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Houston History: Remembering the lavish Shamrock Hotel

Postcard featuring photographs of the exterior and interior of the Shamrock Hilton.
Postcard featuring photographs of the exterior and interior of the Shamrock Hilton. (Hospitality Industry Archives, Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston)

HOUSTON – During the 1950s, Houston’s Shamrock Hotel was the place to be. It was one of the most extravagant and over-the-top social centers for many Houstonians and visitors from around the country.

Built by oilman Glenn H. McCarthy, the Shamrock Hotel brought hundreds of Hollywood stars for the St. Patrick’s Day grand opening on March 17, 1949. It’s believed prominent Houstonians, dignitaries and actors flew in for this grand event, drawing a crowd of 50,000 people outside of the hotel.

Located at the intersection of Main Street and Holcombe Boulevard, this 18-story, 1,100-room capacity was the grandest hotel in Texas when it was built. At the time, it was considered the largest hotel outside of New York or Los Angeles.

Nicknamed as the Houston Riviera, this was an elaborate and lavish hotel was filled with a variety of extraordinary amenities. The hotel had multiple restaurants, bars, lounges, hosted social events and was also used as a set for ABC’s radio production, “Saturdays at the Shamrock.”

Of course, no hotel is complete without a pool. According to the Heritage Society, the pool was a “modified fan-shape” with rounded corners and was 165 feet long and 142 feet wide. It’s believed the swimming pool even hosted water skiing exhibitions, complete with motorboats.

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

However, it wasn’t just it’s amenities that captured the attention of many of its guests. The interior designs were nothing near ordinary. Its interiors consisted of 63 shades of Irish green, an homage to McCarthy’s Irish culture. It’s most known interiors were the Emerald Room (its nightclub) and the Cork Club (a private social club).

In 1954 the property was acquired by the Hilton Hotels Corporation, which operated it until 1986 as the Shamrock Hilton. In 1985 the Shamrock property was sold by Hilton to the Texas Medical Center, Incorporated.

Sadly, the hotel was demolished in June of 1987. Today the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology now sits on the site of the once star-studded hotel.

Learn more about the history of the Shamrock Hotel in HoustonPBS’s documentary “In Search of Houston’s History” below.