Saturday, October 16, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 17

Texas Conference Opens New Headquarters October 20, 1967

On October 20, 1967 a special session of the Texas Conference convened at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on South Main Street in Houston. The purpose of this session was to open the conference’s new headquarters building at 5215 Main Street, just a few block to the north. The conference needed new facilities because of its programs and staff were expanding. The conference had been in a church building boom, and the impending merger of the churches in the Texas Conference (Central Jurisdiction) in just three years would further increase its membership by about 1/6th. It was time for a new facility.

The headquarters occupied some of the most valuable real estate in Houston. It was only a few blocks from the Medical Center which included the world famous Methodist Hospital of Houston, Rice University, and a major cultural and recreational area that included a park, zoo, and museums. Besides its proximity to St. Paul’s, it was also convenient to First Methodist Houston.

The building was made possible mainly through the generosity of R. E. (Bob) and Vivian Smith, members of First Methodist Church. Bob Smith had climbed the economic ladder from roughneck to driller to petroleum company owner. He invested his money in Harris County real estate and invested his time in civic service to Houston. At one time he owned more than 11,000 acres of Harris County property. He served on a variety of boards including the Houston Symphony, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Methodist Hospital. He was instrumental in bringing major league baseball to Houston and, with Roy Hofheinz, building the Harris County Domed Stadium (the Astrodome). He served on the boards of both Texas Wesleyan College and Southwestern University.

The generosity of the Smiths allowed the conference to move fairly quickly on the project. On April 29, 1966 a special session of the conference was held at Lakeview to discuss the issue of a new building. In June the 1966 annual conference authorized borrowing $275,000 for the project. Sixteen months later the building was open for business.

The special session convened at 1:30 p.m. on October 20, 1967 at St. Paul’s and conducted a few pro forma business items. Dr. Charles Allen presented a Bible to his parishioners, Bob and Vivian Smith, and thanked them for their donation. Conference members processed to the new headquarters. Vivian Smith cut the ribbon. Several dignitaries participated in the ceremony. Houston Mayor Louie Welch, Rabbi Hyman Schachtel, Episcopal Bishop Milton Richardson, and Roman Catholic Bishop John Morkovsky were all there.

The total cost of the building, landscaping, carpeting, parking area had been $364.602. The furnishings cost another $61,000. The indebtedness of $275,000 to the Great Southern Life Insurance Company of Houston was covered with a twenty year note at 6% interest. The monthly payment was $1971.75. The modern building contained the Bishop’s office, conference staff, the two Houston District Superintendents, the Houston District Board of Missions, and the Houston office of the Methodist Home. The Smith Building, since remodeled and expanded, continues to serve the needs of the conference.


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