Downtown Houston

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Downtown Houston
Neighborhood of Houston
Skyline of Downtown
Skyline of Downtown
Freeway map of Houston highlighting downtown.
Freeway map of Houston highlighting downtown.
Country  United States
State  Texas
County Harris County
City  Houston
Subdistricts of Downtown
Population (2010)[1]
 • Total 14,342
Website downtownhouston.org
Downtown Houston at night
Skyline District of Downtown as seen from highway I-45
Sign for Downtown Houston

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.

History[edit]

Marker in Downtown Houston commemorating the foundation of Houston by the Allen Brothers
Downtown Houston in 1927
Downtown skyline during Jean Michel Jarre's concert, Rendez-Vous Houston
Bird's-eye view, Houston, Texas (circa 1907)

Downtown Houston was the original founding point of the city. After the Texas Revolution, two New York real estate promoters, John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen purchased 6,642 acres (2,688 ha) of land T.F.L. Parrot (John Austin's widow) for $9,428. The Allen brothers first landed in the area where the White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou meet, a spot now known as Allen's Landing. Gail Borden, Jr., a city planner, laid out wide streets for the town.

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.[2]

Old Market Square Park

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[5] By 1987 many of the office buildings in Downtown Houston were owned by non-U.S. real estate figures.[8] The Texas Legislature established the Downtown Houston Management District in 1995.[9] 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.[10]

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.

Composition[edit]

Bird's-eye view looking up Main Street, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1912-1924)

Downtown Houston is a 1,178-acre (1.841 sq mi) area bounded by Interstate 45, U.S. Highway 59, and Interstate 10.[9] Several areas exist in Downtown Houston. They include:[11]

  • The Historic District was the original town center of Houston and dates from the 19th century. The center of the historic district is the Market Square, where the original city hall building stood. The district includes the Harris County courts complex, and the University of Houston–Downtown is on the edge of the district.[12]
  • Main Street Square has a pavilion and fountains built around the Main Street Square StationGreenStreet is in the area
  • Skyline District – Includes many skyscrapers and forms the base of Downtown's employment[12]
  • Sports & Convention – Includes Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center
  • Theater District – The 17 block area includes many performing arts venues, Bayou Place, the Houston Public Library Central Library, and the Houston Aquarium restaurant[12]

Downtown Houston is close to the Sixth Ward, Houston Heights, and the Houston Museum District.[11]

Some areas in Downtown Houston, prior to the development of the interstate highway system, were distinct neighborhoods. Catfish Reef, one area, was in the 400 block of lower Milam Street. The writer Sigman Byrd, active from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, reported in articles, which were re-published in Sig Byrd's Houston, that Catfish Reef was "a quietly cruel street, where rents are high and laughter comes easy, where violence flares quickly and briefly in the neon twilight, and if a dream ever comes true it's apt to be a nightmare."[13] Byrd wrote that one could "buy practically anything" in Catfish Reef, including food, illegal drugs, firearms, jewelry, a haircut, a shoe shine, and other goods and service.[13] He also reported that it was a "bi-racial" area where "[t]he light and the dark meet" and that "Generally speaking, the odd numbers, on the east side, are dark, the even numbers light; but the exception proves the rule."[13] By 1994 the area that was Catfish Reef was replaced with parking lots and parking garages.[14] As of 2009 parking spaces still occupy the former Catfish Reef.[13]

By the late 1980s, 35% of Downtown Houston's land area consisted of surface parking.[6] In early 1995, 900 apartment and condominium units were available in Downtown Houston. By the end of 1999, the number was expected to increase to almost 2,000 units.[15]

Most of the residential units in downtown are conversions of older buildings into modern loft spaces. The lofts are located around the performance halls of the Houston Theater District and near Main Street in the Historic District.[citation needed] In spring 2009, luxury high-rise One Park Place opened-up with 346 units.[16]

Developers have invested more than 4 billion US$ in the first decade of the 21st century to transform downtown into an active city center with residential housing, a nightlife scene and new transportation.[17] The Cotswold Project, a $62 million project started in 1998, has helped to rebuild the streets and transform 90 downtown blocks into a pedestrian-friendly environment by adding greenery, trees and public art.[18] January 1, 2004 marked the opening of the "new" Main Street, a plaza with many eateries, bars and nightclubs, which brings many visitors to a newly renovated locale.[19]

