Gulf Building, Houston

By: Sally S. Victor

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: February 21, 2017

The Gulf Building is one of the preeminent Art Deco skyscrapers in the southwestern United States. Architects Alfred C. Finn, Kenneth Franzheim, and J. E. R. Carpenter were commissioned in 1927 by Jesse H. Jones to design a structure of strikingly modern style and commanding height. From its completion in 1929 until 1931 it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, and from 1929 until 1963 it dominated the skyline of Houston as its tallest building.

The building, at Main Street and Rusk Avenue in the downtown financial and petroleum business district, is of steel frame construction, clad in Indiana limestone, supported by a six-story base, and T-shaped in plan; it carries a thirty-story tower faced with tapestry brick laid in Flemish bond. The architects utilized Eliel Saarinen's stepped profile design, which diminishes in volume as it rises. The construction cost of the building has been estimated at $3.5 million. Two annexes were subsequently added in 1946 and 1949, both designed by Alfred C. Finn. Between 1981 and 1986 the Gulf Building was renovated and restored by the Houston architectural firm Sikes, Jennings, Kelly for its owner, Texas Commerce Bank.

The observation deck atop the tower housed an aeronautical beacon and a telescope. It is said that on a clear day Galveston (a distance of approximately fifty-five miles) was clearly visible through the telescope. The Main Street lobby is richly decorated with eight frescoes illustrating the history of Texas and Houston, painted by New York artist Vincent Maragliotti, with vaulted ceilings, and with fixtures of decorative polished nickel and etched glass in panels of raised arches, scrolls, rays, and chevrons. In the Travis Street banking hall fluted pilasters define the walls and entrances to other parts of the building. A massive stained-glass window depicting the battle of San Jacinto was installed in 1960. From 1966 to 1974 the company insignia of the Gulf Oil Corporation, an orange fifty-three-foot-high rotating neon disc, was affixed to the rooftop where the beacon and telescope had been. Known locally as the Gulf Lollipop, it was loved by some and considered gauche by others, but was a landmark to all.

Though the Gulf Building no longer dominates the Houston skyline, it remains a treasure of Houston's past in a downtown district now dominated by glass, aluminum, and concrete. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Houston Post-Dispatch, May 15, 1927. Bascom N. Timmons, Jesse H. Jones (New York: Holt, 1956).

  • Architecture
  • Other Structures
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Sally S. Victor, “Gulf Building, Houston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

January 1, 1995
February 21, 2017

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: