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The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Public Lobbies (Downtown)

Two Shell Plaza
Two Shell Plaza
All photos by Abrahan Garza, unless otherwise noted

We asked photographer Abrahan Garza to capture the best public lobbies in the downtown area. Some, like the Lancaster Hotel and the JPMorgan Chase Bank Building, formerly known as the Gulf Building, have pristine vintage lobbies. Some, like Two Shell Plaza (seen above) are like a blast from the 1970s. We noticed a distinct tendency for gold accents and travertine marble, but glass and steel interiors were also popular.

All are part of what makes a walk through downtown Houston a great journey.

10. Two Shell Plaza

Located at 777 Walker, the 26-story Two Shell Plaza building was completed in 1971. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill are responsible for the original design, with Bricken & Cannady contributing to a 1992 renovation. Popular as a entry to the downtown tunnel system, the Two Shell Plaza lobby gets thousands of visitors every day.

9. One Allen Center

Located at 500 Dallas, One Allen Center is one of five buildings in the Allen Center complex. With 34 floors, the building was completed in 1974. One Allen Center was designed by Wilson Morris Craen & Associates and is owned by Brookfield Office Properties. It's a rather sterile environment in comparison to some of its ornate neighbors, but we like it because it evokes a sensible, "we're here to do business" attitude common in the 1970s.

The wall-to-ceiling windows on the first floor allow for a bright, sunny atmosphere without any intrusion by Houston's famed heat during the summer months.

Houston Public Library/Central
Houston Public Library/Central

8. Houston Public Library/Central Branch

Perhaps the smallest lobby on our list, the Houston Public Library/Central Branch is functional, colorful and inviting. The ceiling-to-floor windows of the lobby look out over the library's always busy plaza with peeks at its more decorative neighbors, namely City Hall and the Julia Ideson Library building.

7. The Lancaster Hotel

Built in 1926 by Italian immigrant Michele DeGiorgio (later Michele De George), the Lancaster Hotel is located at 701 Texas. At the time it was built, the hotel sat in the middle of the city's red light district. Overshadowed by the plush Lancaster Hotel, the seedy neighbors soon moved out and the area eventually developed into the Theater District. Stately and quietly ornate, the Lancaster still serves its original function - welcoming out-of-town visitors to upscale luxury.

 

Mellie Esperson Building
Mellie Esperson Building

6. Mellie Esperson Building

Not nearly as ornate as its neighbor the Niels Esperson building, the Mellie Esperson Building was built in 1941. The 19-story structure was designed by John Eberson and is in the Italian renaissance style.

Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall

5. Houston City Hall

Houston's City Hall isn't as grand as it might have been had it not been constructed so soon after the Great Depression and as WWII was looming on the horizon. An excellent example of a Works Progress Administration architecture, the building features some 30 friezes by Beaumont artist Herring Cole and co-designer Raoul Jassett.

Niels Esperson Building
Niels Esperson Building

4. Niels Esperson Building

The 1927 Niels Esperson building was built for the real estate and oil tycoon by his wife Mellie. John Eberson designed the Italian Renaissance structure most well known for its grand tempietto, which tops off the roof.

 

3. Bank of America

The 56-story Bank of America building, 700 Louisiana, was built in 1983 with overtones of Dutch Gothic style. Philip Johnson and John Burgee's design however is strictly postmodern. The three-story lobby is among the building's most impressive features.

Developed by Hines Interest, the building is a major part of the Houston skyline and its lobby evokes a sense of grace and grandeur that was common to Houston in the early 1980s.

2. JPMorgan Chase/Formerly Gulf Building

It was a tough call between the No. 2 and No. 1 spots on our list. The former Gulf Building was built with oil money by Jesse Jones at a time when ornate was the standard style. On the National Register of Historic Places, the building's Art Deco/ moderne architecture style was designed by Alfred C. Finn and Kenneth Franzheim.

There are 37 stories, but the lobby's grand entrance is among the building's most spectacular design. Marble, stained glass and exotic woods are used throughout the lobby.

1. Pennzoil Place

Pennzoil Place was named Building of the Decade by the New York Times when it was built back in 1976. At the time Philip Johnson and John Burgee's 36-story twin towers was a landmark addition to the Houston skyline. Other, taller buildings have overshadowed it but its trapezoidal towers (placed 10 feet apart) and glass pyramid shaped atrium lobby space captures the number one spot for sheer vision and daring. (Can we help it if it reminds of us Houston in its oil-rich, NASA-centric heyday?)

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