In 2010 Phoenicia Specialty Foods announced its plans to be the first major grocery store in Downtown.[20] It opened on November 10, 2011.[21] Prior to the opening of Phoenicia, many Houstonians perceived Downtown to be a relatively undesirable place to live, despite the cultural and recreational attractions, owing to the lack of grocery options.[22]

Demographics[edit]

As of 2009, 15,745 resided in Downtown. 6,061 (38.5%) were Black, 5,693 (36.2%) were Hispanic, 3,675 (23.3%) were White, 215 (1.4%) were Asian, 15 (.4%) were Native American, 2 were Pacific Islanders, and 4 were of other races.[23] As of 2000, of the 12,407 Downtown residents, 10,437 were in group quarters. Of those, 9,653 were institutionalized, with 9,394 being institutionalized in correctional institutions.[24]

Architecture[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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)[25] 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.[26]

Notable buildings[edit]

Sweeney, Coombs & Fredericks Building

Notable buildings that form Houston's downtown skyline:

  • The Sweeney, Coombs & 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 Gulf Building, now called the JPMorgan Chase building, is one of the preeminent Art Deco skyscrapers in the southern United States. Completed in 1929, it remained the tallest building in Houston until 1963, when the Exxon Building surpassed it in height.
  • 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).
  • Houston Public Library's Central Library, consists of two separate buildings: the Julia Ideson Building (1926) and the Jesse H. Jones Building (1976).
  • 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 First City Tower was built in 1981.
  • The JPMorgan Chase Tower, designed by I.M. Pei, was built in 1981. Formerly the Texas Commerce Tower, it is the tallest in Houston and the second tallest in the United States west of the Mississippi River.
  • The Chevron Tower, formerly the Gulf Tower, was built in 1982.
  • The Bank of America Center, formerly the RepublicBank Center and the NationsBank center, designed by Philip Johnson, was built in 1983.
  • The Wells Fargo Bank Plaza, formerly the Allied Bank Plaza and First Interstate Center, also built in 1983, is the second tallest building in the Houston Area.
  • The Heritage Plaza was completed in 1987.
  • The Enron Center North, also known as the Four Allen Center, was also built in 1983.
  • 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).
  • The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts was started in 2000 and completed in 2002.
  • The Lyric Centre is filled with lawyers, but is named for its adjacency to the many performing arts venues in Houston's Theater District.

Notable Historic buildings[edit]

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)

Economy[edit]

One Shell Plaza, which houses the headquarters of the Shell Oil Company

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.[9] Downtown Houston has between 35% and 40% of the Class A office locations of the business districts in Houston.[27] 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.[28]

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.[6] In 1986 the Downtown Houston occupancy rate of Class A office space was 81.4%.[29] 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.[30] In the early 1990s Downtown Houston still had more than 20% vacant office space.[31] 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.[32] 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."[28]

By 2000, demand for Downtown office space increased, and construction of office buildings resumed.[31] 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.[33] 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."[34] 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.[29] In 2004, the real estate firm Cresa Partners stated that the vacancy rate in Downtown Houston's Class A office space was almost 20%.[35] In 2009, 10% of Downtown Houston's office space was vacant.[36]

Companies based in Downtown[edit]

Calpine has its headquarters in the 717 Texas. Dynegy is headquartered in the Wells Fargo Plaza building.[37] KBR's corporate headquarters are in the KBR Tower; the KBR Heritage Federal Credit Union is headquartered from this office.[38][39] Shell Oil Company, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, and Baker Botts, a law firm, are headquartered in One Shell Plaza.[40][41][42][43][44] Total Petrochemicals USA, a subsidiary of Total S.A., has its headquarters in the Total Plaza.[45][46] CenterPoint Energy is headquartered in the CenterPoint Energy Tower.[47][48] Vinson & Elkins and Waste Management, Inc are headquartered in First City Tower.[49][50][51] El Paso Corporation has headquarters in 1001 Louisiana Street.[52] The Houston Chronicle is headquartered in Downtown.[53] Plains All American Pipeline has its headquarters in Three Allen Center.[54] Enterprise GP Holdings has its headquarters in the Enterprise Plaza.[55] EOG Resources has its headquarters in Heritage Plaza.[56]

