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The Plaza Hotel: A Preservation Success Story

Vintage image of the Plaza Hotel courtesy Cisneros Design Studio.

Vintage image of the Plaza Hotel courtesy Cisneros Design Studio.

by Joseph Stromberg

The tremendous growth of Houston has sometimes come at the expense the city’s past. Some of this has come in the form of architectural loss as historic structures are demolished for new buildings. The former Plaza Hotel, located at 5020 Montrose, is an example of an important historic structure that has survived despite the growth.

The city added affluent neighborhoods around the current museum district in the early 20th century, creating an excellent opportunity for developers to build an apartment hotel with the style and amenities seen in New York City. The 8-story, 165-room, Neo-classical hotel designed by Houston architect Joseph Finger opened in 1926 with much fanfare, promising fine dining, on-site barbers and all modern conveniences, eventually attracting Houston luminaries including the first president of Rice University, Edgar Oddell Lovett.

The glamour of the hotel faded, however, as tastes and expectations changed. By the 1940s it was clear that the Plaza was not as esteemed as in earlier years. The hotel did not have air conditioning, which was not uncommon in the 1930s. By the 1940s, however, this was a necessity. Management redecorated and finally installed A/C in 1953, and the owners advertised the building with an art deco flair. Through the 1950s, hotel management emphasized thrift over decadence as it lost its traditional clients.

The hotel attempted a resurgence in the late 1970s by attracting younger patrons. New owners updated the restaurants and the interior to create loft style apartments. These attempts worked for a time as it began to attract higher-end patrons, particularly those associated with Houston’s art community. Even with this reimagining, the hotel closed in 1980.

Despite its prime location in the museum district, the hotel sat dormant from 1985 to 2006. Vagrants and wildlife took over the interior. There were several attempts through the 1990s to renovate the site, but the building’s age presented problems for modern renters. In 2005 new owners decided to redevelop the space as a professional building rather than residences. This enabled architect Tony Cisneros to rethink the space entirely, ultimately giving the Plaza new life as Traditions Bank Plaza.

Material for this article came from previous research by the author.

Author Dr. Stephen James is Curator of Architecture & Planning Collections at the University of Houston’s M.D. Anderson Library, Special Collections Department. Contact him at sjames@central.uh.edu.

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