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Rotating Gulf Sign

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Anyone got a picture or postcard of our skyline when the giant Gulf sign was up? (Subdude?)

I think I might, but sorry, I can't get to them at the moment.

They let people on the roof while the sign was rotating? Wasn't that dangerous?

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They let people on the roof while the sign was rotating? Wasn't that dangerous?
Subdude, going on the roof was a very unusual event for regular workers. I worked in the Reproduction Department on the 13th floor. It was my very first day of work (September of

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Subdude, going on the roof was a very unusual event for regular workers. I worked in the Reproduction Department on the 13th floor. It was my very first day of work (September of

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One thing peculiar about the Gulf Building is that the public toilet rooms were located on half floors inside the stairway. Womens on one level and the mens above that. This layout repeated itself until you got near the top. These toilet rooms were eliminated during renovation, due to ADA rules I suspect. The green water fountains were saved though and rehung in front of the new toilet rooms.

Very interesting. My wife's old doctor was in a building that had this feature, too, and was constructed around the same time. I wonder if it was briefly fashionable to do this in order to reduce the expense of running all that plumbing.

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Here's the story of the biggest Gulf Oil sign that ever was:

courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

SIGN OF THE TIMES / Glowing logo once hovered over the city that oil built

For years, it hung over downtown Houston like some wacky corporate moon. Giant blue letters - Gulf - in an orange neon disc announced to land and air travelers that they were approaching the nation's oil capital.

It was called "The Lollipop." At 58 feet tall, it was the world's largest rotating sign. And while the Gulf Oil Co. reveled in the giant corporate logo atop its neo-Gothic office tower, critics called it an 83-ton monument to tastelessness.

Today, as Houston reassesses its downtown architectural heritage and recasts itself as a city it hasn't been in 50 years, the hotly debated landmark of the 1960s and early '70s is largely forgotten.

Still, with nostalgia an undercurrent in the central city's reawakening - Enron Field, loft apartments, refurbished office buildings and even a popular new diner all feature a "retro" feel - there are those who fondly recall when the downtown skyline was bathed in an orange glow.

"When I first came to Houston for the first time," recalled Gordon Campbell, a former Gulf budget analyst, "I flew from Tulsa on the company plane. That sign was one of the first things I saw. It really gave me a thrill."

"I was very passionate about it. . . . It was an icon," added one-time Gulf chemicals division executive Charles Rhoads, who first visited the city as a young Gulf employee in the mid-1960s. "It was the definition of the skyline back then."

Undoubtedly the sign that had been atop what is now the Chase Bank building was an eye-catcher.

With 4,700 square feet of display area illuminated by 7,350 feet of neon tubing, the sign rotated at a steady 1 1/2 revolutions a minute.

"Airline pilots used it as a beacon," boasted Sherman H. Hink, chairman and chief executive officer of Neon Electric Corp., the company that built the sign. "It was advertising. As far as I'm concerned, bigger is better. The object of any sign is to sell."

Built at a cost of $250,000, the sign took six months to erect. When it was completed in the summer of 1966, it commanded immediate attention.

Signs of the Times magazine, a trade journal, featured the sign on the cover of its September issue. Gulf Oil Co. issued postcards of it, noting on the back that the "landmark will guide travelers and residents to the heart of Houston."

"It was a fantastic sign," Hink said. "People loved this sign."

Or at least some people loved the sign.

"I don't want to be disrespectful," said Bill Roher, former president of Gulf's chemicals division, "but I was somewhat aghast. I hadn't seen anything that garish in any of of the cities I had been in. It wasn't the only sign. Tenneco, all the other oil companies had signs emblazoned on their buildings. But nothing like Gulf. We outdid them.

"It was very emblematic of the times. There were very aggressive advertising people who felt that was one way to sell gasoline."

Former Houston Chronicle fine-arts editor Ann Holmes said the sign made the the old bank building look like an oversized gas pump, to the amusement of some.

"It became a joke and not a very funny one," she said.

Artie Lee Hinds, then and now a member of the Houston Municipal Art Commission, recalled that members of the advisory body abhorred the sign.

"They didn't like it," she said. "It wasn't that the sign wasn't good-looking. The art commission didn't want any signs on any buildings, and this one was revolving around."

Members of the commission quietly urged Gulf management to remove the sign as a public service.

Today, such a sign, which finally came down in 1975, never would pass muster with a city ordinance that regulates sign height and size.

Critics never warmed to the Gulf sign as they did - begrudgingly, perhaps - to the giant red neon Pegasus that revolved above the old Magnolia Oil Co. headquarters in Dallas.

