The Rice Building

The Rice Building at 909 Texas Avenue sits atop one of the most historic and fascinating pieces of real estate in all of Houston. Initially set aside by Augustus and John Kirby Allen for the Republic of Texas, the site served as home of the republic’s capital building from 1837 to 1839 and then again from 1842 to 1845. Later, the old capital building was transformed into a hotel, and Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas, committed suicide there in 1858.

In 1881, a new hotel was constructed on the site, and it operated for several decades until a brick, modern structure was completed in 1913. This third building is the one that remains on Texas Avenue today, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Opening in 1913, the Rice Hotel played host to national conventions, presidents, astronauts, and foreign dignitaries of all stripes. Known as "Houston's Welcome to the World," the hotel featured opulently appointed areas such as the Crystal Ballroom, Empire Room, Flag Room, and Roof Garden that were well-known to the city's socialites and gleefully introduced to out-of-town guests.

Times and tastes changed, however, and the increasingly unprofitable hotel was simply boarded up in the late 1970s. But, after more than 20 years of vacancy and neglect, it became one of Houston's bright examples of re-purposing, when a complicated series of public-private partnerships led to the building's successful conversion to residential apartment lofts.

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The Rice Building, 909 Texas Avenue

The Rice Building, 909 Texas Avenue

Source: Rice Building View File Details Page

John Kirby Allen (1810-1838) and Augustus Chapman Allen (1806-1864)

John Kirby Allen (1810-1838) and Augustus Chapman Allen (1806-1864)

In 1832, the Allen brothers arrived in Texas from upstate New York to speculate in land. They materially supported the war of independence by furnishing the warship "Brutus" to the Texas Navy but did not serve militarily. In August 1836, they purchased 6000 acres of land at the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous and platted a town named for the freshly minted hero of San Jacinto. All of modern downtown was part of that initial purchase. Recently, scholars have begun giving more credit to Augustus' wife, Charlotte Baldwin Allen (1805-1895), for both using her inheritance to furnish the seed money for the land (women couldn't own property themselves) and for naming the city. John died in 1838, and Augustus and Charlotte separated (but did not divorce) in 1850. He departed for Mexico, but she remained an important figure in Houston society until her death at the age of 90. | Source: DowntownHouston.org View File Details Page

Capitol Building/Old Capitol Hotel (1837-1881)

Capitol Building/Old Capitol Hotel (1837-1881)

In 1837, the Allen brothers enticed the fledgling government of the Republic of Texas to come to brand-new Houston by donating land and building upon it a two-story wooden structure (the largest in town) to serve as the capitol. Shrewdly, the property was to return to the Allens should the government move. It soon did, decamping to Waterloo (quickly renamed Austin) first in 1839 and for good after a brief respite in 1842 that led to a dustup known as the Archive War. The Allen family sold the property in 1857, and a string of proprietors proceeded to manage the former capitol as a hotel for many years. | Source: Houston Metroplitan Research Center, Houston Public Library View File Details Page

Anson Jones (1798-1858)

Anson Jones (1798-1858)

On January 9, 1858, the former, and final, president of the Republic of Texas committed suicide in his hotel room at this site. Fourteen years earlier, his continued negotiations with Britain, France, and Mexico during the rancorous U.S. annexation and statehood deliberations had made him an unpopular figure. After an 1857 bid to be appointed U.S. senator was ignored by the Legislature, he sold his slave-labor cotton plantation (which later became the Barrington Living History Farm at Washington-on-the Brazos State Historic Site) and brooded for days in the hotel that had served as capitol during his political heyday. Shortly before shooting himself, Jones told an old friend, "My public career began in this house, and I have been thinking it might close here." | Source: Texas State Library and Archives Commission View File Details Page

Capitol Hotel Building (1881-1912)

Capitol Hotel Building (1881-1912)

In 1881, a member of the board of directors of the Houston and Texas Central (H&TC) railroad, Abram Groesbeek, purchased the former capitol, razed the existing structures, and erected a new, five-story, brick-and-stucco building to function as a new Capitol Hotel. It opened for business the following year. Groesbeek died only a few years later, in 1886. A fellow director of the H&TC then paid the back taxes owed in order to acquire possession of the property and building -- William Marsh Rice. View File Details Page

William Marsh Rice (1816-1900)

William Marsh Rice (1816-1900)

