Real Estate / High-Rises

Houston’s Own SoHo Gets a Signature High-Rise With Old World Ties — and Plenty of Green

The Inside Story of How La Colombe d'Or's Historic Mansion and Hines' Gleaming New Tower are Combining For Fresh Wonder


The buildings are opposites, seemingly as different as night and day, heavy metal and  Beethoven, Kim Kardashian and J.D. Salinger.

“I think it is challenging to marry a 1923 building with a 2019 high-rise,” interior designer Lauren Rottet tells PaperCity. “And to marry such a low rise with 34 stories.”

This is no shotgun wedding, though. Not with Munoz + Albin on the mission for Hines. The La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences — which brings a new 34-story, 285-unit luxury apartment tower together with the historic hotel owned by the Zimmerman family — is one of the most ambitious projects in recent Houston memory.

It’s happening right in the heart of Montrose, the hippest neighborhood in a city whose art and culture prowess is still sometimes overshadowed nationally by its oil town reputation. This location is something of a departure for Hines, but there is only one La Colombe d’Or. There is only one spot to do something this special.

“Hines always historically located in very polished environments,” says Kevin Batchelor, Hines senior managing director. “Main and Main downtown, The Galleria area — where everything is kind of shiny and new, and everything is kind of perfect. What’s interesting about Montrose is it’s more of a true urban neighborhood that you’d see in New York.

“I remember when I lived in New York. I remember when Tribeca and SoHo were very gritty and tough. And now they’re among the most famous neighborhoods in the world. And I think Montrose is one of our true recognized neighborhood districts. It’s got a little more of a gritty feel about it.”

This new high-rise aims to fit into Montrose by staying true to its walkable (anything but Houston standard) ethos. The new project is creating three new pocket parks that bring the neighborhood into the building. One will allow a new ambitious hotel restaurant to open up into a courtyard, creating an outdoor dining scene. Another off the bar area in the back of the hotel has the bar spilling out into a private secluded fresh air retreat.

The third is a more traditional 14,000-square-foot park on the corner of Yoakum and Hawthorne.

The idea is to create outdoor spaces that are exciting, something along the lines of Tiny Boxwoods‘ unexpected retreat off of West Alabama. Outdoor fountains and outdoor fireplaces are all in play.

When a project’s been inspired by a love for the South of France — Gerald D. Hines and his artist wife Barbara and hotel patriarch Steve Zimmerman have shared dinners in the South of France, Batchelor lived in France for five years and loves the region — it cannot be cookie cutter. It needs zest — and La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences will certainly have that.

The number of rooms in the hotel will jump from five to 18 and the old Fondren Mansion that Steve Zimmerman turned into a hotel back in the 1970s will be connected to the gleaming high-rise tower by what just may be the most interesting hallway in the world. Certainly the most interesting in Houston.

This long corridor, with its soaring ceiling and uniquely shaped chairs, allows uninterrupted views into each opposite end and will feature a video art installation that changes with the weather. When its raining outside, the installation will look rainy. Wind brings different changes to this near living art.

This isn’t a corridor that you hurry down. It’s a place to take a pause. You’re not in Midtown anymore.

“This space is really important,” Rottet says. “The corridor is the physical link between the old and the new.”

La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences
One of the most interesting corridors in the world will link the new high-rise with the 1923 mansion.

La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences is full of transitions like this. Take the Aqua Lounge — it’s an escape between the fitness center and the pool on the 10th floor amenities deck that looks like a mini spa. Because it sort of is one. There are comfortable chairs for lounging, lemonade to drink and another chance to pause.

“You can kind of have your personal spa moment,” Rottet laughs.

The special touches influence the very design of the tower. The balconies on the side of the high-rise facing downtown are anything but add ons. They’re woven into the tower to create a striking look — and even more gripping views.

“We introduced for the first time in Houston — maybe, one of the first times in Houston — a long balcony deck that stretches,” Jorge Munoz, the architect and founding principal of Munoz + Albin. “If we’re going to do a balcony, make it a living balcony. It’s the evolution of Houston. People don’t mind the heat anymore. They still want to be outside.”

The balconies cover the entire downtown-facing facade of the tower, creating a very dramatic look. This is a high-rise that wants your attention — on all sides.

“The tower is very unique,” Batchelor tells PaperCity. “A lot of projects have primary facades and secondary facades. The way we approached this building is that all four facades are primary facades.”

Nothing else would do for Hines’ signature project in Montrose. “We consider it on the level of a SoHo in New York,” Batchelor says of the neighborhood.

La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences sits within easy walking distance of The Menil, St. Thomas University and a host of hip restaurants. A new Whole Foods is opening up a few blocks away. A Kroger and the Montrose H-E-B are already within quick reach. This is a tower in the heart of it all. It almost sneers at the notion that everyone stays in their cars in Houston.

This will be a place for high-end luxury rentals — with La Colombe d’Or’s apartments averaging 1,349 square feet — and topping out with two floors of penthouses that go up to 3,110 square feet. One of the biggest perks is that all the reimagined hotel’s amenities are available to the residents as well. You’re not living in a hotel, but you happen to have the perks of a world class one at your beck and call.

You also get a mailroom with soaring 30-foot ceilings that looks out onto a green park. “You might as well be in a pretty place when you get the news that you owe a million dollars,” Rottet jokes.

When the New Meets the Old

Details matter at La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences. That is why the utilitarian components that a 34-story tower requires — including the transformers — are hidden behind an ivy wall. In a project so built around art (Steve Zimmerman’s renowned collection will be shown off and sometimes rotated in the on-site gallery), everything must be striking.

Few Houston projects bring the old and the new together like this — and how they meet matters.

“The key is Hines and the Zimmermans didn’t try to blend either of these two,” Rottet says. “Don’t try to make the mansion less Old World and don’t try to make this building less contemporary. Instead, lets use certain tying elements to bring them together.

“I think the key to the success of this is we didn’t dumb down either. When we renovate the mansion, it will remain very Old World. It won’t be grandma. It will be fun and a very fresh approach with some tongue and cheek old humor. But definitely Old World charm.”

Few are as eager — and as ready — to take on such a blending challenge as Munoz + Albin. This Houston-based firm has been designing showcase buildings in Europe for more than 20 years. It knows how the old and the new can work together in perfect harmony.

“Europeans are very embracing of this idea of contemporary next to the historical,” Jorge Munoz says.

Houstonians probably will be too after seeing La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences. For Hines, the presence of the mansion is what makes this tower work.

“There’s a lot of things in Houston you could just go tear down,” Batchelor says. “But there’s only one La Colombe d’Or. For us, it’s about what is the essential story that goes with the site.”

Batchelor remembers returning to Houston after living in Paris and New York and not being able to find any type of building like this in an urban environment that he could live in. This type of tower simply wasn’t an option less than a decade ago.

Thanks to Gerald Hines and Steve Zimmerman — two old friends who first sealed this deal with a simple handshake — a groundbreaking tower in Montrose soon will be on the table. La Colombe d’Or Hotel & Residences is scheduled to be finished in the third quarter of 2020.

“Gerald Hines continues to be a trailblazer pioneer,” Batchelor says. “He’s never been afraid of embracing vision.”

This is a new vision for Houston — with one sweet old twist.

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