"The Pegasus is interesting," said Rice University architectural historian Stephen Fox. "I don't think the Gulf sign was offensive in any way. But it never claimed people's affection as a civic symbol the way the Magnolia emblem did in Dallas. It basically was a transposition and magnification of a Gulf filling-station sign. There was nothing special, nothing especially Houston about it."

While the details of why the gargantuan sign was erected in the first place probably are lost to history - many of those involved in the project are dead - Fox suggested Gulf simply may have been trying to regain its lost prominence on the Houston skyline.

When the sign was erected, Gulf, which traced its history to the 1901 discovery of oil at Spindletop, occupied a striking old bank building at Main and Rusk streets.

Built in 1929 and standing 450 feet in height, it long had been the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. In 1963, though, Gulf's tower was eclipsed by the 600-foot-tall headquarters of the Humble Oil and Refining Co. (now Exxon Mobil) at 800 Bell Ave.

The orange disc brought the Gulf Building's height to more than 500 feet - still short of Humble's height but topping its rival in garishness and illumination.

By the time Z.D. Bonner became president of Gulf Oil - United States in the early 1970s, criticism of the sign had reached a crescendo.

"It certainly was not an asset," Bonner said. "We had very few people - aside from those in the Gulf marketing department - who really liked it. And there were mechanical problems with it. It had suffered wind damage."

When the massive porcelain panels were dismantled - a process Hink said took about a month - workers were surprised to find they were pockmarked with bullet holes.

"We got a letter of commendation from some civic association for taking it down," Bonner recalled.

The sign was replaced with a helicopter pad, which remains atop the building.

Gulf Oil Co. lost its corporate identity in a mid-1980s merger with the San Francisco-based Chevron Cos.

About the time the Houston sign was dismantled, Dallas' neon flying horse - erected in 1934 for an oil convention - was donated to the city. It was welded in place to keep it from toppling. In 1997, its neon lights went dark, victims of the elements and neglect.

Admirers of the sign raised $600,000 from individual and corporate donors - including Magnolia's descendant, Exxon Mobil - to replace the 15-ton sign with a replica. The new sign was illuminated at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day 2000.

No such resurrection was in the cards for the Gulf sign.

Its porcelain panels were taken to Hink's workshop on the city's northwest side. Hink kept the small "R" from the sign's trademark emblem for himself and donated the rest to an employee who wanted to use the panels to build a barn. The barn was built, but the worker since has died, and Hink no longer remembers where the farm was located.

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Very interesting. My wife's old doctor was in a building that had this feature, too, and was constructed around the same time. I wonder if it was briefly fashionable to do this in order to reduce the expense of running all that plumbing.

The public mens room (not sure about the ladies room) in either the Niels or Mellie Esperson building has the same feature. It is located inside the stairwell.

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I worked for Gulf starting in September of '67. My first day on the job, I got to go up on the roof to look for tornados reported to be in the downtown area. We didn't see any, but we did get off early that day.

It was neat seeing the sign from so close. It was much bigger than I had imagined it would be. The roof smelled pretty bad, probably caused from all the dead birds on the roof. I figured they died from hitting the sign, or else they were somehow electrocuted.

Sorry I don't have any photos of the sign.

This topic just prodded my memory. When I was a kid, we mostly stopped to buy gasoline at either Texaco or Gulf. I remember Texaco sold two kinds of gasoline: Fire Chief (regular) and Sky Chief (premium). Gulf sold three kinds: Gulftane (regular), Good Gulf (middle grade), and No Nox (premium). Now I think that all oil company sell three grades (but if you want to count diesel, four).

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In the book Houston Freeways, on Pg. 126, there's a photo of the skyline circa 1967 that appears to be taken from Allen Parkway. The sign is quite visible atop the building since a number of the tallest buildings obviously aren't there at that point.

Here's a lower-res copy of the shot from the e-book version

Hou67.jpg

As someone who still gets out to Gulf stations fairly regularly... wouldn't mind seeing one of these signs atop one of our buildings around here.

Edited by ChannelTwoNews

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In the book Houston Freeways, on Pg. 126, there's a photo of the skyline circa 1967 that appears to be taken from Allen Parkway. The sign is quite visible atop the building since a number of the tallest buildings obviously aren't there at that point.

Here's a lower-res copy of the shot from the e-book version

Hou67.jpg

As someone who still gets out to Gulf stations fairly regularly... wouldn't mind seeing one of these signs atop one of our buildings around here.

