Unique & Historic Hotels
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.
History in the Heart of Downtown
Opened in 1924, The SAM is the oldest operating hotel in the city of Houston and is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. The SAM opened as a 10-story hotel featuring 200 guest rooms with modest restaurants. Most of the guests were budget-minded business travelers and those with an overnight layover between trains, as Houston’s Union Rail Station was only a couple of blocks away (currently the home of Minute Maid Park). Guests could rent a room for $2 per night; if they splurged an extra 50 cents, they received a room with a private bathroom.
After sitting idle for several decades, The SAM’s guestroom configuration was reduced to its current 100 and contemporized with a complete do-over bringing state of the art finishes and fine dining as part of the CURIO Collection by Hilton.
Chronicle of a Hollywood Wedding
It might surprise guests the University of Houston campus is home to a fully functioning hotel. A teaching hotel for the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, the Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center, is also 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 business. 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 1880's 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.
This Downtown staple was built in 1911 as the Union National Bank Building - one of the country’s earliest steel and concrete skyscrapers. Restored 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 interior molding). The hotel once housed architect John Staub, who designed the local Museum of Fine Arts, Houston landmarks Bayou Bend and Rienzi. Other notable tenants included Jesse H. Jones, Texas’ first investment banking firm Neuhaus & Co., and international construction company Brown and Root.
Houston's White House
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 he served as President and Vice President of the United States (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 property's private restaurant, the Bush family later moved to room 271 so the President could be more easily guarded by the Secret Service. 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. The Manor House, which had been open only to members of the Houstonian, is now open to the public for lunch. Guests can see the Botanic Room, where the G-7 Summit Treaties were signed and where then-Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Scheverdnadze met to discuss defense treaties.
Originally opened as the Auditorium Hotel in 1926, The Lancaster Hotel is a historic luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Houston’s vibrant downtown Theater District. Recently renovated and reopened, the landmark hotel enjoys a legacy of nearly 100 years of providing exceptional service and hospitality. It is also known for its long history of hosting a diverse list of celebrity guests that have included - a horse, opera singers, musicians, actors, dancers, screen writers, film stars, poets, authors, politicians, wrestlers, boxers, circus and rodeo performers. While acknowledging its 1926 charm, The Lancaster Hotel now presents an improved and redefined version of itself, poised for its next century of service.
A Gem on the Park
The Warwick Hotel opened in 1926 at the entrance to Hermann Park. The legendary entertainer Bob Hope once remarked, "The view from the Warwick Hotel is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It’s just like Paris.” Today, the building houses Hotel Zaza and many of the original architectural touches remain.
The exterior is decorated with Georgian-styled cast stone ornament and the U-shape of the building is indicative of many residential structures of the 1920's constructed to catch the southeast breeze. One of the properties most notable conversions came in 1962 when it was purchased at auction by Houston oilman John Mecom Sr. He completed an extensive renovation before reopening Warwick's doors in 1964.