Page 11


AFTERWORD The Party’s Over The evening before I took a long swim in the world’s largest swimming pool, at the Shamrock. All by myself in that expanse of water forming, vaguely, a shield, the lushly planted tropical grounds around moving slowly by, I turtled along, . .. somehow escaping there the skyscraper-violated problems of being in Houston. “Commencement to Armageddon” Ronnie Dugger \(TO, . . . and this hotel we’re going to, why, ever since he saw the Shamrock in Houston he said he was going to put up a hotel bigger and fancier and costing more than even it did. Giant Edna Ferber The first promising bit of information I ever heard about the Houston Astrodome was that it was going to be so big they could put the Shamrock Hotel inside. Great, I thought, naturally assuming they would take advantage of such an opportunity. Forty-five million dollars is a lot of money, but it would be almost worth it if they got the Shamrock out of sight. “Love, Death, and the Astrodome” Larry McMurtry \(TO, FERBER immortalized it, McMurtry ridiculed it, Ronnie Dugger once swam in its huge pool. And now its doors are closed forever. Wildcatter Glenn McCarthy’s Shamrock, the hotel whose opening soiree broadcast across the republic by NBC Radio in 1949 established the primacy riche. The two hometown dailies provided the formula maudlin dateline coverage: interviews with couples who had spent Louis Dubose is a freelance writer living in Austin. their honeymoons at the hotel and with a fellow who had worked there for 23 years. And, no, the Old Wildcatter didn’t make it to the June 9 closing party. He sent his regrets, unable to attend because of illness. But speculation was that the last night at the Shamrock would have been more than he could bear. Even National Public Radio took note of the closing of the hotel. There was a feature some weeks ago remembering the radio broadcasts of Sunday afternoons at the Shamrock. Cafe society a la Houston and big name entertainers signed off with McCarthy’s favorite, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Included in the NPR feature was an interview with the Old Wildcatter himself, who offered that if he had only known that the hotel would be destroyed he would not have let it fall into the hands of the Hilton chain \(which has now sold it to the Texas Medical AH, THE SHAMROCK. The very mention of it evokes memories of a better time for Houston. Shortly after it opened, Dickson Terry wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “At last count there were approximately 5,000 air-conditioned Cadillacs on the streets of Houston. . . . And it is also true that an oil man and a promoter met in the lobby of the Rice and made a $330,000,000 deal in 20 minutes.” The local press had fixed the number of Houston millionaires precisely at 791, one of whom had just sent his Cadillac to Europe to have a custombuilt body put on it. “Just throw the old one away,” he ordered. Fat City. The apocrypha of the oil boom. And in Time, McCarthy, who for $21 million had built the hotel, was described this way: “He looks like nothing so much as a Hollywood version of a Mississippi River gambler, a moody and monolithic man with a dark, Civil War mustache, a cold acquisitive eye, and a brawler’s shoulder-swinging ,walk. \(Even Time Life and Newsweek also covered the 1949 party that brought Ginger Rogers, Maureen O’Hara, Pat O’Brien, and Van Johnson into the same Emerald Room with Jesse Jones, Hugh Roy Cullen, William P. Hobby, George and Herman Brown, and Lep Meyer. But, at the closing, the biggest name the Houston Chronicle could turn up was Tommy McCarthy, a second cousin of Glenn. In 1949, the city was leading the South in growth, water commerce, retail sales, industrial production, and income tax payments. Today, West Texas crude is selling at $11 a barrel, unemployment is up, rental occupancy is down, and 1985 was a record year for bankruptcies in the city. Sociologists and Brent Musburger explain the psychological importance of the basketball Rockets in a city so badly in need of something good. In Houston, the party’s over. The works of Ms. Ferber and Mr. McMurtry have documented certain rites of passage for our state. From cattle to oil, from rural to urban. And, it seems, this is how we should see the end of the Shamrock. There are no more giants, and all of us, in a way, are leaving Cheyenne. So, let’s get on with it. Years ago Larry McMurtry recognized an opportunity. It now knocks again. Sam Houston never slept here, and the Alamo this place isn’t. What I am getting at is, let’s raze the Shamrock. Bring down this singularly ugly 1,100 room, eighteen-story, yellow-and-green monument to Houston’s tacky past. I echo Ms. Ferber who wrote her own book blurbs “The Past is dead. Long live Tomorrow!” At Avenida Juarez 77, in the capital of Mexico, is a public plaza covered with crushed volcanic rock. At the site where the Hotel St. Regis stood, before it crumbled to the ground one morning last September, the plaza is an existential statement: a square block of nothing. Forces we are told as inexorable and unforgiving as the grinding of the tectonic plates beneath the Pacific are now altering our social landscape. So, I suggest a similar development for those seven acres at 6900 South Main. Properly designed, by day it could be used for parking. And after dusk, when the doors at the Art Museum close, and the traffic around the Medical Center disappears: McCarthy’s Park. By Louis Dubose THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23