A Piece of Houston's Downtown Legacy Up For Auction

Houston's oldest social club is closing its doors in downtown. Established in 1894, The Houston Club will be selling everything from paintings to kitchen fixtures. This auction marks the end of a certain era in Houston's history.

The celebration of the oil boom in Houston coincided with the commiseration over Prohibition. So in the early to mid 20th century if you wanted to do business over an alcoholic beverage you had to be a member of a private club.

“And this was the club you belonged to.”

David Bush is with Preservation Houston, an organization dedicated to preserving Houston’s heritage.

“It was a much smaller city. So there was much closer knit elite.”

The Houston Club began its life in the Chamber of Commerce building in downtown. Then business and civic leader Jesse Jones built its next home on 811 Rusk Street where it’s been since 1955. It was the go-to place for Houston’s businessmen, with emphasis on the word men. 

“They were very clear that it was a men’s club. It didn’t get its first female member until 1982.”

Women were allowed to work at the Houston Club though and Irma Jane Skillern has been a bartender there for nearly 30 years. She’s served and become attached to many of Houston’s elite.

“I’ve had some good moments here and some I wouldn’t say not so good you know. When I lose a member it touches me.”

She also calls up members who haven’t been in for awhile because they might be ill. Just like one of their most famous members Former President George H.W. Bush, who has a room in the Bush family name on the 9th floor.

She continues to serve every one of her members in The Houston Club’s new home about 4 minutes away. It’s bunking in with The Plaza Club on the 49th Floor of One Shell Plaza, but the combined name is The Houston Club.

As auctioneers prepare for Saturday’s event, the 1955 art-deco structure now seems like a shadow of its former glory.  Particularly the Texas Room a room which hosted many society weddings. Now it appears a little jaded and almost every inch of its floor is covered with pictures, rugs, punch bowls, chairs and much more.

David Lewis is an auctioneer with Lewis and Maese Antiques. He’s describing some of the popular pieces that will feature at the auction on Saturday.

“These are A.D. Greer’s he’s a very famous artist. There’s a pink dogwood and a white dogwood. Those will do well. And then these have had a lot of interest. These are the dog plates.”

But I think bidder John Graves may have snagged those already.

“Well I’m interested in art the Wedgewood American hunting dog plates.”

Graves will have his chance at a piece of The Houston Club’s history tomorrow morning starting at 11 a.m.. Everything must go as the nearly 350,000 square foot building is set to be demolished and with it the end of an era for many Houstonians.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...