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March 16, 2016 / philosophermouseofthehedge

Shamrocks and Wildcatters

Members of the press at the pre-opening party for the Shamrock Hotel, March 15, 1949. (Houston Chronicle.com)

No one parties like the press. March 16,1949 media only party.(chron.com)

Over 2,500 shamrocks were flown in from Éire. The “Houston Rivera” deserved no less.

There were fireworks – of all kinds. Frank Lloyd Wright pointed to the lobby ceiling, “That, young man, is an example of the effects of venereal disease on architecture”. “An imitation Rockefeller Center”, Wright sniffed.

Grand Opening of Shamrock Hotel. March 17, 1949. Glenn McCarthy, actor Robert Paige, actor Pat O'Brien (Houston Chronicle)

Who cares what Wright thinks? If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Glenn McCarthy (on the left), actor Robert Paige, and actor Pat O’Brien. (Houston Chronicle)

Wildcatter Glenn McCarthy, totally unconcerned, opened his Shamrock Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day, 1949, with over 150 Hollywood celebrities and a huge bash.

Ginger Rogers, Hedda Hopper, Robert Preston, Errol Flynn, Dorothy Lamour, Alan Hale, Van Heflin, Edgar Bergen – even the Goodyear Blimp and more arrived, and stayed for next day’s premier of McCarthy’s film “The Green Promise“. (Natalie Woods. Walter Brennan.)

Days before the opening, Howard Hughes sold McCarthy a customized Boeing 307 Stratoliner in order to fly in movie stars, Los Angeles business executives, and reporters.

For those not wishing to fly, McCarthy rented a Santa Fe Chief to haul Hollywood guests across country. Apparently everyone was pretty hooted up upon arrival. McCarthy himself wore dark glasses to the opening to cover up a black eye from one of the fist fights at the train station.

Emerald Room Grand Opening Party, March 17, 1949. Seated is Glenna McCarthy talking with Gov. Beauford Jester (Hous. Chronicle)

“Yes, they are called butterfly sleeves.” Glenda McCarthy seated in the Emerald Room during the Grand Opening talking with Gov. Jester (Houston Chron.)

Over 50,000 crowded inside with another 3,000 milling around outside and in the public areas of the hotel. So over crowded that Houston’s mayor had trouble getting in.

Elaborate and lavishly decorated featuring 63 shades of green in tribute to McCarthy’s ancestral Ireland, the Shamrock Hotel represented what the rest of the world thought about Texas – and many still do.

  • On fifteen acres, the 18 story green tiled roofed hotel had 1,100 rooms, lush gardens, a massive swimming pool big enough to host motor boats for waterskiing performances, and a 3 story high diving platform with a spiral staircase.
  • Staffed by over 1,200 who were managed by George Lindholm from the NY Waldorf-Astoria. Each was attired in emerald green uniforms.
  • Guests used emerald green ink to sign the register.
  • Rooms were quite unique even for this glamorous era. Each had framed abstract art on the green walls, air conditioning, push button radios, recorded music from the in-house system which featured phonograph records played by an operator, and a television. Kitchenettes were in about a third of the rooms.
  • A resort-style convention hotel located 3 miles from downtown and SW of the emerging Texas Medical Center. People wondered if it would survive – being so far out in the country. But McCarthy seemed to have the Luck of the Irish, as well as “reckless” as a middle name.
Hotel Staff of captains and waiters of Shamrock. Banquet manager, Erick Worscheh in center. (Melissa phillip/houston chron)

Chicken tastes better when served with style. Hotel captains and waiters. Banquet manager, Erick Worscheh in center. (Melissa Phillip/Houston Chron.)

We used to drive by to gawk at the rich and famous. Brag when parents attended a function there.

Nightclubs like The Cork Room and the Emerald Room offered big name entertainment by such as Lamour, Sinatra, and Patty Andrews of the Andrew Sisters.

Clubs, organizations and high school proms/senior parties competed to secure a treasured spot on the hotel’s event calendar.

From 1949-1953, the ABC network featured a radio show, “Saturday at the Shamrock” which was the only scripted radio program produced outside New York or Los Angles.

