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FilioScotia

Big Butt-Ugly Building at 1500 OST

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I went to Houston last week for the first time in a bunch of years, and driving down OST toward the Medical Center I drove past the ugliest building I've ever seen. It's huge and looks like two pyramids glued together. It looks for all the world like something out of Doctor Who - a space age military fortress. It's at 1500 OST, the corner of OST and North Stadium Drive. Does anybody know who built that monstrosity, and for what purpose?

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1500 OST at the corner of Old Spanish Trail and North Stadium Drive is recorded as being the "Shell Information Center" and according to aerials has been there since at least the late 1970s. When was the last time you went to Houston, again? :unsure:

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1 hour ago, FilioScotia said:

I went to Houston last week for the first time in a bunch of years, and driving down OST toward the Medical Center I drove past the ugliest building I've ever seen. It's huge and looks like two pyramids glued together. It looks for all the world like something out of Doctor Who - a space age military fortress. It's at 1500 OST, the corner of OST and North Stadium Drive. Does anybody know who built that monstrosity, and for what purpose?

 

I looked at a Google view and found this.  If it is the one you describe at 1500 OST, on a larger view that includes the building name, it's labeled "Sopus Retail".  Looked further and found that this stands for Shell Oil Products U.S.

 

593d921728825_Building2-1500OST.JPG.17ff636b75027d4db88d43acaafbd0f2.JPG

Edited by 57Tbird
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This is the building I'm talking about, and it appears to be empty and for sale. I guess Shell's oil products aren't doing well. And thanks for your quick response. I'm driving there again tomorrow, but now I know what that monstrosity used to be.

Edited by FilioScotia

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19 hours ago, FilioScotia said:

This is the building I'm talking about, and it appears to be empty and for sale. I guess Shell's oil products aren't doing well. And thanks for your quick response. I'm driving there again tomorrow, but now I know what that monstrosity used to be.

 

1 hour ago, cspwal said:

 

Yeah, I was going to say, it's not that they're doing badly it's just that they don't need the space anymore. Shell and the other big oil companies have built a lot of new construction in the last 10-15 years and they don't need buildings like this anymore.

 

As for noticing the building, you probably just didn't notice it on a previous visit, as it has been there for decades, and if this is really your first trip to Houston in 40 years (which, me despite joking about it, I'm sure it isn't the case), then it wouldn't be the first thing that I would notice.

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1 hour ago, IronTiger said:

 

Yeah, I was going to say, it's not that they're doing badly it's just that they don't need the space anymore. Shell and the other big oil companies have built a lot of new construction in the last 10-15 years and they don't need buildings like this anymore.

 

As for noticing the building, you probably just didn't notice it on a previous visit, as it has been there for decades, and if this is really your first trip to Houston in 40 years (which, me despite joking about it, I'm sure it isn't the case), then it wouldn't be the first thing that I would notice.

 

I didn't get the impression he ever suggested that the building wasn't there before. Since the building has been vacated, it is probably in much worse condition than it was in the past and hence is more noticeable.

 

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Heard at one point that it was a data center, servers and whatnot.  That jives with "information center".

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Yes it is in terrible condition. I can't imagine anybody buying it intending to use it. And it does appear that I just never really noticed this building until I drove past it last week for the first time in almost ten years. For some reason its ugliness just made it jump out at me.  It sticks out like a giant scab. I worked in Houston till I retired and moved to east Texas in 2010. Thanks for the help guys.

Edited by FilioScotia

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https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1LLIBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=cullen+center+masterplan\&source=bl&ots=CItxn4iL0c&sig=YXq52BpPS53HOiNO9rDu8VUFhbM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi4196Q6LrUAhXGYVAKHcmcAWYQ6AEINTAC#v=onepage&q=cullen center masterplan\&f=false

 

Welton Becket and Associates, of Los Angeles (now part of AECOM, also of Los Angeles), had a Houston office from 1960.  The success of their premier Southland Life Center complex in Dallas led the Cullen family to want to plan the same thing on an even grander scale with a "Cullen Center" -- this was before the Pierce Elevated ran right there.

