Downtown Houston is the city's central business district, contains the headquarters of many prominent companies. There is an extensive network of pedestrian tunnels and skywalks connecting the buildings of the district. The tunnel system is home to many restaurants, shops and services.
Notable locations in zip code 77002: Grady Street Yard (A), Sam Houston Coliseum (B), Union Station (C), Main Street-Market Square Historic District (D), Gulf Building (E), Hogg Building (F), Houston Fire Department Station 8 (G), Houston City Hall (H), James Bute Company Warehouse (I), Julia Ideson Building (J), Kennedy Bakery (K), Kellum-Noble House (L), Macatee Building (M), Merchants and Manufacturers Building (N), Harris County Courthouse (O), Harris County Criminal Courts 1 - 15 (P), Harris County Sheriff's Office (Q), Houston Police Department - Headquarters (R), Harris County Sheriff's Office - Economic Crime (S), Harris County Sheriff's Office (T). Display/hide their locations on the map
Churches in zip code 77002 include: Christ Church (A), Annunciation Church (B), Antioch Missionary Baptist Church (C), Dominican Fathers Church (D), First Methodist Church of Houston (E), Visions African Methodist Episcopal Church (F), Grace Congregational Church (G), Holy Cross Catholic Chapel (H), Lord of the Streets Episcopal Church (I). Display/hide their locations on the map
Tourist attractions (not listed on the city page) : Diverse Works Art Space Inc (Cultural Attractions- Events- & Facilities; 1117 East Freeway), Astros Field (501 Crawford Street), Discover Houston Tours (1121 Capitol Street), Alliance Worldwide (1301 Fannin St Suite 175).
The city was granted incorporation by the Texas legislature on June 5, 1837. Houston was the temporary capital of Texas. In 1840, the town was divided into four wards, each with different functions in the community. The wards are no longer political divisions, but their names are still used to refer to certain areas. By 1906 what is now Downtown was divided among six wards.
Downtown's growth can be attributed to two major factors: The first arose after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, when investors began seeking a location close to the ports of Southwest Texas, but apparently free of the dangerous hurricanes that frequently struck Galveston and other port cities. Houston became a wise choice, as only the most powerful storms were able to reach the city. The second came a year later with the 1901 discovery of oil at spindletop, just south of Beaumont. Shipping and oil industries began flocking to east Texas, many settling in Houston. From that point forward the area grew substantially, as many skyscrapers were constructed, including the city's tallest buildings. In the 1980s, however, economic recession canceled some projects and caused others to be scaled back, such as the Bank of the Southwest Tower.
Hotel Brazos and Grand Central Station, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1911)
In the 19th century much of what was the Third Ward, the present day east side of Downtown Houston, was what Stephen Fox, an architectural historian who lectured at Rice University, referred to as "the elite neighborhood of late 19th-century Houston." Ralph Bivins of the Houston Chronicle said that Fox said that area was "a silk-stocking neighborhood of Victorian-era homes." Bivins said that the construction of Union Station, which occurred around 1910, caused the "residential character" of the area to "deteriorate." Hotels opened in the area to service travelers. Afterwards, according to Bivins, the area "began a long downward slide toward the skid row of the 1990s" and the hotels were changed into flophouses. Passenger trains stopped going to Union Station. The construction of Interstate 45 in the 1950s separated portions of the historic Third Ward from the rest of the Third Ward and brought those portions into Downtown.
Beginning in the 1960s the development of the 610 Loop caused the focus of the Houston area to move away from Downtown Houston. Joel Barna of Cite 42 said that this caused Greater Houston to shift from "a fragmenting but still centrally focused spatial entity into something more like a doughnut," and that Downtown Houston began to become a "hole" in the "doughnut." As interchange connections with the 610 Loop opened, according to Barna Downtown "became just another node in a multi-node grid" and, as of 1998, "has been that, with already established high densities and land prices." In the mid-1980s, the bank savings and loan crisis forced many tenants in Downtown Houston buildings to retrench, and some tenants went out of business. Barna said that this development further caused Downtown Houston to decline.