1955.The Ed Gerlach Orchestra at the Shamrock.(image Gerlach Orchestra(houston chronicle)

1955.The Ed Gerlach Orchestra at the Shamrock.(Gerlach Orchestra)

“Diamond Glenn” McCarthy, overextended himself and ended up $52 million in debt in 1952.

The Shamrock was sold to the Hilton Hotels Corporation. The “lanai wing” around the pool was added shortly. Cabanas just like in the movies, too.

That pool was famous.

Everyone dreamed of getting a coveted invitation from a club member. A new bathing suit and fancy sandals were a must , as well as best behavior. No one felt insulted when children were told, “Now remember, don’t use the bathroom in the pool. The restrooms are right there.” After all, it was the Shamrock.

The diving platforms were the highest in town. I never (shiver and quake) managed the top level. But one of my cousins was a champion diver on the Shamrock’s Competition Swim Team.

Everyone would marvel at the aquatic shows.

1953 aerial view of Shamrock Hotel/south Houston. (Image Houston chronicle.com)

Land, lots of land with the starry sky above. 1953 aerial view of Shamrock Hotel/south Houston.(Houston chronicle)

The Shamrock was no longer in the country as the city grew around it.

Eventually the Texas Medical Center Complex took over everything between hotel and hospitals. Deciding not to do the extensive refurbishing of the hotel, the corporation donated the property to the Medical Center in 1985.

On March 1986, the Shamrock held the final Annual St Patrick’s Day Party.

Despite historic preservationists and protest rallies, the building was demolished in June 1987.

Except for the 1,000 car parking garage. Native Houstonians winced as the lush grounds were paved for med center parking.

Today the Institute of Biosciences and Technology stands on the NE corner of the property. At least there’s some landscaping around the fountains out front.

Program from Shamrock's Irish Sing Along. (USPD/UH digital library/Commons.wikimedia.org)

Always with the green. Program from one of the Shamrock’s Irish programs. (USPD)

That elegant style and those flamboyant people may not be visible to daily commuters today, but somehow, with the Luck of the Irish,  you might still catch the Shamrock’s spirit on St Patrick’s Day.

Some early greens,

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.

Read more?

Crowd of elegant people waiting to get into the Shamrocks's grand opening parties. March 17, 1949. (Houston Chronicle)

No, not a scene from the film “The Shining.” Waiting to gain entrance to the Shamrock’s Grand Opening party, St Patrick’s Day, 1949

 

 

 

31 Comments

  1. easyweimaraner / Mar 16 2016 8:14 am

    I feel sorry for the hotel… it was a place what could tell so much stories… and I wish I had seen such a party once… even when I had to go without Easy …the bathing suit is no problem, he has a mankini, but the best behavior could be a problem :o)

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 16 2016 9:36 am

      Few people outside the area know that Hollywood did exist here HA HA – even some poodles and pups belonging to high profile A-listers. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack would come in – to perform or play before heading down to gamble at Galveston’s infamous Balinese Room. My father-in-law who was a doc would get calls by some starlette at the Shamrock who was desperate to get rid of some pimple on her butt because she was filming the next day. Guess she had an itsy bitsy teeny weenie little polka dot bikini? Something tells me there was all sorts of bad behavior that went on in those suites. Thanks for dog paddling over to comment

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul / Mar 16 2016 8:54 am

    Well now, that’s neat. I wasn’t aware of the Shamrock. Cool post Phil.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 16 2016 9:30 am

      Can you just see those museum piece art deco show cars pulling in there? Thanks for taking time to splash around this comment pool.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kate Crimmins / Mar 16 2016 9:14 am

    Sad to see it go but most likely upkeep was outrageously expensive and it had outlived it’s usefulness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 16 2016 9:28 am

      The Shamrock was better built for the long term than the Motel 6’s and Holiday Inn types. The traveling pubic changed to want cheap and to be able to park the car by the door motels (with the pool steps from the door – no elevators and lobbies to cover up for). Hotels were no longer the destination. Then downtown area welcomed the Hyatt and several other high rise hotels for those wanting updated luxury and exclusivity. And there’s the fact that the medical center complex had outgrown it’s footprint and needed room (and tax write-off for Hilton). The recent addition of fountains and landscaping make it less of an eyesore. But what a inner city jewel it could have become if some deep pockets had managed to grab it (OK, get rid of the pool and cabanas)…hard to beat up a hospital complex, though!Thanks for diving in with a comment

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Robin / Mar 16 2016 11:05 am

    That’s a darn shame about the Shamrock Hotel. We’re always so quick to tear things down and replace them with parking lots. I wonder if that’s why we lose a sense of history here in the U.S. On the other hand, I suppose there are still plenty of places out this way (east) where George Washington slept (so many that it’s almost a joke).

