Houston 101: Where Kingmakers Reigned And Plotted

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For decades, vital issues affecting the U.S. and Texas were hashed out in Suite 8-F of the Lamar Hotel in downtown Houston.

The suite had only two rooms and a kitchenette and it was decorated in whatever the relevant time period's definition of "tacky" was, but it became the Unofficial Capital of Texas.

George R. Brown of Brown & Root was the nominal host, but the guest list included people like Jesse Jones, owner of the Chronicle, William Hobby (owner of the Post), Clint Murchison, LBJ and John Connally, and people whose names now are familiar as identifying prominent buildings: Gus Wortham, Albert Thomas and Hugh Cullen.

From 8-F Johnson's political career was financed -- Robert Caro's epic biography of the 36th President is full of tales of Connally hauling suitcases of cash to and from the room -- and, just as importantly to those present, the Oil Depletion Allowance was savagely protected.

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The allowance was an utter giveaway to oil barons; it let them declare 27.5 percent of their income to be tax-free.

It's not difficult to image the scene -- cigars, bourbon, some eye-candy to help serve -- and a rabid hatred for the New Deal and anything that threatened the oil bidness. If publicity was needed on an issue, the Chronicle and Post were there to serve. Governors, senators, congressmen all trooped in -- some hat-in-hand; others, like LBJ, part of the team. (Johnson was able to bash the New Deal in 8-F and praise it to the skies on the stump. He was just that kinda guy.)

Huge federal contracts for shipyards, for dams, for highways, all were parceled out in 8-F. Careers were broken if the person in question got in the way; who knows how many livelihoods were crushed by a simple nod of the head by someone in 8-F?

It all worked out stunningly well for the Brown brothers, whose company feasted on federal projects and eventually became Halliburton. LBJ and John Connally came out pretty well too, as did the oil barons.

The building itself is long gone, imploded in the mid-80s. There's a parking garage there now, at the corner of Main & Lamar.


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