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sellcitySelling the City

The people, the places, the events and the ideas that shape this ardent, divergent and vibrant city.

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Houston is pretty cool. I know all you hear is the weather is horrible, there is traffic, pollution, it’s not as pretty as California— whine, whine. But here’s the deal: it is hot enough in the summer to make you appreciate the winter and cold enough in the winter to make you appreciate the summer. Visit Chicago in November, then tell me we have lousy weather. And no one can deny that the early winter weather in this city is amazing. I mean, what other city has “patio season.” Houston offers a great climate for business-- energy, medicine, the port, universities, the list goes on and on. Hermann park is gorgeous, the colorful, shop-packed streets of Montrose are a flavorful sight, Discovery Green and the new Market Square renovation have breathed new life into downtown and made the city greener, the downtown skyline is a knock-out at sunset, the sunsets themselves are amazing (thanks pollution), Rienzi and Bayou Bend are great looking, as is Allen’s landing at Buffalo Bayou. I guess you could say that diversity has not only shaped Houston, but has defined it as well. You can go out and meet someone from any part of the globe, or find a restaurant that serves food from almost everywhere in the world. There are outlets for any interest you can imagine, from art and literature to any type of music, theater, dance, sports and beyond. The historical aspect of our city is also quite unique. Every city has a history and every big city has, by nature, a rich and varied past. Houston is no different, but what is special here is availability. You needn’t visit a museum to learn of the city’s past because it’s everywhere—we get to walk or drive past it everyday. 3921 Yoakum, now part of St. Thomas, was the childhood home of Howard Hughes, his grave rests down Washington, the same street that houses Rockefeller’s, originally the Heights State Bank, which was once robbed by Bonnie and Clyde. Some say you can still see the bullet marks on the building’s façade. And speaking of that dynamic duo, it is rumored that the two of them visited the old theater on West 19th, whenever they happened to be in town on business. These are just a couple examples and there are millions more. Here are some of our favorites…

Port of Houston

The Port of Houston is a 25-mile-long complex of diversified public and private facilities resting just a few hours’ sailing time from the Gulf of Mexico. It is the busiest port in the U.S. in terms of foreign tonnage, second busiest in terms of overall tonnage and the 15th busiest in the world. Originally the port was located at the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou downtown, the area known as “Allen’s Landing,” near the U of H downtown. This is recognized as the birthplace of the City of Houston, as the shipping business not only fueled, but practically created the city’s economy.

NASA

Though the organization’s future is unclear, Houston is still home to this groundbreaking and historical enterprise. The location also houses Space Center Houston, a place where children can have fun while learning and even sample astronaut food.

Festivals

Houston offers festivals of every kind. There is the International Festival, Greek Fest, Turkish Fest, Italian Fest, and the Free Press Music Festival, who in just its’ few short years, has already garnered international attention. There is the Bayou City Art Festival, Art of the Avenue, Gay Pride, the Westheimer Street Festival (now much smaller in scale but still very cool) and there are hundreds more.

Architecture

Houston is home to some prestigious architecture by the likes of some very famous names. The J.P. Morgan Chase building was designed by I.M. Pei, as was the Hilton Houston Post Oak, there are a ton by Gerald Hines, and a building in River Oaks that is supposedly an early Norman Rockwell. The skyline is also quite beautiful and is the third largest in the U.S.

Texas Medical Center

The cutting edge of medical care and research goes on right here. Not only does it fuel our economy, it saves lives. MD Anderson is the premier cancer center in the world is where the venerable heart surgeon Michael Ellis De- Bakey began his career.

THE PLACES


Museums

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston rotates some of the masterpieces from around the world regularly. Look forward to their upcoming display of art from the National Gallery. The Museum of Natural Science also showcases some pretty interesting specimens, running the gamut from a corpse flower to mummies and beyond. There is also the Health Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Museum of Printing History, the Blaffer at the University of Houston, the list goes on and on. And not every city has such a plethora of options when it comes to this sort of thing, and all pretty close to one another at that. You have to admit, we’re pretty lucky.

The Houston Ballet

The fourth largest professional ballet company in the U.S., it has one of the largest endowments held by a dance company in the country and produces around 75 shows every year at Wortham Theater Center.

