Changing Houston

Iconic Houston building that dates back to the 1920s could become another luxury apartment tower

Iconic, historic Houston building could become more luxury apartments

Great Southwest Building former Petroleum Building Todd Interests rendering February 2015
An early rendering showing redevelopment plans for the Great Southwest Building, originally the Petroleum Building, in downtown Houston. HoustonArchitecture.com
Great Southwest Building former Petroleum Building
The Great Southwest Building as it stands today. Photo by Jim Porter/Wikipedia
Petroleum Building historic photo
Archive photo of the original Petroleum Building. Houston Metropolitan Research Center/Houston Public Library
Great Southwest Building former Petroleum Building Todd Interests rendering February 2015
Great Southwest Building former Petroleum Building
Petroleum Building historic photo

Preliminary plans are circulating showing the 1927 Art Deco-style Great Southwest Building, formerly the Petroleum Building, as one of the latest possible residential towers for downtown Houston.

The Downtown Living Initiative recently approved an incentive for Dallas-based Todd Interests' proposed redevelopment of the iconic 21-story building located at 1314 Texas Ave. An early rendering of the reconfiguration includes 162 units, as well as 11 townhomes and a parking garage.

The rendering also shows the word "Petroleum" in an Art Deco-style font running vertically on the building's exterior. Today, the words "Great Southwest" occupy a similar position on the structure.

"We're still working through a lot of details and are in a flux of what we exactly want to do with this project," Robert McFarlane, president of Todd Interests tells CultureMap. "The rendering was just a part of the application process. It's just a form of an idea of what we might be doing. We're still considering multiple options."

 "The rendering was just a part of the application process. It's just a form of an idea of what we might be doing. We're still considering multiple options." 

The Great Southwest Building stands as one example of Art Deco-style structures in Houston. The 2007 book, Houston Deco: Modernistic Architecture of the Texas Coast by authors/historians Jim Parsons and David Bush, describes the landmark in glowing terms:

"This transitional building, inspired by Mayan pyramids, introduced the stepped-back skyscraper to Houston, a type later refined in the Gulf Building. The Petroleum Building's decoration features Mayan relief figures, a characteristic Art Deco use of exotic design motifs. Except for the installation of plate glass windows, the building's appearance remains substantially unchanged."

The architects behind the original Petroleum Building were Alfred C. Bossom with Maurice J. Sullivan and Briscoe & Dixon.

The incentive program initially approved by the Houston City Council in 2012 offers developers up to $15,000 per unit built in a multifamily complex housing at least 10 units. The council extended the cap of total units allowed under the program from 2,500 to 5,000 last year. Designed to lure residential builders downtown, the Downtown Living Initiative has already given the thumb's up to 16 projects with 4,955 units — just 45 units under the cap.

SkyHouse Houston, the first project approved for the program, now stands as the only completed development. Six other initiative-reimbursed projects are still under construction.