d'or prize

Houston's cherished boutique hotel checks in on prestigious list of 'America's most invincible'

Houston's cherished boutique hotel lands on prestigious best-of list

La Colombe d'Or 2021 exterior
La Colombe d'Or is one of America's most invincible hotels, says Smithsonian Magazine. Photo courtesy of La Colombe d'Or

In March, as CultureMap reported, Houston’s most cherished boutique hotel unveiled a groundbreaking, $10-million renovation. As the estate’s Dan Zimmerman said of La Colombe d’Or’s pristine update: “We touched everything — but we also touched nothing.”

But now, the 1923 Beaux-Arts Montrose mansion is being heralded not for new touches, but instead for its old charm in a prestigious list. La Colombe d’Or has just landed on Smithsonian Magazine’s roundup of America’s five “most invincible” hotels.

“It’s worth remembering that America's most famous hotels have survived crises other than COVID-19,” notes the list’s author, Tony Perrottet. “The hospitality industry has had to adapt to wars, economic spirals, radical fashion changes—and yes, other, even more devastating epidemics—each of which forced somersaults that give new meaning to the contemporary buzzword ‘pivot.’”

Indeed, La Colombe d’Or’s owner and founder, the gregarious and effortlessly charming Steve Zimmerman, draws high praise for adapting to Houston’s mercurial economy and challenges.

During the disaster that was the 1980s oil crash, Zimmerman cooked up a clever idea: The hotel would run an “Oil Barrel Special,” and  Zimmerman put a real barrel of oil in the lobby with a computer on top where guests could check the day's price, the story notes. “It got down to $9.08,” tells Smithsonian Magazine. “I was losing my fanny at lunch time! But it was worth it.”

Zimmerman, never one to lose out on a public relations and marketing opportunity, soon found himself in newspaper stories from New York to Tokyo and Berlin.

The crash story was a boom; an early fan was TV news legend Walter Cronkite, who was charmed by the tiny hotel and its quirky history, per the story.

Fresh off the Oil Barrel special buzz, La Colombe d’Or quickly became Houston’s boutique stop for visiting celebrities, from Peter Jennings to Bishop Tutu and Madonna, all charmed by the more than 400 artworks, fine sculptures in the garden, assorted “Gallic bric a brac” — and perhaps most, by the chatty Zimmerman himself.

Other iconic inns joining La Colombe d’Or on Smithsonian’s coveted list are San Francisco' Fairmont Hotel, New York’s Mohonk Mountain House, Miami’s Biltmore, and the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles.

“We’re very humbled to be included in Smithsonian Magazine's Five of America's Most invincible Hotels with other iconic national hotels including Roosevelt Hotel and The Biltmore,” Zimmerman tells CultureMap.

“The 100-year history of the mansion at La Colombe d'Or, originally owned by Walter Fondren Jr. of Humble Oil, has fared many crisis including the crash of oil, multiple hurricanes and floods and a global pandemic and will continue to be an iconic hotel and landmark for the city of Houston for many years to come.”