Looking Up

Since the One Main Building is a rather old gentleman of a building, it has many strange features and nooks and crannies that are often left unexplored. One thing I have noticed generally is that people rarely look up. But you can read the story of our nearly-90 year history of renovations to this building if you go into one of One Main’s many stairwells and just…look up.


The ceiling is concrete, even though it looks like wood joists covered by planks.


Nearly every staircase has a gate that prevents you from going up to the roof. Which is probably for the best.


Lots of piping, still-existent access points in the masonry for long-lost beams or pipes that have since been removed.


Found a brick, too. A successful Friday excursion!

On this site…

Dr. Nicholson has been teaching a course this semester on Houston history, and I was lucky enough to get to teach her class how we do primary source research in physical archives, as well as what materials are available online. One of the resources that are especially useful to anyone studying Houston are the Sanborn Insurance Company’s maps of Houston. They were done over several years, document nearly every commercial property in Houston, and usually have interesting information on whether the place kept a security guard, or what the building was constructed of, as these would affect insurance rates.

I can use maps like this to find out more about what sat on our location at One Main Street, before the Merchants and Manufacturer’s Building was built in 1930. We know that originally, it was the site of a warehouse owned by two founding fathers of the city of Houston, Louis Pless and Samuel L. Allen, and served a role in the Battle of Galveston Bay during the Civil War.

I can use the original land use research from the 1920s to reconstruct other owners of the land, although it went back and forth between family, into probates, and out again until the early 1900s.  The Sanborn maps become especially useful when trying to piece together legal narratives into physical property lines:


From this map, I was able to learn one very important fact that I spread to anyone who would listen to me: there used to be an ice cream factory located right where the south deck is now (I am open to starting a petition drive to revive it). It’s also possible to see where the American Brewing Association was located, at the corner of 2nd and Girard. Another interesting thing you can see from this map is that there was no “Main Street”, it was First Street and it was “not paved.”

Unfortunately, by 1924 the ice cream factory is no more, and most of the land has been taken by a descendent of the Brewing Association, the American Ice and Storage Company. Main Street, and its viaduct, are now built and the MKT railroad has its first passenger depot (which predated the one we have photographs for):



Just five years later, the M&M was under construction, and has dominated the skyline on the north side of the bayou ever since.



Digging for Archives

When people use archives for research, they are usually most interested in correspondence and other first-person accounts. But when I was researching the history of the Merchants and Manufacturers building, I went somewhere a little different for information: the air-conditioning records.

Now, in some places there wouldn’t even be air-conditioning, let alone meticulous notes kept about its use. But in an 11-story building in Houston, Texas, there are good records for this. The M&M had a lot of tenants; some used the building’s AC, and some had their own individual window units. When I was looking for lease information about what companies were in the building, these records were vital.IMG_20160630_105420.jpg

The records help us see that Shell Oil was headquartered in this building, taking up a substantial portion of the fifth floor. McGraw Hill Publishing took up the rest. Humble Oil had offices on 10, the KCOH radio station was on 11, a beauty parlor and a barber shop on the third floor next to the Mid-Day Club and Luncheon Counter. The elevator girls’ lounge was also on the third floor, but later moved to N-440 (where the library’s study rooms are now).

Usually, any written history of this building goes into detail about how it was never a “flourishing” building, never full and never important, but from something as unassuming as the utility bills, we can see that it enjoyed a wide variety of tenants, and was a hub of downtown, even from across the bayou.


This blog post was reposted as “Secrets of the A/C Records” on the Houston Chronicle Gray Matters blog, July 2, 2016

Exploring the M&M, 11th floor

This blog has explored some of the history of the 11th floor of One Main, and its time as a radio station. But there is another “eleventh” floor that I discovered the other day. I have started calling it “the cathedral.” It sits at the top of this staircase:


When you get to the top of the 10th floor, you might expect a door or just a continuation of the same stair, but instead you see this:IMG_20160520_075154

The staircase that goes up to the catwalk above is a suspended staircase, helping to hold the stairs against the wall and also up to the top of the tower.

From the outside, you’ve probably seen this tower but never really noticed it before (the full tower is visible from the Girard and Second St side but people rarely take pictures there):UHD Academic Building facade pattern colering detail - teleshot

I’m told it’s just access to the elevator machine rooms. It was built, I believe, when the Academic Building was built, as a combination of staircase and two elevator shafts. But it’s also another one of the hidden spaces within the University that draw us to explore the nooks and crannies to find the hidden history of the building.

Update, August 29, 2016:

Found this in a 1986 edition of the Dateline; the tower predates the Academic building by nearly 10 years!

Circulation tower 1986


The bathrooms of M&M South

After the ridiculously wild success of the post on Confluence on the bathrooms of the One Main Building’s north side, we decided to document the south side as well.

Starting at the top, we have the 10th floor, which has to be from the late 1980s, with its contrasting pink and brown (this is the men’s room, very soothing):IMG_20160520_075642

The eighth floor clearly did not have anyone of creative genius designing it. Or at least, no one who understood how important it is to have *interesting* bathrooms:


Seventh floor south is a recap of my favorite image from the north side gallery, red sinks with bright yellow everything-else:



Sixth floor south is actually really interesting to me–that’s a wood panel on the front of the sinks, and I actually kind of like the tiles on the floor. It’s very cozy, for an institutional bathroom:


We are all agreed that fourth floor south is a mess and needs something to pick it up immediately:



The glory of third floor south:


And a surprisingly interesting bathroom we found on 2nd floor south! There is a chair back there on the other side of Sink Island!


