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Hotels and Social Clubs

Retrieve 1905 Rice Hotel JPEG image. [Retrieve Rice Hotel 1920s JPG] [Retrieve newer Rice Hotel GIF]
c1881 to
1913 to
1925 on

Like the Warwick, the current building of the Rice Hotel was originally a U-shaped structure, with its open area to the south. Also like the Warwick, this shape was altered, but unlike the Warwick, it was later made into an E-shaped structure.

The Rice Hotel was built on the site of the capitol of the Republic of Texas (1837-1839). After the building served as the capitol, it had always been a hotel up until it was demolished in 1881, and a new hotel (shown in the B&W postcard) was built on the same site. In 1886, William Marsh Rice purchased the hotel and owned it until his murder in 1900. Like much of his estate, it was left to the Rice Institute. The Rice Estate continued to operate it as a hotel until Jesse H. Jones bought the structure in 1911. He had a new structure built as shown in the color postcards. The Rice Hotel opened again in 1913. In 1925-26 it was expanded as another wing was added on the west, giving it the E-shape. After Jones' death, the Jones Foundation gave the hotel back to what was now Rice University in 1971, as the land was still owned by the university. Rice University operated the hotel until 1975 when it Rice closed the building rather than bring it up to modern fire codes. The Rice briefly opened again from 1976 with new owners, but financial difficulties forced its closure again in 1977.

In recent developments, developer Randall Davis is continuing work on a $33 million redevelopment project financed in large part by the city-created Houston Housing Finance Corporation. He is busily converting the Rice into 312-unit apartment building along with underground parking and a new fitness center. Other improvements include restoring the swimming pool, long covered-over in cement.

Throughout its lifetime, the Rice was the hotel of Houston. Much of the political business of Houston (and of all of Texas) took place in her bars. The top-floor club was notorious. Even during the "dry" periods, many of Texas' elite supposedly kept their own private stock in individual cabinets in the Rice's club. When Rice University planned to close the hotel in 1975, hundreds of people paid $30 a piece to take part in the party "for one last night at the Rice." Some paid as much as $1000 for a room at Houston's hotel of hotels. The university donated the proceeds to charity.

One myth about the Rice Hotel, repeated by many Houstonians, but not entirely factual, is that President John F. Kennedy spent his last night at the Rice before traveling to Dallas. While Kennedy did check into the hotel and enjoy an exquisite meal, he actually flew to Ft. Worth after attending a LULAC meeting at the Rice with the First Lady. They spent the night at the Hotel Texas in Ft. Worth before traveling to Dallas.

Houston Turnverein, ca. 1910This card of the "Turnverein" in Houston is perhaps the most unusual card that I have right now. It is a divided back card but not a white border. It was probably published between 1907 and 1915. "Turnverein" means "dance club" in German, and this card shows a courtyard with a gazebo or bandstand near the center.

Germans began settling in central Texas outside of San Antonio in the late 1830s. Bexar County was reportedly 60% German-speaking according to the census of 1870. Traditionally, Germans settled in the Hill Country of Texas, but by the late 1800s, new immigrants and other German Texans were settling closer to the coast. Fort Bend county (Rosenburg) had a large German population, and by the turn of the century, there was likely a large German population in most Texas cities, including Houston.

According to Marguerite Johnston, the Houston Turnverein was formed on 14 January 1854 as the city's first German society. Unfortunately, she doesn't mention a structure such as the one pictured in this card. It seems to have been located at Prairie and Caroline. Later it moved to Almeda road, and most recently meets on Elm.

The Thalian Club was organized on 24 October 1901 and chartered 15 July 1903. The purposes of the club included "the support of a literary club, the maintenance of a library and the promotion of painting, music and other fine arts." Its members included Houston notables such as lumberman John Kirby, Jesse H. Jones, William Marsh Rice II, James A. Baker (attorney to William Marsh Rice, and Secretary of State James Baker's grandfather), Thomas Henry Ball (Representative), William L. Foley (of Foley's, of course), Birdsall Briscoe (architect and designer), and many others.

The club house shown at the left [Houston Thalian Club Postcard, Select to Enlarge]was at the coner of Rusk Avenue and San Jacinto Street in what is now downtown Houston. As were many exclusive clubs at the time, the club was open only to men. Ladies, however, were welcome at special social events, and "the bowling alleys [were] open to ladies on Tuesday and Friday nights, and Tudesday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12 m." As with good taste, and to prevent damage to club property, "sitting on the billiard tables, or otherwise misuising Club property, [was] strictly prohibited." It is clear that the club had more as its goals than academic and cultural pursuits.

The first, white border card is from C.T. American/Seawall Specialty Co. The second, "linen" card is from Tichnor Bros. of Boston. The black and white card is an "undivided back" made by Rotograph Co. of New York in Germany. It is copyright 1904 and postmarked 1905 in San Antonio. The Turnverein card was published by John Bertrand of Houston, Texas. It was made in Germany. The undivided back card of the Thalian Club was published by Butler Bros., Booksellers, Houston, Texas.
This HTML document is copyright ©1998-2005 Leslie Carl Seiler. All rights reserved. Content of this page was updated 30 January 2001. Page moved and corrections made 27 November 2005.

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