Continental Center I in Houston

Photo of Continental Center I in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Continental Center I in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
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Photo of Continental Center I in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Continental Center I in Houston, Texas
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz

Continental Center I
Also known as:Continental Airlines Building
Formerly:1600 Smith

1600 Smith Street, Houston, Texas, Downtown 77002
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It's a great white cruise ship plowing across the Texas prairie. Or it's a slender sliver of pockmarked stone climbing into the sky. Or it's a wide grid of strength, challenging the other buildings for dominance of Power Corner. 1600 Smith is a great building all of these reasons. It's asymmetrical shape allows it to look different from different angles, and its final geometry is subject to interpretation. It could have been a plain polygon stuck into the brown coastal plain like a discarded number two pencil. Instead, the architects at Morris*Aubry took one side of the pencil, and stretched it to a peak. Those who don't appreciate the shape of the building will have to note its unique stature when it comes to signage. It's the only skyscraper in downtown Houston with a corporate logo at the top. City council once again bent its already-too-frequently battered rules governing signs on downtown buildings, and allowed Continental to project its logo in white on a blue background after dark. Strictly speaking, a city ordinance prohibits any sign to be higher than 42 ½ feet off the ground in downtown Houston. But even a quick whiz past the skyline on the freeway shows there are a number of exceptions: The Hard Rock Café, the Rice Hotel, the Houston Chronicle, Bayou Lofts, Astros Field just to name a few. Some were allowed because of their age (Rice Hotel, Houston Chronicle), others because they're considered art instead of advertising (Hard Rock Café), and the ballpark got its exemption because it's owned by Harris County. It seems that the government is not bound by the same laws that restrict ordinary people. Moreover, the special consideration for Continental came in an ordinance passed in August of 2000. It states that any building with more than 750,000 square feet of space that is also the headquarters of a company occupying 45% of that space may have a logo projected on its upper reaches. The decision caused a lot of hurt feelings among those who fear Houston's skyline will start to look like Las Vegas. But in reality, it did little harm and went unnoticed by many. In 2008 it was damaged by a hurricane and both the logo and the controversy were extinguished.

Quick Facts
  • September, 2008: The projection equipment for the Continental Airlines logo at the top of this building was damaged by Hurricane Ike.
  • January, 2009: Continental Airlines decided not to repair the hurricane-damaged projection equipment.
  • August, 2009: It was announced that with the merger of Continental and United Airlines, the combined company's headquarters would be in Chicago, and not this building in Houston.
Did You Know?
  • This building was used in the film RoboCop 2 as the home of Omni Consumer Products Corporation.
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