The bathrooms of M&M North

If you have stepped foot into the M&M building, our main building here at UHD, you know that we have some *really* mind-altering bathrooms. Obviously, everyone knows about the third floor north bathroom:

3rd floor north edited

Why was it tiled like this? Was it the 90s? Just someone’s art project? No way of knowing.


But a lesser-known bathroom that really deserves a visit is 8th floor north:

8th floor bathroom edited

Why are the sinks red and everything else is yellow?! A mystery for the ages.

Some other bathrooms of note:

6th floor north bathroom edited

6th floor north (same design as 4th floor north, so you’ll be excused if that is where you thought this was)

9th floor bathroom edited

9th floor north. All pink with navy blue grout.

10th floor bathroom edited

10th floor north is surprisingly classy, I like that blue stripe.


First floor north never gets any love but it has a wonderful emerald green stained concrete thing going on.


I do not know why nearly every set of bathrooms on each floor is tiled in different colors. It really defies explanation, actually, because why on earth would they order new and different tiles each time a renovation was being done? At any rate, it is now a quirk of this place that I particularly enjoy.

Explore our bathrooms! They are treasures!


Willow Street Pump Station

Excerpt from August 2011 Skyline article:

The Allen Brothers, the founders of Houston, originally planned to build a steam saw mill on that spot, but the plans fell apart in 1837 as leaders of the planned mill, the Texas Steam Mill Company, fell victim to shipwreck or yellow fever.

The tract of land remained empty throughout the 19th century, and Buffalo Bayou was used for transportation, drinking water and waste disposal—and not necessarily in that order.  By the end of the century, citizens were complaining about the waste. The federal government threatened to no longer fund construction projects on the Houston Ship Channel unless the city cleaned up the bayou.

In 1902, the city responded by building the city’s first waste and sewage treatment facility:  the Willow Street Pump Station. The original upper building was for storage and the lower building on the banks housed the pump system, built into the steep slope of the hill. In 1915, an incinerator to burn solid waste was built adjacent to the storage building and helped to successfully clean the bayou.


American Brewing Association

There are several great accounts of brewing in Houston (probably the best one thus far is Ronnie Crocker’s Houston Beer), and all make mention of the American Brewing Association, which sat right here where our Academic Building now resides.

The American Brewing Association was founded here in 1894 by Adolphus Busch (yes, of Anheuser Busch), and made beer until Prohibition took effect in 1920. Busch bought the land, which sat right next to the railroad tracks, for $18,000 from the McGowan brothers.

Now, after Prohibition took effect and the building was razed, many forgot all about the brewery, but in 1996, when preparing the ground for the new Academic building, land use studies revealed that there had once been a brewery on site.

Taken from “American Brewing Association” Houstorian Blog . Accessed August 18, 2015. Access: https://houstorian.wordpress.com/2006/12/28/american-brewing-association/

Transportation around the M&M

The history of the M&M building is wrapped up in the history of transportation in Houston. The building was intentionally sited on the land that sits between White Oak and Buffalo Bayous, but it also sat at the closest meeting point between two great railroads, the Missouri Kansas Texas (MKT, nicknamed The Katy), and the Southern Pacific. MKT ran down from Dallas (and further north), to west of Houston and then roughly followed the north side of what is now Interstate 10, through Katy, TX (named for the railroad, most likely) and then into Houston. The Southern Pacific came in from Los Angeles and San Antonio, moving gradually northeast through Rosenberg and Stella (near present-day Stella Link). Both train lines were destined for the Ship Channel. The MKT was bought by the Union Pacific and its subsidiary MOPAC (Missouri Pacific) in 1988, and its line is now the White Oak bike trail. The Southern Pacific line was merged into Union Pacific in 1996 and still runs trains under the building every day.

In 1929, when the Merchants and Manufacturers building was constructed, the first floor had large loading docks all around its perimeter. In this way, they could load or offload freight from either the MKT, the SP, or the bayous. With further access to the tram line and car and truck traffic via the Main Street Viaduct, this building was truly at the center of industry. It’s probably safe to say that if the Great Depression hadn’t hit in October 1929, this building would have been a powerhouse of activity during the 1930s and 1940s. Instead it languished at below-capacity until 1967 when the South Texas Junior College took up residence within its halls.

MKT Station, located on the north side of the M&M building, where the Student Life Center currently resides, circa 1955:


Shot of the Union Pacific rolling past under the South Deck, today:


One Main and the Civil War

While the M&M wasn’t built until 1930, the land on which it now sits has a very colorful past. Before the Civil War, around 1830, the north side of Buffalo Bayou was a busy port, mostly used for cotton storage. . It was where the “cottonclad” ships Neptune and Bayou City left, filled with cotton bales and hiding soldiers, to attempt a surprise attack in Galveston Bay against the Union’s Harriet Lane. The Houstonians were victorious, and brought back 350 Union soldiers who were interred in the warehouse until the end of the war. After the surrender, Henry House and Co. (the owners, who bought it from the Allen family) refurbished the building and used it as a base for commercial operations stretching into Oklahoma and New Mexico.  Although we do not know what ultimately happened to the warehouse, the sub-basement and tunnel that still lead to the bayou are believed to be the original structures from the 19th century.

Further reading: Louis F. Aulbach and Linda C. Gorski, “Buffalo Bayou ‘Cottonclads’ and Dick Dowling’s Irish guards: Houston’s Civil War Heros”, accessed March 2015 from http://users.hal-pc.org/~lfa/BB11.html