Companies with operations in Downtown[edit]

Continental Airlines (now known as United Airlines) formerly had its headquarters in Continental Center I.[57] At one point, ExpressJet Airlines had its headquarters in Continental's complex.[58][59] In September 1997 Continental Airlines announced it would consolidate its Houston headquarters in the Continental Center complex;[60] 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.[61] 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."[28]

Hotel operators in Downtown reacted favorably, predicting that the move would cause an increase in occupancy rates in their hotels.[62] 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.[63] 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.[64]

JPMorgan Chase Bank has its Houston operations headquartered in the JPMorgan Chase Building (Gulf Building).[65] LyondellBasell (and predecessor company Lyondell Chemical Company) has offices in 1 Houston Center which was renamed LyondellBasell Towers. [66] [67] Hess Corporation has exploration and production operations in One Allen Center.,[68] but will move its offices to the under construction Hess Tower (Named after the company) upon its completion.[69]

ExxonMobil has Exploration and Producing Operations business headquarters at the ExxonMobil Building.[70] Qatar Airways operates an office within Two Allen Center;[71] it also has a storefront in the Houston Pavilions.[72][73] Enbridge has its Houston office in the Enterprise Plaza.[74] KPMG has their Houston offices in the new BG place at 811 Main St. Mayer Brown has his Houston office in the Bank of America Center.[75][76]

Former economic operations[edit]

When Texas Commerce Bank existed, its headquarters were in what is now the JPMorgan Chase Building (Gulf Building).[65] Prior to its collapse in 2001, Enron was headquartered in Downtown.[77] In 2005 Federated Department Stores announced that it will close Foley's 1,200 employee headquarters in Downtown Houston.[78]

Houston Industries (HI, later Reliant Energy) and subsidiary Houston Power & Lighting (HL&P) historically had their headquarters in Downtown.[79]

Halliburton's corporate headquarters office was in 5 Houston Center.[80] 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.[34] By 2009 Halliburton closed its Downtown Office, moved its headquarters to northern Houston, and consolidated operations at its northern Houston and Westchase facilities.[81]

Diplomatic missions[edit]

The Consulate-General of the United Kingdom is located in Wells Fargo Plaza,[82] while the Consulate-General of Japan is located in Two Houston Center.[83] The Consulate-General of Switzerland, which resided in Downtown Houston, closed in 2006.[84][85][86][87]

Other venues[edit]

The Wortham Theater Center
Toyota Center

Downtown Houston has three major league sports venues. Minute Maid Park (formerly Enron Field), which opened in 2000, is home to the MLB Astros and the Toyota Center home to the NBA Rockets opened in 2003. Toyota Center was home to the now defunct WNBA Comets from 2004-2007. BBVA Compass Stadium which seats 22,039 opened in 2012 and is home to the MLS Dynamo and to the collegiate football team Texas Southern Tigers.

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.

City Auditorium, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1910)
Opera House, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1958)

Hotels and accommodations[edit]

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:[citation needed]

The following are boutique hotels that are located mostly in the northeast section of downtown:

Retail[edit]

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.[citation needed]

The Houston Downtown Tunnel System is also home to many shops and restaurants.

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".[88]

Transportation[edit]

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) operates Houston's public transportation. Downtown Houston is served by five light rail stations on METRORail's Red Line: Downtown Transit Center, Bell, Main Street Square, Preston, and UH–Downtown.[89] METRO operates many bus lines through Downtown.[90]

Downtown Houston has a free bus route called Greenlink. The route travels along a 1.5 miles (2.4 km) circular route in Downtown Houston. Seven buses are funded with two Federal Transit Administration grants that total $2.25 million. It operates from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM, Monday through Friday. During periods with less ridership, the buses arrive every twenty minutes. For periods with peak ridership, including lunchtime, buses arrive every seven minutes.[91] The buses run on Dallas Street, Louisiana Street, Smith Street and Walker Street.[92] The buses are used to connect retailers and restaurants in Houston Center, Houston Pavilions, and Macy's to office workers and convention clients in southwestern Downtown. The Downtown Houston Management District, BG Group and Houston First Corporation Houston First Corporation, a local government corporation that owns the Hilton Americas-Houston and manages the George R. Brown Convention Center and other city-owned buildings, pays for the operating expenses of the route.[91]

