Gone, but not forgotten: 4 formerly famous Houston attractions

Shamrock Hotel Postcard
Shamrock Hotel Postcard (American Oil & Gas Historical Society)

Whether they were reduced to rubble (e.g. The Shamrock Hotel, AstroWorld, Gilley’s Nightclub) or merely boarded up and abandoned so to speak (e.g. The Astrodome), some of Houston’s most iconic attractions just aren’t around anymore. These defunct destinations may have met their end, untimely or otherwise, but they still loom large in the city’s history.

Peruse the list below for a look back at some of the city’s most memorable lost landmarks.

Gilley’s

Legendary Pasadena nightclub Gilley’s, once billed the world’s largest honky-tonk, operated from 1970 to 1989.

Upon opening, the club filled to capacity nightly, according to the Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas. Notable attractions included a shooting gallery, showers for truckers, a rodeo arena with mechanical bulls, pool tables, punching bags, and a massive dance floor. In its heyday, Gilley’s repped a 6,000-person capacity and it was even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest honky-tonk.

The club was immortalized in the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy," which ushered Texas honky-tonk culture into the national spotlight and launched a craze around mechanical bulls. The movie is adapted from a 1978 Esquire cover story of the same name detailing the rocky romance of two Gilley’s regulars, Dew Westbrook and Betty Helmer, renamed Bud and Sissy in the film and played by John Travolta and Debra Winger. Most of the movie was filmed inside Gilley’s. Following its on-screen debut, the club became one of the Houston area’s biggest tourist attractions and in 1984, The Academy of Country Music awarded Gilley’s the title “best nightclub of the year.”

Gilley’s burned down in 1990. The Pasadena Independent School District purchased the lot in 1992. In 2005, the school district demolished the remaining structures and built a middle school on the site, according to the Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas.


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