One of Houston’s oldest and most historic hotels is also one of its newest. First opened in 1963, this venerated hotel’s fortunes came full-circle in April 2016 with a $5 million renovation and, much to Houstonians’ delight, a return to the name everyone still called it anyway: The Whitehall.
It’s been a gala year for the grand old landmark. In addition to its renaissance as a major hotel destination, in January, Historic Hotels of America welcomed The Whitehall into its prestigious ranks. Historic Hotels of America’s member hotels range in age from 125 to 52 years, and eight of The Whitehall’s fellow inductees are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Welton Becket and Associates, one of the country’s largest architectural firms, designed The Whitehall as a flagship for the firm’s unique concept of “total design.” Becket and his associates did it all: architectural design, engineering, interior design, furniture, fixtures, landscaping and signage. Even The Whitehall’s silverware, napery and menus received the Becket touch.
Located in the heart of the central business district next door to the theater district, The Whitehall was Houston’s quintessential business hotel – but with a stylish twist. Regal but also glamorous, it boasted gleaming marble floors and a massive spiral staircase widely regarded as the first of its kind when constructed.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, as the Bayou City transitioned from a prosperous regional city into the world’s oil and energy capital with a thriving arts and music scene, the world beat a path to Houston’s door – and stayed at The Whitehall. High-profile guests have included Sonny and Cher, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Bob Dylan, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The first Whitehall shut its doors in 1991, a casualty of the general economic downturn of the early 1990s. An investment group purchased the property in the late 1990s, poured $25 million into modernizing the hotel and reopened it as the Crowne Plaza Houston Downtown, a name that most Houstonians ignored.
When the hotel changed hands again in 2013, the purchaser, Sotherly Hotels, a Virginia- based luxury hotel group, introduced their trademark luxury into every facet of their renovation. Infusing Southern elegance with local Texas and Mexican elements to create a uniquely Houston ambiance, Sotherly restored the original marble floors as well as the famous spiral staircase and renovated the 259 rooms, the restaurants and meeting spaces.
Best of all, The Whitehall (officially) has had its name – and its glamorous history – restored.