METRO formerly operated a free intra-Downtown bus service. When the service operated at its peak, METRO had a fleet of 28 trolley-style buses. At its peak the service carried over 10,000 riders each day on five different routes. When METRO introduced a 50 cent rider fee in 2004, the ridership decreased dramatically, and in 2005 METRO ended the service.[91]

There are a number of taxi cabs that can be hailed from the street, twenty-one taxi stands, or at the various hotels. Trips within downtown have a flat rate of $6 United States dollars by cab.[93] After the METRO trolley service ended, the City of Houston enacted the required flat $6 fee for all travel within Downtown. To make up for the loss of the METRO trolley, jitney and pedicab services appeared.[91]

Government[edit]

Local government[edit]

Fire Station 8 Downtown

Two city council districts, District H and District I, cover portions of Downtown.[94][95] As of 2008 Mayor Pro-Tem Adrian Garcia and James G. Rodriguez, respectively, represent the two districts.[96]

Houston City Hall, the Houston City Hall Annex, and the Bob Lanier Public Works Building are all located in Downtown Houston.

The community is within the Houston Police Department's Special Operations Division District 1.[97] The headquarters of HPD are located in 1200 Travis Downtown.

Houston Fire Department Station 8 Downtown at 1919 Louisiana Street serves the central business district. Station 8 is in Fire District 8.[98] The fire station "Washington #8" first opened in 1895 at Polk at Crawford. The station was closed in 2001 after a sports arena was built on the site.[99] Fire Station 1, which was located at 410 Bagby Street, closed in 2001,[98] as it was merged with Station 8. Station 8, relocated to a temporary building at the corner of Milam and St. Joseph, reopened in June 2001. The current "Super Station" at 1919 Louisiana opened on April 21, 2008.[99] "Stonewall #3," organized in 1867, was located in the current location of the Post Rice Lofts. It 1895 it moved to a location along Preston Street, between Smith and Louisiana, in what is now Downtown. The station, currently Station #3, moved outside of the current day Downtown in 1903.[100] Fire Station 5, originally in what was then the Fifth Ward, moved to Hardy and Nance in what is now Downtown in 1895. The station was rebuilt at that site in 1932, and in 1977 the station moved to Spring Branch.[101] Station 2 moved from what is now the East End to what is now Downtown in 1926. The station moved to the Fourth Ward in 1965.[102]

The Houston Downtown Management District and Central Houston, Inc. is headquartered in Suite 1650 at 2 Houston Center, a part of the Houston Center complex.[103]

County representation[edit]

The 1200 Jail, the headquarters of the Harris County Sheriff's Office
Mickey Leland Federal Building

Downtown is divided between Harris County Precinct 1 and Harris County Precinct 2.[104] As of 2008 Jerry Eversole heads the precinct.[105] As of 2008 El Franco Lee heads Precinct 1.[106] As of 2008 Sylvia R. Garcia heads Precinct 2.[107] Harris County Precinct Two operates the Raul C. Downtown Courthouse annex in Downtown.[108]

The Harris County jail facilities are in northern Downtown on the north side of the Buffalo Bayou. The 1200 Jail,[109] the 1307 Jail, (originally a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facility, leased by the county),[110] and the 701 Jail (formed from existing warehouse storage space) are on the same site.[111]

State representation[edit]

Much of Downtown is located in District 147 of the Texas House of Representatives. As of 2008, Garnet F. Coleman represents the district.[112] Some of Downtown is located in District 148 of the Texas House of Representatives. As of 2008, Jessica Farrar represents the district.[113] Downtown is within District 13 of the Texas Senate; as of 2008 Rodney Ellis represents that district.[114]

Joe Kegans Unit, located in Downtown, is a Texas Department of Criminal Justice state jail for men. It is adjacent to the county facilities on the north side of the Buffalo Bayou.[115] Kegans opened in 1997.[116] The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility Unit, a parole confinement facility for males operated by Global Expertise in Outsourcing, is in Downtown Houston, west of Minute Maid Park.[117]

The Texas First Court of Appeals and the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals located on the campus of the South Texas College of Law in Downtown Houston.[118][119]

Federal representation[edit]

Houston Post Office
Post Office, Houston, Texas (postcard, circa 1907)

Downtown Houston is in Texas's 18th congressional district.[120] As of 2008 its representative is Sheila Jackson Lee.

