If These Walls Could Talk
Houston has no shortage of top-notch accommodations, though only a few share a past rich enough to deem them a tourist destination in themselves. These four classic H-Town hotels are worth a visit, whether you’re staying the night or just in search of local oddities.
|The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa|
It might surprise guests that the University of Houston campus is home to a fully functioning Hilton hotel--used as a teaching hotel for the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. More astonishingly, the Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center also happens to be the resting place for Elizabeth Taylor’s first wedding album. Really. Privy to an archive of Conrad Nicholson "Nicky" Hilton, Jr.’s papers (he was the first to marry the movie star in 1950 and the couple divorced a year later) the college has the only archive devoted specifically to the hospitality biz. Although not advertised for public consumption, researchers and interested guests can make an appointment to view the collection, which also includes industry journals from the 1880s and guest sign-in books from the Beverly Hills Hilton in 1955 - complete with signatures like "Mr. and Mrs. Clark Gable." Call archivist and historian Mark Young at 713.743.5278 prior to your visit for an appointment.
The Downtown staple was built in 1911 as the Union National Bank Building - one of the country’s earliest steel and concrete skyscrapers - and restored as a hotel in 2004, the 12-story Hotel Icon is a beacon for patrons with an appreciation for architecture. It represents the neo-classical period with intricately carved exterior Corinthian columns and soaring 30-foot Doric interior columns (not to mention impressive decorative plaster molding). The hotel once housed architect John Staub, who designed local landmarks Rienzi and Bayou Bend. Other notable tenants included Jesse H. Jones, Texas’ first investment banking firm Neuhaus & Co. and international construction company Brown and Root.
For more than a decade, the 18-acre, Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa served as the formal residence of President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara, while Bush Senior served as vice president and president (1981-1992). The pair stayed at the property 10 to 15 times each year and, although they did sleep in The Manor House before it became the hotel’s signature restaurant, the Bush family later moved to room 271 so the President could be more easily guarded and the Secret Service could room above and below. The room was later expanded to include four regular rooms, with two living rooms and two bedrooms - all customized with personal touches and monogrammed towels (compliments of The Houstonian).
When it opened as the Auditorium Hotel in 1926, the property now known as the Lancaster Hotel was the pride and joy of Italian-born investor Michele DeGeorge. Today, DeGeorge's great-grandson runs the family-owned hotel in the heart of the Downtown Theater District. In 1927 and 1928, the hotel's guest roster included a regular actor at the nearby Palace Theater, Clark Gable. Hotel legend goes that management once had to hold Gable's trunk for ransom because he failed to pay his bill. When Gable got the lead in one of his stock company's plays, his pay increased and the dashing actor started to gain fame on the streets of Houston. A few decades later, two other famous guests, cowboy Gene Autry and his horse Champion, entertained service men and women during World War II at the Stage Canteen in the property's basement. Many of these memories are cataloged in history albums in the hotel lobby.
A Montrose area landmark since the 1920s, La Colombe d’Or is known as the world’s smallest luxury hotel, with just six suites and a handful of villas. Its glamorous Le Grand Salon ballroom is decked with rich oak panels and doors originally carved for 18th century French royalty. Before the dark wood decor found its way onto a ship bound for Texas, it enjoyed a European heyday serving as a backdrop for celebrated guests like Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur and Marcel Proust.