The Rice Hotel

The Rice Hotel

A Rice Hotel postcard (Creative Commons license attribution: image courtesy Boston Public Library)

What is now called the Rice Lofts at 909 Texas Avenue, between Main and Travis, was previously the Rice Hotel. The ground it stands on was donated to the Republic of Texas by John and Augustus Allen, the founders of Houston. This was the site of the first Texas Capitol building. The Texas Congress met here from April 1827 until September 1839. The building was a two-story wooden structure. After the capitol was relocated to Austin, the ownership of the property went back to the Allen brothers. They converted it into a hotel. With the Mexican invasion of 1842, the Texas Congress again met at this location. In 1857, the Allen brothers sold the building to R.S. Blount for $12,000 and the building was again used a hotel. The last president of the Republic of Texas, Anson Jones, committed suicide here in 1858.

In 1882, the building was demolished by Colonel A. Grosbeck and replaced with a five-story brick and stucco hotel. The building was designed by the Houston architect George E. Dickey. It was named the Capitol Hotel.

William Marsh Rice, the founder of Rice University, bought the hotel in 1883. He renamed it the Rice Hotel and added a five-story annex. Rice owned the hotel until his murder in 1900. The murder involved a valet, a lawyer, and a forged will. After his death, ownership of the hotel went to Rice University.

Jesse Jones, politician and entrepreneur from Houston, bought the hotel from Rice University in 1911. Jones razed the structure and built a 17-story building on the property in 1913. Jones used Mauran, Russell & Crowell, a St. Louis architectural firm, to do the work. The building was a U-shaped hotel with 650 rooms. The new hotel opened on May 17, 1913, and cost $2.5 million to build. The Rice Hotel Cafeteria opened in 1922, and was the first air-conditioned public space in Houston. The Rice Hotel was also the first hotel with an escalator.

In 1926, architect Alfred C. Finn added a west wing to the hotel which turned the U-plan into an E-plan with three towers instead of two. This addition increased the number of rooms to 1,000.

The Rice Hotel remained a Houston landmark until the owners decided to close it in 1975. After sitting vacant for almost twenty years, Post Properties, Randall Davis, and the Houston Housing Finance Corporation renovated the building at a cost of $27.5 million. The building now consists of three interconnected 17-story buildings. The inside is composed of 312 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. The building also has 25,000 square feet of retail space. One million dollars was spent to restore the 7,000 square foot Crystal Ballroom to its former glory. The building is now called the Rice Lofts.

Many famous people, including six presidents, have stayed at the Rice Hotel: Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower, and John and Jacqueline Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy, as First Lady, gave her only political speech to the Texas LULAC representatives in the Crystal Ballroom. The Kennedys rested at the hotel before making the fateful trip to Dallas.

Other celebrities that visited the hotel and Crystal Ballroom include Perry Como, Tommy Dorsey, Clark Gable, Mick Jagger, Liberace, Groucho Marx, Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, and Laurence Welk.

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