Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston

Photo of Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, Texas
Photograph Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, Texas
Photograph Wayne Lorentz

Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

800 Bagby Street, Houston, Texas, Downtown 77002
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The Hobby Center is the latest addition to Houston's Theater District, promoted as the largest theater district outside of New York City. Its extensive use of glass and vaulted ceilings make the Bayou City itself an additional show for patrons of the arts. From inside, the great Houston skyline is frames and presented in grand scale. The Hobby Center fills an important need in Houston's arts community: space. The city is not in need of capable performing artists, but finding space to hold their shows has been a problem. In recent years, some major productions have been shuffled off to Galveston and The Woodlands simply because the downtoen theaters are full. The Hobby Center contains two theaters and will hopefully bring Broadway-quality performances to the Bayou city. Because of its weight, and the sandy soil underneath Houston, the Hobby Center is supported by 300 concrete pilings carved through the sand into the clay below. The Hobby Center has something in common with the CN Tower in Toronto. Just before the building's final steel support beam was hoisted into place, pedestrians in the area were given the opportunity to sign their names on it. This is similar to how the CN Tower has the signatures of thousands of children on its mast. Inside, there is a 25x27-foot mural by Sol LeWitt. This site has a history in the performing arts. This is the same location where Houston's Music Hall and the Sam Houston Colliseum stood before they were torn down in 1998. No great loss. Patrons at Music Hall were known to wear garbage bags during performances because the roof leaked.

Quick Facts
    The Hobby Center is made from:
    >5,000 tonns of steel
    >45,441 cubic feet of concrete
    >171,693 bricks
    >250 tons of limestone
    >7,000 gallons of paint.
    >The main theater, Sarofim Hall, can seat 2,650. The second, 500.
    >The Hobby Center is named for former Lieutennant Governor and Houston businessman, Bill Hobby, who donated $12,000,000.00 for the center. According to the Houston Chronicle after the ceremony announcing Hobby's $12 million donation, he still had to pay $4 for parking.
    >Before its opening, KHOU-TV/DT's downtown reporter, Doug Miller did an interesting story about the Hobby Center. The woman behind its construction, Fran Franks, took him on a tour of the toilets. Aside from being spotless, there are twice as many for women as men. According to the report, Franks and her associates went into the Wortham Center and the Alley Theater with watches and timed how long it took women and men to use the facilities. That was how they determined that twice as many were needed for women. The title of the piece: "Potty Parity."
    >When the design for the Hobby Center was unveiled, it was ridiculed as "Hobby 2" - meaning it looks like an airport terminal. Houston's Hobby airport is named for Bill Hobby's father.
    >22 April, 2002 - VIP tours of the nearly-completed building start. Among the first to see the new performing arts hall is a group of school children.
    >10 May, 2002 - Hobby Center opens to the public with a salute to Richard Rogers.
    >14 May, 2002 - Hobby Center holds its first public open house
    "People may be sitting in their office and look down and think, `Hey, it's Jim's birthday - what will I get him for a birthday present? Wow, let's go to a show.' It's as easy as that,"
    -Hobby Center architect Robert Stern on why the building was deliberately designed to look good when viewed from skyscraper offices. Houston Chronicle, 29 November, 1998.

    "To me, the beauty of it is it's a very user-friendly, nonforbidding building ... I have employees who won't go into the Wortham because they think it's for the rich people. We don't want to be that."
    -C. Richard Everett of Century Development Houston Chronicle, 29 November, 1998
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