Shopping

The Galleria, need I say more? Probably not but I will anyway. Houston has not just the Galleria, a shopping destination chock full of the best designer labels as well as low and mid-priced gear. We also have the mecca of trend on the Westheimer strip in the Montrose, upscale boutiques in Rice Village, Uptown Park and Highland Village, hipper but still pricey shops in River Oaks, knock-off fabulous in Harwin and antiques and retro cool on West 19th in the Heights.

Discovery Green

This downtown oasis is not just easy on the eyes but it is dedicated to health and fitness, for all members of the family, for free. You can take your kids to a lush patch of green amidst skyscrapers and learn yoga for free. How cool is that?

Tony’s

Tony Vallone’s eponymous eatery turns 46 this year and is still going strong, wowing foodies and hosting parties, ladies who lunch and ambience and service that is synonymous with Tony’s. Renowned New York food and wine critic John Mariani has been a Tony’s fan for more than a quarter of a century. “Early on I recognized he was one of the most important restaurateurs in Houston, “ Mariani says. In fact, Vallone begat an eatery empire: La Grigila, Grotto, Valone’s and Anthony’s – all foodie havens and see-and-be-seen places. He also inspired an entire generation of chefs who sprang from his kitchen and have now opened their own eateries including such celebrities as Mark Cox and Monica Pope. “I slowed down for a while but now I’m back!” Vallone exclaims. And indeed he is. As Tony’s turns 46 this year he now shuttles back and forth between the famous foodie haven and his new Ciao Bello restaurants, and more recently Café Bello.

Blanco’s Bar & Grill

The ramshackle powder blue sits on a huge shell crushed lot on W. Alabama at Buffalo Speedway in the shadow of high-rise apartments and new office buildings. Pretty prime real estate for a country bar. But it didn’t start out that way. About forty years ago the one-story wooden structure was built as a child daycare center. Barry E. DeBakey, son of Dr. Michael DeBakey opened Blanco’s almost 30 years ago in river Oaks. The bar and grill is now a local landmark.

Pappas Restaurants

Founded by brothers Pete and Jim Pappas in the mid ‘70s, Pappas Bros. today boasts more than 60 locations. Their original restaurant was the beloved Dot Coffee Shop just outside of downtown along I-45. The company has grown to include such staples as Pappadeaux, Pappas Seafood House, Pappasito’s, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and Intown favorite Little Pappas Seafood Kitchen. More recently they’ve purchased Luby’s and Fuddruckers chains.

Willie G’s

This place still stands on Post Oak, surrounded by new streets and high rises. Tilman Fertitta bought an interest in Landry’s and Willie G’s. Fertitta took the company public in 1993 and Landry’s has become the parent of a chain of seafood houses, Kemah boardwalk, Downtown Aquarium, Pesce, Vic & Anthony’s, Saltgrass among others.

The Spindletop

Downtown’s only rotating restaurant, 26 floors up at the Hyatt is now revamped (after the destruction inflicted upon it by Hurricane Ike) and back in business. The food there is great but that’s not why we mention the Spindletop. We mention it because it is, and has for a long time been both a Houston institution and landmark. It is a part of our skyline and our history.

Carrabba’s

Founded in 1986 by Johnny Carrabba and his uncle Damian Mandola, Carraba’s Italian Grill opened its first location on Kirby Drive. A second location opened soon after at the intersection of Woodway and Voss. In no time it became the place for quick yet upscale business lunch and is now incredibly popular with professionals and families alike. Outside of Houston, Carrabba’s partered up with OSI Restaurant Partners and now has a chain of over 200 restaurants in 27 states, though the original places, and the original people, remain in our hometown.

Market Square

The newly remodeled downtown park is a beautiful homage to the city’s rich history while remaining utilitarian— i.e., the dog run and has a Niko Niko’s to boot – how awesome is that? It also hosts free live music performances and perhaps best of all, is surrounded by some of the coolest bars in the city.

THE EVENTS


Minute Maid Park

a.k.a. the Ballpark at Union Station and formerly Enron Field, this peach of a park opened in April of ’99. The Astros’ home was renamed in 2002 after the Houston-based fruit juice Coca-Cola subsiderary. The park’s unique design blends in beautifully with the skyscrapers of downtown, and with an added touch of history, kept the nearly 100 year-old Union Station building in tact. The park’s draw has helped to revamp downtown with a plethora of new restaurants, bars and other attractions. Sports fans can rejoice, as the Rockets’ Toyota Center is right around the corner, soon to be joined by the new Dynamo Stadium, set to open in fall of 2012. Too bad the Texans didn’t elect to put Reliant Stadium downtown!