On April 5, 1986, the entire Downtown area was transformed as part of a concert by French musician Jean Michel Jarre. Called Rendez-Vous Houston, the open-air show used the skyscrapers as giant projection screens, and as launchpads for fireworks. The show celebrated 25 years of NASA, 150 years of Texas, and was a tribute to the astronauts killed in the recent Challenger Disaster. The show attracted a then-record live audience of 1.3 million people.
Areas which are, as of 2009, considered to be a part of Downtown Houston were once considered to be within the Third Ward and the Fourth Ward communities; the construction of Interstate 45 in the 1950s separated the areas from their former communities and placed them in Downtown. Additional freeway construction in the 1960s and 1970s formed the current boundaries of Downtown. Originally, Downtown was the most important retail area of Houston. Suburban retail construction in the 1970s and 1980s reduced Downtown's importance in terms of retail activity. By 1987 many of the office buildings in Downtown Houston were owned by non-U.S. real estate figures. The Texas Legislature established the Downtown Houston Management District in 1995. In 1996 Peter S. Carlsen and Dale E. Smith of the Houston Business Journal said that "the obvious and emerging trend of 1996 was the resurgence" of Downtown, citing several developments that contributed to the revitalization of the central business district.
The arrival of major industry also saw the advent of skyscrapers in Houston. The building boom of the 1970s and 1980s saw the erection of major buildings, many of them ranking as the tallest in the state and the nation.
In the 1960s, downtown comprised a modest collection of mid-rise office structures, but has since grown into one of the largest skylines in the United States. In 1960, the central business district had 10 million square feet (930,000 m²) of office space, increasing to about 16 million square feet (1,500,000 m²) in 1970. Downtown Houston was on the threshold of a boom in 1970 with 8.7 million square feet (800,000 m²) of office space planned or under construction and huge projects being launched by real estate developers. The largest proposed development was the 32-block Houston Center. Only a small part of the original proposal was ultimately constructed, however. Other large projects included the Cullen Center, Allen Center, and towers for Shell Oil Company. The surge of skyscrapers mirrored the skyscraper booms in other cities, such as Los Angeles and Dallas. Houston experienced another downtown construction spurt in the 1970s with the energy industry boom.
The first major skyscraper to be constructed in Houston was the 50-floor, 218 m (714 ft) One Shell Plaza in 1971. A succession of skyscrapers were built throughout the 1970s, culminating with Houston's tallest skyscraper, the 75-floor, 305 m (1,002 ft) JPMorgan Chase Tower (formerly the Texas Commerce Tower), which was completed in 1982. In 2002, it was the tallest structure in Texas, ninth-tallest building in the United States, and the 23rd tallest skyscraper in the world. In 1983, the 71-floor, 296 m (970 ft) Wells Fargo Plaza was completed, which became the second-tallest building in Houston and Texas, and 11th-tallest in the country. Skyscraper construction in downtown Houston came to an end in the mid-1980s with the collapse of Houston's energy industry and the resulting economic recession.
Twelve years later, the Houston-based Enron Corporation began constructing a 40-floor skyscraper in 1999 (which was completed in 2002) with the company collapsing in one of the most dramatic corporate failures in the history of the United States only two years later. Chevron bought this building to set up a regional upstream energy headquarters, and in late 2006 announced further consolidation of employees downtown from satellite suburban buildings, and even California and Louisiana offices by leasing the original Enron building across the street. Both buildings are connected by a second-floor unique walk-across, air-conditioned circular skybridge with three points of connection to both office buildings and a large parking deck. Other smaller office structures were built in the 2000–2003 period. As of September 2007, downtown Houston had more than 40 million square feet (3,787,147 m²) of office space, including more than 29 million square feet (1,861,704 m²) of class A office space.
