Houston City Hall
901 Bagby Street, Houston, Texas, Downtown 77002 United StatesPrint this page   •   Share this page

This building has unwittingly become a thumbnail for all the others around it. Surrounded on three sides by great towers of glass, steel, and stone this diminutive building has all the aspirations of grandeur that its neighbors have, but it simply lacks the height. Depending on your point of view, City Hall is either disappointingly unoriginal, or splendidly uniform in the fact that it is nearly identical to dozens of other city halls built in the southwest during the same time period. Most are constructed with the same Texas Cordova limestone. The front of the building steps down to a small park dominated by a reflecting pool. Hermann Square is not fancy, but achieves a simple elegance. This is fortunate, since the park is used nearly daily for festivals, protests and concerts. To accommodate larger events, the reflecting pool is planked over and tents are erected. All of these public events so close to the seat of power has the reassuring effect of making the city's government seem more like a partner in everyday life, instead of a dictating authority. How does America's fourth-largest city function out of a building so small? The answer is, it doesn't. The 901 Bagby location becomes less vital every day as essential city services are moved into annexes and other buildings. City Hall is becoming more and more a place of ceremony for the mayor and city council, and a museum to itself.

Quick Facts
  • Construction start: 1938
  • Construction finish: 1939
  • Designed by: Joseph Finger
  • Cost: $1,600,000
  • Renovated: 1992 by Ray Bailey Architects
  • Type: Government Building
  • Stories: 11
    >In front of Houston City Hall is Martha Hermann Square. This was at one time the homestead of George H. Hermann, for whom it seems one-third of the city is named. He donated the land to the city for use as a park. Many people believe that in his will he stipulated that people should be allowed to sleep in the park if they want to. According to urban legend, Hermann would let his laborers sleep off their hangovers in his backyard because it was cheaper than bailing them out of jail. Officially, the Parks Department says people aren't allowed to sleep there. But it's the people in blue with the guns and badges who count. They have been instructed by the city attorney's office not to bother anyone asleep in the park. The city attorney went on record as recently as 1987 in a Houston Chronicle article stating that the police are not to arrest anyone sleeping in the park. The Parks Department says the language in Hermann's will is subject to debate, but the city attorney doesn't want to risk losing the park for violating the terms of George H. Hermann's will.
    >Politicians and burarucrats spent 15 years haggling over the design of the building.
    >There is a time capsule in the city hall cornerstone. It contains a copy of the 1937 budget, an issue from each of the city's three daily newspapers, and a bible.
    >This was one of the first air conditioned buildings in the city.
    >The sculpture above the doors depicts two men taming a horse. It is meant to
    symbolize a community coming together to form a government to tame the world around them.
    >The design on the interior doorknobs is an outdated city seal.
    >The design on the lobby floor depicts the protective role of government.
    >The doors feature historical figures including Thomas Jefferson, Julius Caesar, and Moses.
    >When the building opened, it had a private elevator for the mayor (which may still be in use), and private showers for each of the city council members.
    >1 October, 1938 - The cornerstone is laid.
    >1990 - The Houston City Hall is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Your Thoughts

There is one comment.

  The interior of the building is classic Deco and the exterior puctuates the theme. The wood paneling in Coucil Chambers is exquisite and glowing. What a treat!

Dale Davidson - Friday, February 13th, 2009 @ 9:14am