Culture / Travel

Houston’s Oldest Hotel is Being Reborn as a Downtown Art Palace: Inside The Lancaster’s Remarkable Transformation

BY // 04.18.18

Houston’s oldest operating hotel, The Lancaster, is coming back.

Last July, the family behind Magnolia Lodging (no relation to the Gaines’ Magnolia enterprises) — led by Dallas-based artist Jay Shinn who is Magnolia’s CEO — acquired the historic theater-district property and closed it for a 12-month total remake.

They have now revealed that more than 100 artists with Texas connections will be on view throughout the 12-story property — in the lobby, the 60-seat restaurant rebranded Grille Nineteen 26, Speedy Boy Coffee Shop, the lobby bar, mezzanine and all 93 rooms, including the suites.

“We’re really making it an art hotel,” says Jay Shinn, an internationally exhibited artist, whose medium is light. Shinn is the co-owner of Magnolia Lodging along with two siblings and a nephew.

Shinn is personally curating the hotel’s art collection, which includes works that are in his own private collection — one shared with his partner, Tim Hurst. Hurst is also weighing in on the list of artists for the new Lancaster hotel’s collection. To get a preview of the taste level that will come into play at the new Lancaster, see the couple’s remarkable Dallas high-rise and collection here.

The Big Reveal

In an exclusive telephone interview with PaperCity, Shinn revealed details about the closely guarded renovation, that is expected to inject new life into the Houston Theater District, almost a year to the date after Hurricane Harvey swept in.

Outdoor Dining with Bering's

  • Bering's Gift's April 2024
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Shinn relayed a list of impressive talent in the visual lineup: “Gael Stack, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Tommy Fitzpatrick, Carl Palazzolo, and Allison V. Smith, all in the restaurant. MANUAL’s photographs and a five-by-eight-foot Mark Flood canvas in the lobby, Otis Jones over the front desk, and Aaron Parazette in the mezzanine.”

The rooms each feature one central artist, from mid-career to emerging, including painter Matt Kleberg, the King Ranch scion.

Jay Shinn’s own work, a least one light piece, will also hang on The Lancaster’s new walls.

If you want to see an example of the artist’s prowess, look no further than Mickey Leland International Terminal (Terminal D) at Bush IAH Airport, where two massive light commissions beam at travelers: Celestial Candyland (15’ x 150’) and Candyland Landing (15’ x 45’). See these epic light works here.

Shinn’s recent commissions include light-based projects for Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and Texas A&M’s new engineering building.

Shinn’s nephew Matthew Newton, Magnolia Lodging president, will oversee the reborn Lancaster, with hospitality veteran Tom Harwell tapped as GM and Fernando Huerta returning as executive chef.

Flash Back to 1926

The Lancaster, originally known as the Auditorium Hotel, was designed in 1926 in the Regency style by one of Houston’s leading practitioners of the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles — Joseph Finger, architect of City Hall, the Clarke & Courts Building (Tribeca Lofts), and the Houston Air Terminal (which is now a museum).

Shinn and his family are only The Lancaster’s second owners in the hotel’s 92 years, succeeding the DeGeorge family, who were at the helm for nearly a century.

Plans initially called for a gradual refurbishing of the hotel over successive years. Then Harvey came calling.

When the basement flooded, the decision was made to do a top-to-bottom renovation immediately, with an anticipated reopening in mid- to late August of this year.

Dallas designer David Cadwallader of Cadwallader Design, who is known for nuanced interiors where artwork takes center stage, leads the charge on the interiors. His art-centric clients include some of Dallas’ most elite private collectors.

Shinn and Cadwallader intend to make the new Lancaster more than luxurious lodging with a few paintings on the walls, but instead, an art destination of its own.

For updates on the build and information on staying at the hotel, click here.

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