The Houston office directors voted not to share work from other offices of WBA but fell below their financial targets in the 1970s.  The office was closed, and with it, though I'm not sure on this point, the venerable mechanical and electrical firm of Carden L. Jenkins, which the WBA Houston office had acquired in 1972.  The Shell Information Center had been planned to be part of a nearly square-mile mixed-use development on land acquired by Shell.  Its name, Plaza del Oro, still lingers in the neighborhood although the modernist project never really materialized.

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This land just sold to "1500 OST LLC", which appears associated with Crosswell Realty Partners (Newquest Crosswell?).  Not sure what that means

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In the early 1970s Shell had regional data centers all over the US. They decided to centralize these data centers into one location and this building was that location. This was in the mainframe days of computing and it was considered a state-of-the-art data center for that time. The first two floors of the building were the actual data center with typical raised floors. There was a large tape library  on the first floor along with all the mainframes.  The tape library was  eventually expanded to the warehouse type building next to the parking lot..The seconf floor was a mixture of some offices, mini-mainframes, and a printer area. Shell also bought the Charolais Cattle Association building on the corner and turned that into a training center building. 

If you've ever seen the film "The Thief Who Came to Dinner" (Ryan O'Neil , Jacqueline  Bisset, Jill Clayburgh, Warren Oates) there is a scene that shows that building under construction. 

 

The data center equipment was moved a few years back  to a leased space in two more modern data centers and the offices (the upper 7 floors) were abandoned.  Shell used to have the building regularly power washed and  it did not look that bad when it was all cleaned up.  It was always well maintained  until it was abandoned. 

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2 hours ago, isuredid said:

In the early 1970s Shell had regional data centers all over the US. They decided to centralize these data centers into one location and this building was that location. This was in the mainframe days of computing and it was considered a state-of-the-art data center for that time.

That would explain the very serious cooling apparatus located to the left of the building in the aerial photo. Big rooms full of servers, etc. generate considerable heat which is bad for the equipment. Most have dedicated cooling systems apart from the rest of the building. I can imagine those mainframes from 45+ years ago created even more heat than modern equipment.

 

I had a secretary back in the early 1990's who would apply nail polish to her finger nails then speed the drying by holding her fingers near the fan exhaust on her desktop computer. She did other unusual but practical things like placing her car keys in the break room refrigerator on top of the container with her lunch leftovers so she would not forget to take them home. :)

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Yes...serious cooling and three very large diesel generators capable of powering the building for a week without refueling. There are diesel tanks buried nearby. There were very large banks of UPS batteries in the basement.  

Here is an example of best laid plans finding their Achilles heel.  The generators were installed to prevent any power outage and were especially designed to work through a hurricane.  The water in the cooling towers were also used to cool the diesel generators. When hurricane Alicia struck in August of 1983 the wind caused the water in the cooling towers to blow out and away. Somehow, during the storm,  Shell contracted with a company to bring pumper trucks to go down to Brays bayou...suck up water and come back and pump it back  into the cooling towers reservoir, but they could not keep up with the volume that was blowing away. 

So in the middle of the hurricane, around the time the eye came through the generators had to be shut down because they were overheating. This meant there was around 2 hours of battery life on the UPS system. So during that two hour window and in the eye of the hurricane people were called in to help power down devices before the power dropped. Hard power downs were fatal at times for large rapidly spinning drums and disks. 

This effort was not entirely successful.  Many many "head crashes" and disk and drums ruined. (The disk looked like very large CDS in multiple layers). As soon as the AC dropped the temperature in the computer room rose quickly to the mid 90s and the humidity also rose sharply. 

Now in the photo  you can see wind baffles  around the cooling towers, but they were not there before Alicia.

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Thanks for that, isuredid. Alicia was one of the few Houston events I missed. I went off to college in 1979 and returned to Houston in 1987. As catastrophic as this was for Shell it was probably a back page item considering all the other destruction that was caused by Alicia. Another lesson harshly learned.

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A relative of mine just retired from Shell. He started in that building on OST as data center clerk. He moved up the ranks and was transferred to the Shell Woodcreek facility were he stayed until retirement. He told me Shell was a good company to work for and has no regrets. Not may people get to stay with one employer for their whole career anymore.

 

He concurs that Shell had a big footprint in the area, developing several pieces of property. He stated employees were encouraged/incentivised) to live in some these properties. He told me he looked into an apartment off of Holly Hall and Almeda, but was turned off by the deep shag carpets so popular back in the day.

 

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