    Liked by 2 people

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 16 2016 11:56 am

      I think it’s worse here than many places. We’ve lost so many historic buildings/architecture that are replaced with flimsy not going to last long structures. But with the current attitude of must be new, there’s little motivation to build to last.
      (So many places – George must have had clones. A man waaay ahead of his times)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The Coastal Crone / Mar 16 2016 6:22 pm

    Oh, I remember the Shamrock Hotel but did not remember that it opened on 3/17. Our family would drive from South Texas to East Texas on 59 and pass it and knew it was a glamorous place where we would never spend a night. However, in the 1960s I did attend a one-day affair there. Sad to see it close. Those were the days! Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 17 2016 1:05 pm

      Growing up, passing the Shamrock with all those elegant and the flamboyant stroll in followed by sharply dress bellman – it was all like being on the fringe of a movie set. The new hotels may be sleek and modern, but somehow lack the Hollywood style and grandness of the Shamrock. Glad you got a glimpse of it! Thanks for adding a glam comment

      Liked by 1 person

  6. heretherebespiders / Mar 16 2016 7:05 pm

    That’s a dammed shame. Thanks for giving it a loving rememberance, though. Happy Paddy’s Day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 17 2016 12:57 pm

      No doubt there will be a few of the old crowd honoring the memories on that corner today. Thanks for smiling along. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. D. Wallace Peach / Mar 16 2016 7:08 pm

    What a mammoth building and such a lavish, glamorous history. Very Hollywood. Too bad it couldn’t be saved. Thanks for the tour and the old photos. A fun post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. shoreacres / Mar 16 2016 8:36 pm

    Your comment about the Rat Pack reminds me of the stories of them descending on the NASA Hilton during the heyday of the space program. And gosh, I loved the Shamrock. When I lived in the Med Center, it was just part of the neighborhood, like Antone’s on South Main, and the Warwick fountain. Houston was a sleepier, more Southern place then, and it was a joy to live here. Even in the ’80s, when I was at the edge of River Oaks, it was more often charming than congested and (shhhhh!) crime-ridden.

    But, tempus fidgets, and on we go. At least we still have Keels and Wheels. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 17 2016 11:51 am

      And how many times have you dipped you toes in that Warwick fountain? High schoolers though they had hit the big time if they managed to attend proms/banquets at both the Warwick and the Shamrock in the same spring. The Shamrock was just a comfortable grand dame kindly overlooking the city then. Certainly was more gracious and warm years ago.Guess that’s why so many have quietly relocated to either the coast or bluebonnet fields. Thanks for slipping through time to comment

      Liked by 1 person

  9. memoirsofahusk / Mar 17 2016 5:34 am

    Back in the days when I was just a girlfriend visiting from England (and thus to be impressed) my in-laws took us to the Shamrock for a champagne brunch. Must have been not long before it received its death warrant. I was stunned to hear, a few years later, it had been knocked down – as someone coming from a less luxurious world – England – it was everything one could want – smart but not stuffy, charming but not quaint, it oozed old-fashioned glamour in a way that was hard to define. As you know, I’m raging against the destructive machine myself right now, of our industrial heritage. The medical centre is of course important, but couldn’t that green oasis have become a pearl? Well, we’ll never know. Thanks for provoking this forgotten memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 17 2016 11:44 am

      So happy you got to see the Shamrock. Always a showcase, it reflected the glamour of an era. Wishfully hoping some of that may return someday.
      At one point there was talk of keeping the pool to use for therapy sessions. What is sad to me is that all city’s new residents have no idea what stood on that corner or the history and pageantry. Except on St. Patrick’s Day when some still meet by the fountain and give a toast. So cheers! Thanks for joining in.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. notesfromrumbleycottage / Mar 17 2016 12:46 pm

    Great post. Where I live a distinctive home of the first mayor was recently torn down under an aggressive tear down rule. I realize we need to get rid of derelict buildings but a historically significant one should find a way to remain intact.

