Houston Matters

Remembering the Shamrock Hotel — and what it changed about historic preservation in Houston

The iconic Houston hotel was demolished 35 years ago this month.

A postcard of Houston’s Shamrock Hotel.

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Thirty-five years ago this month, Houston's iconic Shamrock Hotel was demolished.

All these years later, longtime Houstonians still talk about the Shamrock, the over-the-top, 18-story, 1,100-room hotel that featured a massive swimming pool big enough to accommodate exhibition waterskiing.

Water skiing in the massive pool at the Shamrock Hotel.

The brainchild of oil magnate Glenn McCarthy, the hotel – with its Irish theme and green-tiled roof – opened on St. Patrick's Day 1949 with celebrities and movie stars flown in for the event.

The Shamrock Hotel Ribbon Cutting
Wikipedia Commons
Glenn McCarthy cuts the ribbon of Houston’s Shamrock Hotel in 1949.

But, over the years, the hotel struggled to keep up enough occupancy to stay solvent. It was eventually sold to the Hilton Hotels Corporation and later the Texas Medical Center, which had it demolished in 1987 despite public outcry and protests.

All that remains of the hotel is its parking garage, and a parking lot occupies the space the resort itself once stood. Few facts are more fittingly Houston.

Houston’s Shamrock Hotel in the process of being demolished in 1987.

While the hotel and its glitz are long gone, its loss may have helped save many other significant structures in our city's landscape – and has plenty to teach us about how historic preservation has changed since.

To learn more, Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty went down to where the hotel once stood in what is now the Texas Medical Center and spoke with Jim Parsons of Preservation Houston.

And he went to Galveston to meet with retired Englished professor Jeff Lindemann, who has a large collection of Shamrock memorabilia and is researching and writing a book about the hotel’s history.

SLIDESHOW: Shamrock Hotel Memorabilia

  • A brick from the Shamrock Hotel, a green roof tile, and other items in Jeff Lindemann's collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A brick from the Shamrock Hotel, a green roof tile, and other items in Jeff Lindemann's collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A piece of the green roof tiles from the Shamrock Hotel.
    A piece of the green roof tiles from the Shamrock Hotel.
  • An program/menu from the star-studded opening night of Houston's Shamrock Hotel on St. Patrick's Day, 1949. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    An program/menu from the star-studded opening night of Houston's Shamrock Hotel on St. Patrick's Day, 1949. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • Souvenir menus from the Shamrock Hotel that are part of Jeff Lindemann's collection of Shamrock memorabilia.
    Souvenir menus from the Shamrock Hotel that are part of Jeff Lindemann's collection of Shamrock memorabilia.
  • Memorabilia from the Cork Club at the Shamrock Hotel from Jeff Lindemann's collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Memorabilia from the Cork Club at the Shamrock Hotel from Jeff Lindemann's collection. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A working chandelier from the Shamrock Hotel, which is now in the dining room of Galveston's Jeff Lindemann. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A working chandelier from the Shamrock Hotel, which is now in the dining room of Galveston's Jeff Lindemann. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A working candelabra wall sconce from the Shamrock Hotel, which is now adorns the dining room of Galveston's Jeff Lindemann. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A working candelabra wall sconce from the Shamrock Hotel, which is now adorns the dining room of Galveston's Jeff Lindemann. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • Tiki drinks from Trader Vic's restaurant inside the Shamrock Hotel.
    Tiki drinks from Trader Vic's restaurant inside the Shamrock Hotel.
  • Souvenir menus from the Shamrock Hotel featuring images of featured entertainers.
    Souvenir menus from the Shamrock Hotel featuring images of featured entertainers.
  • A souvenir plate from the Shamrock Hotel.
    A souvenir plate from the Shamrock Hotel.
  • Fine dinnerware from Houston's defunct Shamrock Hotel.
    Fine dinnerware from Houston's defunct Shamrock Hotel.
  • Dinnerware from the Shamrock Hotel. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Dinnerware from the Shamrock Hotel. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • A brochure from the Shamrock. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    A brochure from the Shamrock. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
  • Jeff Lindemann poses in his home with items from his collection of Shamrock Hotel memorabilia. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Jeff Lindemann poses in his home with items from his collection of Shamrock Hotel memorabilia. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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