Notable buildings that form Houston's downtown skyline:
The Sweeney, Coombs, and Fredericks Building is a late Victorian commercial building with a 3-story corner turret and Eastlake decorative elements that was designed by George E. Dickey in 1889. Evidence indicates that the 1889 construction may have been a renovation of an 1861 structure built by William A. Van Alstyne and purchased in 1882 by John Jasper Sweeney and Edward L. Coombs. Gus Fredericks joined the Sweeney and Coombs Jewelry firm before 1889. The building is on the corner of Main Street and Congress Street at 301 Main Street. The jewelry firm is still in business. It is one of the very few Victorian structures in the Bayou City.
The Esperson Buildings, 'Neils' built in 1927 and 'Mellie' in 1942, were modeled with Italian architecture.
The Houston City Hall was started in 1938 and completed in 1939. The original building is an excellent example of the Art Deco Era. In front of City Hall is the George Hermann Square.
One Shell Plaza was, at its completion in 1971, the tallest building in Houston. It stands 715 feet (218 m) tall, and when the antenna tower on its top is included, the height of One Shell Plaza is 1,000 feet (300 m).
The Houston Industries Building, formerly known as the 1100 Milam Building, was built in 1973. It went through major renovations in 1996.
Pennzoil Place, designed by Philip Johnson, built in 1976, is Houston's most award winning skyscraper, known for its innovative design. Johnson's forward thinking brought about a new era in skyscraper design.
The Enron Center South, also the Enron II, designed by Cesar Pelli was completed in 2002. (Note: Enron went bankrupt before the building's completion and was sold soon after it was completed for about half of its $200 million construction cost).
Scanlan Building, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1912-1924)
The Scanlan Building, 405 Main Street (at Main and Preston), is just one block from the Harris County Courthouse. The Scanlan building was built on the site of the first official "White House" of the Republic of Texas. What is now a Houston high-rise office building was built in 1909 by the daughters of Thomas Howe Scanlan, to honor their father, former mayor of Houston (1870-1873). It is a Houston Landmark and is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In 1909, the Scanlan Building was billed as “The largest building in the largest city in the largest state."
View from the Scanlan building, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1910)
Aerial photograph of Houston, Shamrock Hotel and Texas Medical Center in upper middle (circa 1949-1975)
Downtown has more than 150,000 workers employed by 3,500 businesses. The Downtown District's fact sheet says that projections estimated that the employee population would grow by about 1.4% per year. Major employers include Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and Shell Oil Company and historically included Continental Airlines. Downtown Houston has between 35% and 40% of the Class A office locations of the business districts in Houston. As of 1997 TrizecHahn was the largest landlord in Downtown Houston. As of that year it had seven towers with 6,000,000 square feet (560,000 m2) of Class A office space; the company had 25% of all of the Class A office space in Downtown Houston.
In the mid-1980s, the bank savings and loan crisis forced many tenants in Downtown Houston buildings to retrench, and some tenants went out of business. Joel Warren Barna of Cite 42 said that this development further caused Downtown Houston to decline. In 1986 the Downtown Houston occupancy rate of Class A office space was 81.4%. The Downtown Houston business occupancy rate of all office space increased from 75.8% at the end of 1987 to 77.2% at the end of 1988. In the early 1990s Downtown Houston still had more than 20% vacant office space. Preliminary data for the year 1996 stated that around a dozen companies relocated to Downtown during that year, bringing 2,800 jobs and filling 670,000 square feet (62,000 m2) of space. In 1997 Tim Reylea, the vice president of Cushman Realty Corp., said that "None of the major central business districts across the country has seen the surburban-to-downtown shift that Houston has."