You can tell that photo was taken 40 years ago. Not just by the body styles of the cars, but by the amount of traffic. Today, even on a Sunday, the traffic on that same stretch of freeway would be just as packed as it would be on a weekday.

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Really liked the Gulf sign as a kid, but some reason I absolutely loved that Bank of the Southwest lighted sign. Not sure why, but it sure struck a chord with me.

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Really liked the Gulf sign as a kid, but some reason I absolutely loved that Bank of the Southwest lighted sign. Not sure why, but it sure struck a chord with me.

Seeing certain signs along the road also "struck a chord" with me during my childhood travels in the back seat of the car. In Houston, I think I remember seeing a big neon Levitz Furniture sign. Others on this forum said that Levitz is no more.

I also remember the old Ramada Inn sign which had the rotund innkeeper holding a long horn with a flag attached to it that said Ramada Inn. Not only is there no longer a Ramada Inn logo, their signs simply have only the word Ramada.

In Pasadena I remember a big oil storage tank with the Sinclair dinosaur logo.

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Seeing certain signs along the road also "struck a chord" with me during my childhood travels in the back seat of the car. In Houston, I think I remember seeing a big neon Levitz Furniture sign. Others on this forum said that Levitz is no more.

I also remember the old Ramada Inn sign which had the rotund innkeeper holding a long horn with a flag attached to it that said Ramada Inn. Not only is there no longer a Ramada Inn logo, their signs simply have only the word Ramada.

In Pasadena I remember a big oil storage tank with the Sinclair dinosaur logo.

Edited by Propps

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Seeing certain signs along the road also "struck a chord" with me during my childhood travels in the back seat of the car. In Houston, I think I remember seeing a big neon Levitz Furniture sign. Others on this forum said that Levitz is no more.

I also remember the old Ramada Inn sign which had the rotund innkeeper holding a long horn with a flag attached to it that said Ramada Inn. Not only is there no longer a Ramada Inn logo, their signs simply have only the word Ramada.

In Pasadena I remember a big oil storage tank with the Sinclair dinosaur logo.

I also liked the early 1970s Texaco signs/logos. I have no idea why. Maybe because at that time we bought Texaco gas? As someone else was mentioning they had the Fire Chief and Sky Chief brands. I always thought being a Sky Chief would be cool.

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You can tell that photo was taken 40 years ago. Not just by the body styles of the cars, but by the amount of traffic. Today, even on a Sunday, the traffic on that same stretch of freeway would be just as packed as it would be on a weekday.

Oh, there are still times each day of the week where the traffic is that sparse along Allen Parkway, day and night. Heck, I've tried to do the longer exposure shots toward Downtown during evenings from the footbridge and at times it's been kinda tedious to get the traffic 'streaks' flowing in and out of DT.

In the photo, I see that a building directly to the left of the Gulf Tower has signage. Perhaps the Houston Club Building? I think it says "Shell", and if so was it a response to Gulf's sign or did it precede it?

Edited by ChannelTwoNews

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Oh, there are still times each day of the week where the traffic is that sparse along Allen Parkway, day and night. Heck, I've tried to do the longer exposure shots toward Downtown during evenings from the footbridge and at times it's been kinda tedious to get the traffic 'streaks' flowing in and out of DT.

In the photo, I see that a building directly to the left of the Gulf Tower has signage. Perhaps the Houston Club Building? I think it says "Shell", and if so was it a response to Gulf's sign or did it precede it?

It wasn't the Houston Club Building. The Shell Building was what is now the Magnolia Hotel at Fannin and Texas. That also helps date the picture. The new One Shell was completed in - I think - 1969. If you look at that spot in the photo, there appears to be a single crane. Were they just starting construction?

There is also partial lettering for Tenneco: TE--E--. I guess they were waiting for the other letters to arrive.

Re: Gulf. The company died but the logo and brand live on in some places. There is a Gulf station very close to where I have been working and I think there are some on the east coast as well.

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It wasn't the Houston Club Building. The Shell Building was what is now the Magnolia Hotel at Fannin and Texas. That also helps date the picture. The new One Shell was completed in - I think - 1969. If you look at that spot in the photo, there appears to be a single crane. Were they just starting construction?

There is also partial lettering for Tenneco: TE--E--. I guess they were waiting for the other letters to arrive.

Re: Gulf. The company died but the logo and brand live on in some places. There is a Gulf station very close to where I have been working and I think there are some on the east coast as well.