William Marsh Rice acquired the Capitol Hotel in 1886. Maintaining the Capitol name, Rice added a three-story annex to contain personal apartments for himself and his second wife, Julia (Charlotte Baldwin Allen's niece). While in residence at his hotel, Rice began drawing up plans to bequeath a polytechnical educational institute to Houston (actually, for its "white inhabitants"). This would eventually become Rice University. The Capitol Hotel property was included in the institute's initial endowment (as was some 10,000 acres of land located in the county that had been named to honor Anson Jones less than a month after his death). | Source: Rice University Archives, Fondren Library View File Details Page

Name Change (1900)

Name Change (1900)

William Marsh Rice was murdered in his New York City apartment in 1900 (the butler did it), and a forged will worth millions made for a sensational Gotham trial. Eventually, the guilty were punished but pardoned by 1912. Rice's true will provided the funding (including the Capitol Hotel) to endow his promised educational institute. The hotel's new owners -- the endowment's board of directors -- changed its name to honor Rice. | Source: archive.org View File Details Page

The New Rice Hotel (1913)

The New Rice Hotel (1913)

In 1911, Jesse H. Jones arranged with the Rice Institute board to raze the 30-year-old Capitol/Rice Hotel Building in order to erect a new, 17-story, U-shaped, hotel building in its stead. The Institute would retain actual ownership of the real estate (and thus responsibility for the property tax, which Mr. Rice himself had complained about during the last years of his life), and Jones would get a 99-year lease to operate a hotel. The new Rice Hotel opened in 1913. | Source: Jerome H. Farbar, "Houston: Where Seventeen Railroads Meet the Sea" (Denver: H. H. Tammen Co., 1913) View File Details Page

1000 Rooms (1925)

1000 Rooms (1925)

In 1925, Jones employed his favorite architect, Alfred C. Finn, to add a third wing. The building went from U-shaped to E-shaped, and thus it has remained. This also increased the Rice's capacity from 535 rooms to an even 1000, which would prove to be a memorable marketing device. | Source: archive.org View File Details Page

Democratic National Convention (1928)

Democratic National Convention (1928)

To boost his adopted city's national stature, Jones secured the first national political convention in the South since the Civil War with a personal check for $200,000 and a promise to build a new convention hall. Sam Houston Hall at 801 Bagby (replaced in 1937 by Sam Houston Coliseum and Houston Music Hall, themselves replaced in 2002 by the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts) may have been the venue for the speeches and the ballots, but the Rice Hotel was the event's social mecca. | Source: Amazon.com View File Details Page

Rice Hotel Letterhead (c. 1935)

Rice Hotel Letterhead (c. 1935)

This handsome and undated (but, based on contemporary finds, possibly mid-1930s) letterhead was located in the files of the Hermann Hospital Estate. Not only did it predate ZIP Codes, the Rice Hotel was so famous it didn't even need an address. | Source: McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library View File Details Page

JFK Doodle (1963)

JFK Doodle (1963)

President John F. Kennedy was at the Rice Hotel only 16 hours or so before his assassination. He spent some time relaxing (and arguing with Vice President Johnson) before heading downstairs to the ballroom to become the first U.S. President to a address an Hispanic American political organization (LULAC). Mrs. Kennedy spoke to the delegation in Spanish. (A silent eight-millimeter film of this event lasting approximately four minutes may be viewed at the Sixth Floor Museum's website: http://eMuseum.jfk.org/view/objects/asitem/items@:32261). After a dinner at the Sam Houston Coliseum in honor of Houston Congressman Albert Thomas, the Kennedys flew on to Fort Worth, where they spent the night of November 21 prior to the next day's fateful motorcade through Dallas. Kennedy was known to be a prodigious doodler, and a pencil sketch of a sailboat on the hotel's stationery was retrieved from his room's trashcan on November 22. Authenticated by his personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, and acknowledged by the JFK Presidential Library as his final doodle, the drawing was sold at auction in 2013 for more than $32,000. | Source: RR Auction, Boston View File Details Page

Urban Lofts (1998- Present)

Urban Lofts (1998- Present)

Atlanta-based Post Properties (formerly Columbus Properties, and not related to the former Houston newspaper) owned the property and managed the approximately 300 apartments at the Rice Building from its re-opening in 1998 until 2014. At that time, the property was sold to a subsidiary of Crow Holding Capital Partners of Dallas. Crow named Greystar Real Estate Partners as its property manager, and Greystar executives reportedly envisioned "major renovations" to give the units and common areas a more modern look. | Source: The Rice View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Anthony Breen Dix, “The Rice Building,” East Texas History, accessed June 26, 2017, http://easttexashistory.org/items/show/78.

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