The United States Postal Service operates the 16-acre (65,000 m2) Houston Post Office at 401 Franklin Street.[121] In February 2009 the U.S. Postal Service announced that it was going to sell the Houston Post Office. The party buying the facility is required to build a replacement facility.[122] As of October 2009 the sale was still pending.[123] In 2010 the Houston Press ranked the Downtown post office as the best post office in Houston.[124]

In addition the USPS operates the 2 Houston Center and Civic Center postal units. In July 2011 the USPS announced that the two postal units may close.[125]

Regional offices of U.S. government agencies are located at the Mickey Leland Federal Building at 1919 Smith Street. The 22 story building, with a 6-story parking garage, was designated an Energy Star efficient building in 2000.[126]

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas has its offices in 515 Rusk in Downtown Houston.[127]

The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates the Federal Detention Center, Houston in Downtown.[128]

Parks, recreation, and culture[edit]

Main Street seen from Lamar Street to NNO
George H.W. Bush statue in Sesquicentennial Park looking towards Downtown Houston.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston is located at 410 Bagby Street. The Aquarium houses over 200 species of aquatic life and 2 white tigers. The Downtown Aquarium also has amusement park games, rides, and 2 full service Landry's restaurants.

Sam Houston Park, on the western edge of downtown between McKinney and Dallas/Allen Parkway, is home to the Houston Heritage Society and a collection of historic buildings and homes from around Houston.

Tranquility Park, bound by Rusk, Smith, Walker, and Bagby, uses open green spaces and a series of interconnected fountains to commemorate NASA's landing on the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

Market Square Park, between Travis, Milam, Preston, and Congress, preserves the block formerly covered by Houston's open air market which fronted the old City Hall. In August 2010, Market Square Park unveiled renovations complete with two dog runs, Niko Niko's at Market Square, and Houston's only 9/11 memorial.[129][130]

Hermann Park, located between Fannin, Cambridge, and Main Street, is home to numerous cultural institutions including the Houston Zoo, Houston Garden Center, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Japanese Garden, and the Hermann Park Golf Course. It is within walking distance of the Texas Medical Center, the Museum District, and Rice University. The land which it occupies was presented to the City of Houston by George H. Hermann in 1914.[131]

Allen's Landing, on Buffalo Bayou at Smith and Preston, commemorates the landing site of the Allen Brothers, founders of the City of Houston.

Sesquicentennial Park, across Buffalo Bayou from Allen's Landing, contains a statue of George H.W. Bush, Houstonian and 41st President of United States.

Main Street Square, a pedestrian mall with a reflection pool and fountains on the MetroRail line between Lamar and Dallas.

Root Memorial Square, a one-block park across La Branch St from the Toyota Center.

Sisters of Charity Park, a quiet area in St. Joseph's Medical Center in the southeast corner of downtown.

Discovery Green, west of the George R. Brown Convention Center, officially opened on April 13, 2008 with a Family Day event.[132] The park has underground parking, an amphitheater, two restaurants, a dog run, a jogging trail around the park, a great Lawn, an interactive fountain and more.[133]

Harris County Precinct One operates the 2-acre (8,100 m2) Quebedeaux Park at 1115 Congress Street.[134] The park includes a stage area, picnic tables, and benches. The park surrounds the Harris County Family Law Center.[135]

The Downtown YMCA is located at 1600 Louisiana Street. The Tellepsen facility includes a center for teenagers, a wellness center for females, a child watch area, a community meeting space, a chapel, group exercise rooms, and a racquetball court. The groundbreaking ceremony occurred on January 7, 2009.[136] The new facility will not have dormitories for homeless that exist in the current YMCA facility. The Downtown YMCA had provided dormitory space for around 100 years.[137]

Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press said in 2012 that because of the Houston tunnel system taking traffic during the daytime and many office workers leaving for suburbs at night, many street level restaurants in Downtown Houston have difficulty operating. She added that the popularity of business-related lunches and dinners resulted in steakhouses in Downtown becoming successful.[138]

Media[edit]

The Houston Chronicle, the citywide newspaper, has its headquarters in Downtown.[139] Beginning in 1998,[140] Houston Press headquarters was located in Downtown,[141] in the former Gillman Pontiac dealership building.[142] On the weekend after Friday October 25, 2013 the Houston Press was scheduled to move to its new offices in Midtown Houston.[140]

The magazine Houston Downtown was a Downtown-oriented magazine published by Rosie Walker.[143] Most area residents called it the "Downtowner." Walker was originally an office worker in Downtown Houston who was upset that she had learned of events occurring in Downtown Houston after they had already occurred. Walker said "Several people in our office decided to start a newsletter. It sort of expanded throughout our company and throughout our building."[144] It had been published for 14 years. In 1991 the business had paid off its debts. Walker decided not to take out loans to update her equipment and printing processes and instead closed the magazine during that year.[143]

The Downtown, Inc./Downtown Voice was another Downtown-related magazine. Kevin Clear of the Creneau Media Group planned to establish a magazine about Downtown Houston that would be published by Creneau. In January 1990 his company had developed a business plan aimed towards competing with Houston Downtown magazine. Houston Downtown was closed before Clear could develop a new magazine. Clear said "I hate to say we danced on their grave, but we weren't unhappy about the way things turned out."[143] Clear planned to introduce his magazine in May 1991. As of January 1991 he had not decided on a name for the magazine.[143] Elise Perachio became the editor of the magazine, which was ultimately named Downtown, Inc.[145] On August 1, 1994, the magazine, then called Downtown Voice, was sold to company Media Ink.[146]

Court system[edit]

The Majority of the County court systems are located in Downtown within a five block area bounded by Franklin, San Jacinto, Caroline, and Congress Streets including the following:

  • Harris County Justice Of the Peace
  • Harris County Civil Courts
  • Harris County Family Courts
  • Harris County Juvenile Courts
  • Harris County Criminal Courts

All are located around a central surface parking lot, that will eventually be turned into a Plaza and has been nicknamed "Justice Square".

Along with Harris County's facilities, there are several Constable courts and support facilities nearby.

Education[edit]

Colleges and universities[edit]

The University of Houston–Downtown (UHD) is a four-year state university, located at the northern-end of Downtown. Founded in 1974, it is one of four separate and distinct institutions in the University of Houston System. UHD has an enrollment of 12,900 students—making it the 13th largest public university in Texas and the second-largest university in the Houston area.[147]

The South Texas College of Law is a private law school located within Downtown and is one of three law schools in Houston.[148]

Downtown is within the Houston Community College System, and it is in close proximity to the Central Campus in Midtown.[149][150]

Primary and secondary education[edit]

Public schools[edit]

The grade-school children of Downtown are served by the Houston Independent School District.

One public elementary school, a Houston ISD charter school called Young Scholars Academy for Excellence (Y.S.A.F.E.), is in Downtown.[151]

Four elementary schools have zoning boundaries that extend to areas of Downtown with residential areas; they are:

Gregory Lincoln Education Center[156] takes most of Downtown's students at the middle school level. Marshall Middle School[157] (in Northside) takes students at the middle school level from a small section of northern Downtown. Davis High School[158] (north of Downtown) takes students from almost all of Downtown at the high school level. Reagan High School[159] (in the Houston Heights) take students in the high school level from a small section of northwest Downtown. The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, located in Montrose, is in close proximity to Downtown.[149][160]

J.R. Gonzales of the Houston Chronicle said "For me, it’s a little hard to imagine that there was ever a public high school in downtown Houston."[161]

As part of rezoning for the 2014-2015 school year, in Downtown all areas previously under the Blackshear attendance zone and many areas in the Bruce attendance zone will be rezoned to Gregory-Lincoln K-8.[162]

