The Shamrock Hotel was a luxurious hotel located in Houston, Texas. The hotel was named after the shamrock. This was a symbol throughout history of Ireland and a nod to the Irish heritage of its developer. After three years of construction, the Shamrock was finished in 1949 by Glen McCarthy, a Texas oilman. Born in 1907, McCarthy was only 42 when the hotel was finished. He made sure that the color of green from his Irish roots were reflected not only in the hotel name, but in the décor, uniforms of staff, and in many other ways.
The Shamrock was designed by architect Wyatt C. Hedrick. Hedrick had a lot of experience building municipal facilities and banks. He seemed to extend that type of design to that of the Shamrock and was roundly criticized by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright for its unimaginative institution-like exterior. Nevertheless, the hotel was a magnificent structure with a grand lobby, over 1,000 rooms, and 18 floors. The hotel was decorated with ornate details, such as marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and mahogany woodwork.
McCarthy was a born risk-taker, but he may have miscalculated his ability to fill those 1,000 rooms for two reasons:
First: He had counted on traffic from visitors to the newly announced Texas Medical Center, adjacent to the hotel property. Unfortunately, there were more than 3 ensuing years before such organizations as Hermann Hospital, Methodist Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, and M. D. Anderson Cancer Center were really going strong.
Second: McCarthy had built his hotel over three miles from Houston’s business center downtown. While it did draw celebrity and “luxury” travelers, many potential business guests bedded down closer to town. His having attended nearby Rice University may also have played a role in his site selection.
Pulling Out All the Stops
Still, the Shamrock Hilton was a popular destination for tourists, celebrities, and politicians. In the 1950s and 1960s, the hotel hosted many famous guests, including Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The hotel was also known for its extravagant parties, with events such as the “Mardi Gras Ball” and the “Irish Coffee Festival” drawing large crowds.
The festivities marking the Grand Opening of the Shamrock Hotel took place fittingly on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1949. Charter planes and trains whisked many celebrities there for the massive party. Special commemorative issues of The Houston Post were distributed. Over 2,000 people dined that evening in the enormous Grand Ballroom of the hotel. Everyday guests that could afford the $42 price of dinner could rub shoulders with the likes of Errol Flynn, Hedda Hopper, Ginger Rogers, and Robert Preston. A nationwide radio hookup was hosted by movie star Dorothy Lamour. The evening proved wild and raucous. Fist fights broke out between some over-served patrons, and Lamour was said to have fled the stage at one point in tears.
Glen spent lavishly on such room amenities as televisions, kitchenettes, and piped-in music. The hotel had a 25,000 square foot exhibit hall in its adjacent parking garage. He even had one of the world’s largest swimming pools outside. It was big enough to host exhibition waterskiing. The pool also had a 3-story-high diving platform.
Many famous performers appeared at the hotel’s various venues over the years. Here are just a few examples:
Nat King Cole
The Beach Boys
In addition to high profile acts at the hotel, Edna Ferber helped immortalize The Shamrock in her novel, and subsequent movie, Giant. McCarthy was portrayed by James Dean in the role of Jett Rink – an only slightly fictionalized version of himself. Rink, and hence Glen McCarthy, were shown to all the world as the quintessential Texas oil tycoon. The grand opening of the hotel was also covered in detail.
Can’t Stop the Bleeding
Nevertheless, the hotel seldom if ever filled all 1,000 rooms. In 1954, Hilton Hotels took over management of the Shamrock. While the Shamrock Hotel had some measure of success over the years, the property was ultimately turned over to The Texas Medical Center in the 1980s, and the hotel was demolished in 1987. McCarthy, long since removed from association with The Shamrock, died just one year after the demise of the hotel. The property now contains the Texas A&M University Health Science Center.
- Year Started: 1949
- Year Ended: 1987
- Origin Of Name: Irish Heritage of the Developer
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Glen McCarthy
- Owner While In Use: Hilton Hotels
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Hilton Hotels
- Naics Code: 721110
- Location Headquarters: Houston, Texas, USA