Prairie Street

This mid-size hotel joined the Houston streetscape in 1924, marketed to business travelers. The Fort Worth architectural shop of Sanquinet, Staats, Hedrick and Gottlieb drew up the plans for the 10-story Colonial Revival high-rise. Like many of its fellow downtown hotels the Sam Houston was closed in the 1970s and spent some 25 years vacant. But it dodged the bulldozers to re-emerge in 2002 as a boutique hotel with 100 rooms.

41.
Harris County Courthouse
301 Fannin Street between Preston and Congress streets

This site was designated by town founders Augustus and John Allen as the courthouse square and the first government home, constructed of pine logs, appeared here in 1837. Now over 100 years old, this is Harris County Courthouse number five, completed in 1910. Dallas architect Charles Erwin Barglebaugh provided the domed Classical Revival design, executed in Texas pink granite and trimmed with terra cotta and limestone. The building stepped aside for courthouse number six in 1952 although it still hosts trials.   

42.
Pillot Building
1012 Congress Street at southwest corner of Fannin Street

Parts of this building represent the oldest three-story commercial structure in Houston. After it partially collapsed while vacant in 1988 the building was reconstructed with as many of the original bricks as possible. French-born merchant Eugene Pillot began erecting the building as a bank in 1857 and finally put the finishing touches on in 1869. The Pillot family owned the property until 1944. In addition to the conservation of the bricks, many of the original cast iron columns, sills and lintels were used in the replica building as well. Cast iron enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity as a building material in the middle 19th century as it was easy to cast in ornamental pieces, quick to assemble and inexpensive to produce.

CONTINUE ON FANNIN STREET TWO BLOCKS TO THE BUFFALO BAYOU AND THE START OF THE TOUR.