For Robot: Daddy, Why Is Numbers Called Numbers?
Note: This article originally appeared on Rocks Off on February 27 of this year. To pay our respects to Robert Burtenshaw, the club's owner, DJ and video artist known as "Robot" who passed away over the weekend, we're posting it again as a tribute.
Numbers, then known as Babylon
One thing has always bothered me whenever I attend concerts and dance nights at Numbers, and that is, "Why the hell is it called Numbers, anyway?" Now, I know that I have something of a fixation on the meaning of names in the music scene, but I've also had several readers ask me to look into it over the years.
Well, I finally did so, and what I got back was something strange and wonderful to behold. The source of this information wished to remain anonymous so as not to reveal his or her age, but was vouched for by Numbers owner Robert Burtenshaw. I present it to you unedited, except for spelling and grammar in the name of hilarious awesomeness.
"Dad, why is Numbers called Numbers?"
Well, son, the building at 300 Westheimer was not originally called Numbers. It had a few names. The building actually opened in 1975 as The Million Dollar City Dump, a dinner theater where people could see Las Vegas-style shows. In 1978, during the disco rage, it was turned into Numbers. The word "numbers" at that time referred to someone who was a cute guy or girl. Like, "That's a cute number."
You see, son, back before cell phones, people would exchange home phone numbers and write them down on what were called 'trick cards.' Then there was the silver wallpaper.
"Silver wallpaper, dad? What silver wallpaper?"
Yep, silver wallpaper. The upstairs bar and balcony, during The Million Dollar City Dump days, was originally an office that had solid walls. The windows were put in to open the space and so people could look down on the dance floor. The wall was sort of blank-looking, so it needed something to maker it look cool.
While shopping, someone found some silver wallpaper with numbers printed all over it, thinking that it was flashy and cool. The silver wallpaper became a symbol of the club because if you were looking down on the dancing crowd, you were searching for a "number," and if you were on the dance floor and looking up, then you were looking at...
"Wow, dad. I get it. You were looking up at NUMBERS."
Right, son. So there you have the story. It's too bad that the silver numbers wallpaper, along with a lot of other things, got painted over with black. The paper may be painted over, but the numbers are still there in spirit.
Photo by Abrahan Garza
"Dad, then why does the sign in front of Numbers say #'s 2?"
Well, son, that is a story that has two parts. In 1980, Numbers was at the top of its game. It was doing great, but some of the people involved as investors felt it could do more and there was a disagreement.
A few of the parties involved thought it best to step away and let the others, who thought they knew better, take over the club. The parties who stepped away went on to work on other projects and take comfortable vacations in what was then a new vacation spot in Mexico called Cancún.
That was in May of 1980. By August of 1980, the managing group that thought they could do a "better job" had run the club into the ground. They didn't pay a lot of bills.
That managing group in control of the club decided to throw a theme party, not knowing the power would be turned off because of nonpayment. The theme was Gone with the Wind. On the Friday night of the party, the managing group went into the club and there was no power. Numbers One was truly gone with the wind.
The group that stepped away came back and started to redo the club in August of that year, and reopened the club as the "infamous" Babylon on December 8, 1980. That was the same day we lost John Lennon.
It was during that remodel time that they opened up what was the kitchen and put in the bar that Uncle Loyd works at.
"Wow, dad, Uncle Loyd's bar used to be a kitchen?"
Yep, it was during that time when 300 Westheimer became the first laser dance club in Houston. It also had the first CO2 cannons that would fog the entire dance floor. There were lights that would come out of the ceiling on long cables and go all the way to the dance floor. Then it happened again.
"What happened, dad?"
There were some disagreements; by that time it was 1983. Most people had forgotten the way things had worked out for Numbers One, and they were "bitterly" left to roam the Montrose streets in hoop skirts and Civil War costumes because of the Gone with the Wind party that never happened.
The name was changed back to Numbers, but this time it was Numbers 2, and it has been that name since.
"What a story, dad."
I know, son. No matter what, 300 Westheimer will always be Numbers, where all kinds of people mix: debutantes to factory workers, truck drivers to drag queens. Son, if the world were like Numbers, there would be no war.
"Dad, when I'm old enough, can I hang at Numbers?"
I promise, son, I will take you there for your first concert just like my dad, your grandfather, took me. I promise.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.