History of public schools[edit]

The block bounded by Austin, Capitol, Caroline, and Rusk held schools for many years. Houston Academy was established there in the 1850s. In 1894 the groundbreaking for Central High School occurred there. Central burned down in March 1919. In 1921 Sam Houston High School opened at the site.[161] The current Sam Houston building in the Northside opened in 1955.[163] The previous building became the administrative headquarters of the Houston Independent School District. By the early 1970s HISD moved its headquarters out of the building, which was demolished. As of 2011 a parking lot occupies the former school lot; a state historical marker is located at the lot.[161]

Booker T. Washington High School's first location, 303 West Dallas, served as the school's location from 1893 to 1959, when it moved to the north. Lockett Junior High School was established in the former Washington campus and closed in 1968.[164] Foley's Academy was formerly located inside the Foley's (now Macy's) at 1110 Main Street in Downtown Houston.[165]

Anson Jones Elementary School served a portion of Downtown until its closing in Summer 2006.[164][166] Brock Elementary School served a portion of Downtown until its closing in Summer 2006 and repurposing as an early childhood center; its boundary was transferred to Crockett Elementary.[164][167] Before the start of the 2009–2010 school year J. Will Jones was consolidated into Blackshear Elementary School, a campus in the Third Ward.[168][169] During its final year of enrollment J. Will Jones had more students than Blackshear. Many J. Will Jones parents referred to Blackshear as "that prison school" and said that they will not send their children to Blackshear.[170] By Spring 2011 Atherton Elementary School and E.O. Smith were consolidated with a new K-5 campus in the Atherton site.[171] Middle school students in Downtown were rezoned to Gregory-Lincoln.[156][172]

Private schools[edit]

The former Sacred Heart School

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston oversees the Incarnate Word Academy, a Catholic all-girls school founded in 1873 and the only high school located in Downtown.[173] Trinity Lutheran School, a PreK-8 Lutheran School, is located at 800 Houston Avenue, northwest of and in close proximity to Downtown. Its early childhood center is located at 1316 Washington Avenue, near the K-8 center and in proximity to Downtown.[149][174]

On September 27, 1897 a school in the two-story annex to the Sacred Heart Parish, staffed by Dominican sisters, opened with 28 enrolled students.[175] St. Thomas College (now known as St. Thomas High School) opened in Downtown in 1900.[176] In 1902 the parish bought a building used by St. Thomas and moved it from Franklin Street at Crawford Street to Pierce Street and Fannin Street. In 1905 he parish sought and received approval from the state to start a high school; in January 1907 Saint Agnes Academy, outside of Downtown, opened and high school students were transferred to St. Agnes. In 1911 the former school building, known as the Green House, was demolished and replaced by a church building. In 1922 the existing Sacred Heart School building opened; the parish spent $52,800 ($743923.66 in today's currency) to build the building.[175] St. Thomas moved to its current location, outside of Downtown, in 1940.[176] The Sacred Heart School provided Catholic elementary education for 70 years until its closing in May 1967 after declining enrollment and increased operation costs. As of 2009 the former Sacred Heart building houses the diocese's parish religious education program.[175]

Public libraries[edit]

Jesse H. Jones Building

Houston Public Library has the Central Library in Houston. It consists of two buildings, including the Jesse H. Jones Building, which contains the bulk of the library facilities, and the Julia Ideson Building, which contains archives, manuscripts, and the Texas and Local History Department.[177]

Houston's first public library facility opened on March 2, 1904.[178] The Ideson building opened in 1926, replacing the previous building. The Jesse H. Jones Building opened in 1976 and received its current name in 1989.[179] The Jones Building closed for renovations on Monday April 3, 2006.[180] It reopened May 31, 2008.[181] After renovations began the Houston Public Library headquarters moved from the Jones Building to the Marston Building in Neartown Houston.[182][183][184]

In addition, HPL operates the HPL Express Discovery Green at 1300 McKinney R2, adjacent to Discovery Green Park.[185][186] HPL Express facilities are library facilities located in existing buildings.[187] The library opened in 2008.[188]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°45′25″N 95°21′43″W / 29.757°N 95.362°W / 29.757; -95.362