    Liked by 2 people

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 17 2016 1:11 pm

      Derelict is one thing, but as you say, historic is something different. New is not always better. One trend preservationists are trying to stop here is owners of protected registered historic buildings simply ignoring needed maintenance and neglecting to do repairs until the building is in such bad shape, there is nothing that can be done to save it and it is declared dangerous by city, then the owner can tear it down without any issues. Really sad. The old craftsmanship/stonework on some of those can not be duplicated these days. Thanks for keeping an eye on the old.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. marthaschaefer / Mar 18 2016 9:10 am

    Had not heard of this gem. I am sorry to hear no one could save it. With so few historic buildings left it is tragic no one could save it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 18 2016 11:40 am

      It was so over the top that in a few years people will think it was only a myth or a dream. Quite dreamy it was.Thanks for wandering these halls and packing a comment

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Erik / Mar 21 2016 12:20 am

    You managed to make me nostalgic for an era in which I never lived and a place I’d never been. Kudos.

    Like

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 21 2016 11:20 am

      Rather like Brigadoon. Photos tease with so much. Thanks for gliding by to cruise and peruse.

      Like

  13. Kourtney Heintz / Mar 23 2016 7:01 pm

    It’s so frustrating when people refuse to preserve historical places. Every time I go to Penn Station in New York, I wish I was at the original one and not this awful monstrosity. Thank goodness Grand Central was saved.

    Like

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 24 2016 7:51 am

      And all those elegant art deco movie theaters! What a loss. How will kids ever experience the wonder and amazement – the multiplex cinemas do not have the same atmosphere…and seem stickier. Thanks for keeping an eye on the past

      Like

  14. jmmcdowell / Mar 27 2016 4:58 pm

    We’ve lost some great buildings—and put up some monstrosities in their places. I can think of a lot of 1950s/60s buildings in DC that I would love to see replaced by something far more appealing to the eye. I swear the same architects responsible for Soviet architecture had their way with building in our capital!

    Like

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 27 2016 5:17 pm

      Had to laugh as I had some of the same thoughts about the architecture. Some of the old classic – even Victorian styles – do have something to offer. DC is such a cool place to wander – always something to discover. Cherry blossoms now? Hopping outside would be really great. Thanks for constructing a comment to leave

      Like

      • jmmcdowell / Mar 27 2016 5:57 pm

        The cherries peaked this weekend, a bit on the early side but that’s not uncommon. Gray and gloomy today and for much of the upcoming week, but we had a few beautiful sunny days last week. Lots of flowering trees and bulbs are right there with the cherry blossoms. 🙂

        Like

        • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 27 2016 7:09 pm

          It’s blooming season here,too. Birds were happy today once the fog lifted. Not too easy to stay inside, but best get out before the next front tries to come through.

          Like

  15. pnwauthor / Mar 31 2016 9:41 am

    Ah, what a shame, history destroyed and only the parking lots remain. Ooh, that rhymes. Similar situations happened in Seattle with the Emerald City Music Hall and in Bellingham, WA with an opera house and a grand hotel. One was replaced by a gas station and now the gas station is being replaced by condos, I believe. The history of a building though is the stuff of biographies and historical fiction.

    Like

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Mar 31 2016 10:06 am

      I always enjoy visiting a Carnegie Library. Those building, solidly built, are designed to inspire and encourage as well as to hold treasures of information. Even the stairs up to the impressive entrance was designed as a quiet symbol noting a person’s “elevation” by learning and going towards knowledge. Buildings and architecture does impact a person’s thoughts and actions. Which brings up parking lots, stop and go’s, and strip centers are teaching or symbolizing what today and to the current generations watching?
      As you say, words and photos are critical history. Thanks for building such a great comment

      Liked by 1 person

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