Grand Central Station, Houston


By: Ron Bass

Type: General Entry

Published: August 26, 2020

Updated: August 26, 2020


A series of Grand Central Station buildings served Houston’s rail traffic from the late 1880s until 1959. In 1856 the Houston and Texas Central Railway Company (HTC) laid the first tracks from Houston toward the interior of the state. The line constructed its rail yard along Railroad Street, north of Washington Avenue, and built a small depot, the Texas Central Depot, on Railroad Street at 4th Street. Texas had only about 400 miles of railroads in 1860 and virtually all of that radiated out from Houston.

After the Civil War, the HTC dramatically expanded its track mileage. With Texas rail mileage growing rapidly, the Southern Pacific Railroad acquired the Houston and Texas Central Railway in 1883 and by 1887 constructed a three-story brick Grand Central Station to replace Texas Central Depot. Located on the north side of Washington Avenue, the new depot ran the entire length of the block between 7th Street and 8th Street. As railroads became an important mode of transportation for the public and passenger traffic increased significantly, Houston entrepreneurs sought to provide accommodations. Beginning the 1890s several hotels in the vicinity of Grand Central Station served arriving passengers, traveling businessmen, and others—the Grand Central Hotel, the Lawlor Hotel, the Brazos Hotel by  1906, and the Macatee Hotel. In 1922 the Tennison Hotel, designed by prominent Houston architect Joseph Finger, opened as a “popularly priced” hotel with rooms at $2 per night. Of these, only the Tennison building survived in the 2020s.

Houston rail continued to grow into the early twentieth century. Grand Central Station was remodeled twice, in 1906 and 1914. By 1924 Grand Central consisted of a passenger depot in the main building, railroad offices on the second and third floors, offices in the east wing, and a baggage room and mail facilities in the west wing. On the depot’s north side, two 600-foot-long train sheds stood above the tracks and provided protection from the elements for waiting passengers.

On September 1, 1934, a new passenger depot opened as a joint project between the city of Houston and Southern Pacific Railroad. The venture, at a cost of more than $4 million, also included improvements to city streets and Buffalo Bayou. Architect Wyatt C. Hedrick designed the station in a modern Art Deco style, with an exterior of Texas Cordova cream-colored limestone set on a base of Texas pink granite. The spacious main waiting room had a forty-one-foot-high ceiling, marble and terrazzo floor, walls with marble wainscoting, and black walnut trim. Each end of the main room displayed murals by San Francisco artist John McQuarrie—one mural of Stephen F. Austin and Baron de Bastrop in 1823 and the other of Sam Houston entering Houston in 1837. Offices, a restaurant, kitchen, and barbershop in the west wing adjoined the main waiting room. The east wing held smaller racially-segregated waiting rooms for African American men and women, as well as railroad offices, a lunch room, and the baggage room.

The station’s heyday of the 1930s, however, dwindled during the next twenty-five years as air and auto travel diminished the role of railroads for the traveling public. Grand Central Station served approximately twenty-eight trains daily in 1934. In 1959 that number dropped to four trains per day. Grand Central Station closed that year, and a much smaller depot, operated by the Southern Pacific, opened at 902 Washington Avenue in the fall of 1959 and still served Amtrak traffic in the 2010s. The Grand Central Station building was sold to the federal government in 1959 and subsequently demolished. The main Houston post office was constructed at the site.

Louis F. Aulbach, Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston's Wilderness Beginnings (Houston: CreateSpace, 2011). David M. Bernstein, Southern Pacific Railroad in Eastern Texas (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011), The Great American Stations: Houston, TX (https://www.greatamericanstations.com/stations/houston-tx-hos/), accessed July 9, 2020.

Categories:
  • Architecture
  • Other Structures
  • Transportation and Railroads
  • Urbanization
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ron Bass, “Grand Central Station, Houston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/grand-central-station-houston.

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August 26, 2020
August 26, 2020

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