Per Hines website, One Shell Plaza was completed in 1971. The Public Works Building (formerly the Electric Tower), seen directly behind City Hall, was completed in 1968. The blue Ford in the lower right of the photo appears to be a '69 model.

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My grandfather was an attorney for Gulf back when the building was constructed; his office was on one of the top floors. I can poke around for some photos.

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I also liked the early 1970s Texaco signs/logos. I have no idea why. Maybe because at that time we bought Texaco gas? As someone else was mentioning they had the Fire Chief and Sky Chief brands. I always thought being a Sky Chief would be cool.

It was me. One station that we stopped at often back in the 1960s sold Fire Chief for 29.9 cents a gallon, and Sky Chief for 31.9 cents a gallon. Now Texaco and almost all brands have three grades of gasoline. I remember their TV commercial jingle: "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the great big Texaco star."

Now those lyrics would be deemed politically incorrect.

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I remember their TV commercial jingle: "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the great big Texaco star."

Now those lyrics would be deemed politically incorrect.

I guess I'm kind of dense. Please explain.

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I guess I'm kind of dense. Please explain.

"You can trust your car to the male, female, transgendered or intersexed individual who wears the star," etc.

It would be hell to come up with a tune to go with that.

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I haven't heard the term "grease gals" before, so I don't know - sorry - just remembered the photos. I don't think any of the photos has a date on it (what looked like a date at first seems to be just a serial number). I was thinking they might be WWII-era fill-in workers, but maybe female gas attendants were just more common than I realized.

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I haven't heard the term "grease gals" before, so I don't know - sorry - just remembered the photos. I don't think any of the photos has a date on it (what looked like a date at first seems to be just a serial number). I was thinking they might be WWII-era fill-in workers, but maybe female gas attendants were just more common than I realized.

Like the "Rosie the Riveters" who did men jobs during WWII while the men were fighting overseas. Then when the war ended, the men came home and said to the women: "Now, get out of the shipyards and the garages, put your aprons back on and get back into the kitchens."

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"You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the great big Texaco star." Now those lyrics would be deemed politically incorrect.

And very outdated. How long has it been since you've seen anybody of any gender you could trust your car to at a gas station?

That TV commercial used to make me laugh out loud. There they were: that singing and marching group of guys all dressed up in their spotless spiffy looking Texaco uniforms, complete with bow ties and hats, singing that dumb song. I laughed because I had never seen anyone dressed remotely like that pumping gas, changing oil or lubing a car at any gas station I'd ever been to.

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One station that we stopped at often back in the 1960s sold Fire Chief for 29.9 cents a gallon, and Sky Chief for 31.9 cents a gallon.

Here's a real poser: What did a Sky Chief do?

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It wasn't the Houston Club Building. The Shell Building was what is now the Magnolia Hotel at Fannin and Texas. That also helps date the picture. The new One Shell was completed in - I think - 1969. If you look at that spot in the photo, there appears to be a single crane. Were they just starting construction?

There is also partial lettering for Tenneco: TE--E--. I guess they were waiting for the other letters to arrive.

Re: Gulf. The company died but the logo and brand live on in some places. There is a Gulf station very close to where I have been working and I think there are some on the east coast as well.

Ah, thanks for clearing that up! The Houston Club buildings would be further to the left I guess. Exterior appearance kinda threw me.

I still use Gulf pretty regularly myself just due to the fact they're everywhere near where I live and travel to. If I'm not mistaken, they're HQ'd in Buffalo, NY these days.

Edited by ChannelTwoNews

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And very outdated. How long has it been since you've seen anybody of any gender you could trust your car to at a gas station?

That TV commercial used to make me laugh out loud. There they were: that singing and marching group of guys all dressed up in their spotless spiffy looking Texaco uniforms, complete with bow ties and hats, singing that dumb song. I laughed because I had never seen anyone dressed remotely like that pumping gas, changing oil or lubing a car at any gas station I'd ever been to.

Well, nowadays there are very few gas stations that actually work on your car. Most people just get their gas at a convenience store. As for me, not just at a gas station, but the only place that I trust with my car is Wal-Mart Supercenter when I have my oil and filter changed. Most other car servicing places are run by rip-off artists who try to talk you into paying for things that your car really doesn't need.

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I also liked the early 1970s Texaco signs/logos. I have no idea why. Maybe because at that time we bought Texaco gas? As someone else was mentioning they had the Fire Chief and Sky Chief brands. I always thought being a Sky Chief would be cool.

