Houston’s Historic Rice Hotel

I made a pilgrimage this
morning to the Post Rice Lofts, formerly the historic Rice Hotel. On the corner
of Main and Texas Streets, just a 15-minute walk from our studio, this building
had various purposes and ownerships in the early 20th Century, but
was finally and elegantly refinished, renamed, and re-opened by Jesse Jones in
1913. By 1922 it boasted the first and only air-conditioned cafeteria in the
city of Houston.
In the 1930’s women
gathered in the Crystal Ballroom for a hair demonstration using Vitatonic
Compound for the new “permanent wave” (photo at right). Fittingly, when I
visited today, the prestigious room was being arranged for a local club’s
“Ladies’ Night.”
Of course, the Rice Hotel
wasn’t all glam all the time. In 1858 Anson Jones (the last President of the
Republic of Texas) shot himself in this building. It also sat vacant for more
then 20 years, and restoration photos in the hotel’s lobby show dangling wires,
jagged rebar, bricked-up windows, and a decrepit indoor pool before Jones
funded new work.

What is it that brings me
to these places? I believe it has something to do with layering narratives. I like
to compare and contrast, to look deeper and imagine between the lines. Nothing
says metaphor to me more than one person’s history stacked atop another’s…and
nothing says story more than a few interesting facts pieced together. It’s
what’s left out that keeps me thinking: the fantastic hats those women wore or
the chemical smell of the Vitatonic Compound in contrast to what will surely be
tonight’s tightly-clad, perfumed women. Or the fur coats those women of the
‘30’s wore in light of today’s (yet another) record-breaking 102 degrees.

My mind is hungry for
truth and for story. The fiction writer in me knows that, in the best of
worlds, those two things are one and same.
10 of 25 Ways of Looking at Houston: With doors
leading from the main lobby of the Rice Hotel into ground-level businesses such
as Chipotle Grill, Minuti Coffee, and Specialty Day Spa, I spotted this relic
of the past mounted on one of the walls. An old letter box from the days of the
Rice Hotel, complete with drop slot and a stories-high chute for residents to
send letters down from as high as the 17th floor.
Today’s NY Times title prompt: “Atmospheric

Showing 3 comments
  • Oma

    Katey, I love the photo of the permanent wave machine. I was a beauty school graduate in 1961 and we still had a contraption similar to this in the school basement. It was a Marcel wave machine used in the 1930's to the late 1940's. Luckily the "cold wave" (still used today) had been developed and I learned that process. 🙂 Della

  • Katey Schultz

    That's so cool, Della! There's a series of history books by a publisher called Acadia. They might have some for areas of Oregon and Idaho that you've lived in. Look them up. They're great pictorial histories and what I use to write my blogs a lot!

  • Genie Warley

    I’m related to Mrs. Jones. She’s my grandmothers aunt. Maiden name of both…Gibbs. Since the hotel was owned by them I chose to have my wedding reception there in November 1974. I remember the area had a curved elegant wood bar. The view from the huge windows at night was fantastic. My wedding was at Annunciation down the street. My parents were married there. Minute Maid park wasn’t built. I miss how downtown used to be. Lots of history and memories.

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