Parks

Hermann Park - This 445 acre museum district park includes a reflection pool, jogging trail, Japanese garden and the Hermann Park Golf Course and Club House. It is a rare and fine thing to be able to play golf at a great looking public park right in the heart of the city and again, Houston has it.
Memorial Park - This 1,466 acre park along Memorial Drive includes facilities for tennis, softball, jogging and cycling. It also encompasses the 18-hole Memorial Park Golf Course, one of the highest rated municipal golf courses in the state.

Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

It all began as the Houston Fat Stock Show and Livestock Exposition, formed in 1931 over lunch at the Texas State Houston as the cattle marketplace. It was also meant to benefit the youth of Texas by providing prize money for those associated with FFA and 4-H. The first show was held in 1932 at Sam Houston Hall, a wooden structure built to house 1928 Democratic National Convention. The first star entertainer appeared in 1942, in the form of Gene Autry, the most popular country and western musician of the time. One of the original motives behind the rodeo found broader fruition in 1957, with the award of the first major educational scholarship in the amount of $2,000. Four years later the name of the event was officially changed to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, moved from the old Sam Houston Hall to the brand new Astrodome, with the Astrohall building just for the Livestock Exposition. 1974 brought two more feats: the genesis of the World’s Championship Bar B-Que Contest and the monumental performance of Elvis Presley, who set the attendance record of 43,944, breaking his own record with a second show on the same day, with 44,175.

Festivals

Houston offers festivals of every kind. There is the International Festival, Greek Fest, Turkish Fest, Italian Fest, and the Free Press Music Festival, who in just its’ few short years, has already garnered international attention. There is the Bayou City Art Festival, Art of the Avenue, Gay Pride, the Westheimer Street Festival (now much smaller in scale but still very cool) and there are hundreds more.

Major League Sports

Houston is one of the few big cities to not just adopt a Major League Soccer team but truly support them completely. The new Dynamo stadium will energize fans and perk up the downtown area even more. And if soccer isn’t your thing, we’ve got Rockets basketball, Houston Texans football, Astros baseball and even hockey.

THE PEOPLE


Michael Ellis DeBakey

This world-renowned cardiac surgeon, scientist and educator was the chancellor emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and director of The Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center and senior attending surgeon of The Methodist Hospital in Houston. DeBakey is celebrated for his invention of the roller pump, an essential medical component that made open-heart surgery possible. His long list of awards includes the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Foundation for Biomedical Research and in 2000 he was cited as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. On April 23, 2008, he received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush.

Gerald D. Hines

Hines arrived in Houston in 1938, a time when the city was busting at the seams with a bustling port and big oil. But it was big buildings that caught Hines’ fancy. His company operates in 100 cities and has built, acquired or managed more than 1,000 properties. His eponymous company is also responsible for the downtown Shell Oil Company headquarters, Penzoil Place and Williams Tower, just to name a few here and there in our city. He’s known for using such stellar architects as I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Cesar Pelli, Frank Gehry and Robert A. M. Stern. His building currently under construction in downtown Houston, MainPlace, will set a new standard for green building in our city.

ZZ Top

Maybe not as popular as the Stones or the Beatles but perhaps as enduring, at least in Houston, is ZZ Top, a band who’s style and swagger shaped much of the ‘80s. Founded in 1969 in a “little old town in Texas,” Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard recorded their first album with their new name in 1970 at “The Cellar.” In 1973 they recorded Tres Hombres, which included the classic hits “La Grange” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” In 2004 ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by none other than Keith Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones and living embodiment of rock and roll.

Beyonce

The singer, songwriter, actress and fashion designer was born and raised right here in Htown, attended HSPVA and Alief Elsik High School. Her rise to international fame began with the girl group Destiny’s Child and she is now a household name in countries where English is not even the spoken language. Her career is prolific to say the least and incredibly profitable. Her estimated net worth as of February 2010 is over $315 million. But all that money doesn’t stay in her pocket. Beyonce donated $100,000 to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund, which benefited Houston victims in the line of that hurricane’s treacherous path. She is also said to be organizing a fundraising benefit for Ike victims through the Survivor Foundation.