Space City Time Capsule

The Rice Hotel @ Main and Texas

The intersection of Main and Texas w/Rice Hotel in the background
Litterst Commercial Photo Co./ 1925

The Rice Hotel is one of the most iconic and recognizable structures in Houston, but few know the history of the block that it sits on.

The site of the Rice Hotel, today known as The Rice, originally belonged to the capitol building of Texas. Yes, you read that correctly. For a brief period between Houston’s founding in 1836 and 1839 and again from 1842 to 1845, Houston was actually the capital of Texas.

The Allen brothers constructed a wooden building to serve as Texas’ capitol building. Afterwards, Austin was permanently designated as the capital of Texas and a new capitol building was constructed there. The capitol building in Houston was no longer needed, so it was repurposed as a hotel named, you guessed it, the Capitol Hotel. The aptly-named Capitol Hotel served Houston and its travelers until it was demolished in 1881.

1851 photo of the original Capitol building during its days as the Capitol Hotel.

In 1881, a new Capitol Hotel was built on the same site. After the property owner died, the site was purchased by Houston’s own William Marsh Rice. The Rice Institute, today known as Rice University, gained ownership of the property after Rice’s death in 1900. The hotel was then renamed in his owner, giving it the name we are all so familiar with today: The Rice Hotel.

The second rendition of the Capitol/Rice Hotel.

The five-story brick building had a wealth of foundational, structural, and plumbing issues which made it unfit for sale. Due to this, Jesse Jones, famed Houston developer, worked out a deal with the Rice Institute went forward with plans for a new hotel.

The building was demolished, and a brand new Rice Hotel was again built on the property in 1912. In 1925 the third wing was added, creating the Rice Hotel we know and love today.

The Rice Hotel prior to the third wing’s addition in 1925.

The building underwent extensive interior renovations in the 70’s, and in 1998, the building re-opened as “The Rice” featuring high-end, luxury lofts.

Besides being a historical landmark, there are two other tidbits the Rice Hotel is known for. First, it was the public space, in Houston, that had air-conditioning. Second, John F. Kennedy visited the Rice Hotel to attend a gala, only to be assassinated the next day.

Below, is a Google Street View of the site today. Who would have thought that this little corner would be packed with so much history?

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