One of the most colorful events in Houston history was the grand opening of the famous Shamrock Hotel in 1949 on St. Patrick’s Day.
The hotel was built on fifteen landscaped acres at the intersection of Main Street and Holcombe Boulevard by Houston oilman Glenn McCarthy, a wildcatter who personified in many ways what some people still think of Texans to this day.
Approximately 50,000 people attended the grand opening, reputed to have been the wildest party in the city’s history. The rich and famous of Texas society all wanted to be there, and so did everyone else. Life Magazine called it “…the most dazzling exhibition of evening dresses and big names ever seen in Texas.”
Movie star Dorothy Lamour broadcast her national radio show from the hotel during the party. McCarthy wore dark glasses to hide a black eye reported to have been received in a fistfight at the train station when he went to meet the Hollywood celebrities arriving for the party.
One Houston resident recalled, “I still remember the Shamrock. It was fabulous in every way, perhaps overdone to some degree. The Emerald Room was the big ballroom, all decorated in emerald green as a tribute to McCarthy’s Irish ancestry. And there were many exciting events that took place there.”
Hotel guests and Houstonians flocked to the fancy retail shops and various restaurants, including the Cork Club, a nightclub that featured big-name entertainment.
The 18-story Shamrock had more than 1,100 guest rooms and poolside bungalows called lanais.
Its swimming pool was a 50-meter, Olympic-sized pool with three-meter and ten-meter diving platforms. It was big enough to accommodate a boat pulling water skiers when shows were held for the guests.
“The Shamrock was just a very glamorous place to be in Houston. It was unique; it was a place to be seen,” another Houstonian stated.
The hotel became so popular with the city’s social set that it was affectionately referred to as the “Houston Riviera.” Everything in the hotel was a little extreme, but that was typical of Glenn McCarthy, who was known to be Edna Ferber’s prototype for Jett Rink in “Giant,” her novel that was later made into the classic movie.
In the mid-1950s Conrad Hilton acquired the property and renamed it the Shamrock Hilton. Trader Vic’s, the popular restaurant opened at the hotel and caught the attention of Houstonians with its unusual Polynesian décor and food.
Some said the hotel was too big to be profitable and others thought it was too far from Houston’s central business district. It began to lose favor when newer, more modern hotels were built. The once-glamorous Shamrock Hotel, which had become a symbol of Houston, fell on hard times in the 1980s. It was demolished in 1987 and replaced with a parking lot.
The story of the Shamrock Hotel is featured in the television documentary “In Search of Houston’s History,” produced by Sunset Productions in association with the Friends of the Texas room and the Houston Public Library.