By 2000, demand for Downtown office space increased, and construction of office buildings resumed. Debbie Wilson, an office broker for Crescent Real Estate Equities, said in 2001 that many energy trading firms have offices in Downtown Houston because Downtown has many backup sources of electrical power and telecommunications resources. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Business Journal said in 2001 that the decline of Enron was "shifting the direction of the downtown office market from one of the strongest in the country to an area of uncertainty." The cutbacks by firms such as Dynegy, in addition to the fall of Enron, caused the occupancy rate of Downtown Houston buildings to decrease to 84.1% in 2003 from 97.3% less than two years previously. In 2003, the types of firms with operations in Downtown Houston typically were accounting firms, energy firms, and law firms. Typically newer buildings had higher occupancy rates than older buildings. In 2004, the real estate firm Cresa Partners stated that the vacancy rate in Downtown Houston's Class A office space was almost 20%. In 2009, 10% of Downtown Houston's office space was vacant.
Continental Airlines (now known as United Airlines) formerly had its headquarters in Continental Center I. At one point, ExpressJet Airlines had its headquarters in Continental's complex. In September 1997 Continental Airlines announced it would consolidate its Houston headquarters in the Continental Center complex; the airline scheduled to move its employees in stages beginning in July 1998 and ending in January 1999. Bob Lanier, Mayor of Houston, said that he was "tickled to death" by the airline's move to relocate to Downtown Houston. Tim Reylea, the vice president of Cushman Realty Corp., said that the Continental move "is probably the largest corporate relocation in the central business district of Houston ever."
Hotel operators in Downtown reacted favorably, predicting that the move would cause an increase in occupancy rates in their hotels. In 2008 Continental renewed its lease in the building. Before the lease renewal, rumors spread stating that the airline would relocate its headquarters to office space outside of Downtown. Steven Biegel, the senior vice president of Studley Inc. and a representative of office building tenants, said that if Continental's space went vacant, the vacancy would not have had a significant impact in the Downtown Houston submarket as there is not an abundance of available space, and the empty property would be likely that another potential tenant would occupy it. Jennifer Dawson of the Houston Business Journal said that if Continental Airlines left Continental Center I, the development of Brookfield Properties's new office tower would have been delayed. As of September 2011 the headquarters moved out, but Continental will continue to house employees in the building. It will have about half of the employees that it once had.
Halliburton's corporate headquarters office was in 5 Houston Center. In 2001, Halliburton canceled a move to redevelop land in Westchase to house employees; real estate figures associated with Downtown Houston approved of the news. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Business Journal said it made more sense for the company to lease existing space instead of constructing new office space in times of economic downturns. By 2009 Halliburton closed its Downtown Office, moved its headquarters to northern Houston, and consolidated operations at its northern Houston and Westchase facilities.
The Downtown Houston Theater District is one of the largest in the country as measured by the number of theater seats. Houston is one of only five cities in the United States with permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing art disciplines of opera, ballet, music, and theater. Venues in the theater district include the Wortham Center (opera and ballet), the Alley Theatre (theater), the Hobby Center (resident and traveling musical theater, concerts, events), the Bayou Music Center (concerts and events) and Jones Hall (symphony).
The George R. Brown Convention Center, with its 1,200,000 square feet (110,000 m2) of flexible exhibit, meeting, and registration space and adjacent hotel, is frequently used for conventions, trade shows, and community meetings.
Hotels and accommodations
In comparison to other major cities, Houston has relatively few hotel rooms downtown, partly because downtown Houston is not a large leisure travel market. There are approximately 5,000 hotel rooms in downtown Houston. Major hotels in downtown Houston are:
Hilton Americas Convention Center Hotel with 1,203 rooms
The Shops in Houston Center, located within the Houston Center complex, is an enclosed shopping mall. It houses ninety stores and the building itself straddles two city blocks. A few blocks away, GreenStreet is an open air shopping center that opened October 16, 2008 that spans three square blocks in downtown.
As of 2012 most restaurants in Downtown Houston are in the Tunnel system, only open during working hours. This is due to laws that prohibit most open-air restaurant operations at the street level. Restaurants open after the end of working hours include steakhouses catering to visiting business travelers and some established restaurants. In 2012 Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press wrote that "More intriguing restaurants are hard to come by within the central business district".