TexacoGasPumps.jpg

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Yes, those are exactly how I remember the pumps. We went to a mom & pop store called Salter's Grocery. Mr. Salter would stop his work in the store, come outside with his apron on, and put gas in our car. Poor guy. His business eventually folded, because he let people have charge accounts. Naturally, most people didn't pay their bills.

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Not sure if anyone mentioned the "big green Brontosaurus" Sinclair gas? Wonder why they left Houston?

bigsinclair.JPG

Albany_TX_Sinclair_Stn_20060312.jpg

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Not sure if anyone mentioned the "big green Brontosaurus" Sinclair gas? Wonder why they left Houston?

bigsinclair.JPG

Albany_TX_Sinclair_Stn_20060312.jpg

I remember the Sinclair refinery in Port Arthur changed its name to ARCO (Atlantic Richfield COmpany). I think that the gas stations did the same thing.

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Anyone got a picture or postcard of our skyline when the giant Gulf sign was up? (Subdude?)

I'm trying to figure out how to post video: I have a video of the skyline with the GULF sign spinning around. THe video is one full day...static shot... in timelapse...lasts about 2.5 min. (color)

Any suggestions?

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I'm trying to figure out how to post video: I have a video of the skyline with the GULF sign spinning around. THe video is one full day...static shot... in timelapse...lasts about 2.5 min. (color)

Any suggestions?

If you put it on youtube, you can display it in a post here.

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Anyone got a picture or postcard of our skyline when the giant Gulf sign was up? (Subdude?)

Here's a day's worth of the Houston Skyline compressed into 2.5 min. 1971

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In the book Houston Freeways, on Pg. 126, there's a photo of the skyline circa 1967 that appears to be taken from Allen Parkway. The sign is quite visible atop the building since a number of the tallest buildings obviously aren't there at that point.

Here's a lower-res copy of the shot from the e-book version

Hou67.jpg

As someone who still gets out to Gulf stations fairly regularly... wouldn't mind seeing one of these signs atop one of our buildings around here.

As time permits might U be able to ID some of the Bldg's to jog my youthful memory? I will await your answer B4 asking specifics.

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As time permits might U be able to ID some of the Bldg's to jog my youthful memory? I will await your answer B4 asking specifics.

Here are some I remember....

post-2050-0-39991900-1309362437_thumb.jp

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Here are some I remember....

post-2050-0-39991900-1309362437_thumb.jp

If I may B permited 2 opine. The tall Bldg. w/the big stick antenna on roof I believe is shell Plaza & the Bldg. in front of BOSW is I believe Tennesee Gas. Would U happen 2 know the names of the yellow checkerboard Bldg. behind Julia Ideson library, also Bldg. in front ot Julia Ideson library? And lastly the tall Bldg. just to the left (north) of City Hall? I believe the Bob Casey Federal courthouse is now @ that location

Thank U 4 your earlier response.

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If I may B permited 2 opine. The tall Bldg. w/the big stick antenna on roof I believe is shell Plaza & the Bldg. in front of BOSW is I believe Tennesee Gas. Would U happen 2 know the names of the yellow checkerboard Bldg. behind Julia Ideson library, also Bldg. in front ot Julia Ideson library? And lastly the tall Bldg. just to the left (north) of City Hall? I believe the Bob Casey Federal courthouse is now @ that location

Thank U 4 your earlier response.

The tall building with the antenna is definitely the Tenneco Building, you can make out some of the letters, "T" and "E" on top right side of the building. This picture is from 1967, the Shell Building was built in 1971 and at the time was the tallest building in Houston at 50 stories.

Not sure about the "checker board" building....

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I think the checkerboard building is the hotel near 600 Jefferson, whose name escapes me. It was closed for a number of years, then renovated and reopened.

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I think the checkerboard building is the hotel near 600 Jefferson, whose name escapes me. It was closed for a number of years, then renovated and reopened.

I agree that the checkerboard building looks like the hotel near 600 Jefferson which was re-opened as the Crowne Plaza, but back in the 80s it was called the Whitehall I believe,but that hotel is seven blocks south of the Tenneco Bldg.So I dont think the yellow checkerboard building and the hotel are one in the same.

Given the angle of the photo I think the yellow checkerboard building would be in the same location as Enterprise Plaza is today.

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Here are 3 photos of the rotating Gulf sign when it was being installed on the Gulf Building.   The photos were taken on May 16, 1966 by my wife's grandfather, Glenn E. Musselman, who worked for many years in the Texaco Building.

Gulf-66-05-16a.JPG

Gulf-66-05-16b.JPG

Gulf-66-05-16c.JPG

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