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Houston History: The Galleria And Uptown

When visitors from around the globe come to Houston, you can be sure The Galleria is on their list. For over 45 years, the mixed-use development envisioned by legendary Houstonian Gerald Hines has fueled one of the nation’s hottest areas for retail, office space and multifamily. As part of our series on the history of Houston’s most impactful submarkets, we look at how The Galleria and Uptown have become synonymous with upscale. 

Galleria Ceiling

Gerlad Hines was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, borrowing its distinct glazed barrel vault glass ceiling spanning the central axis of the mall. When the mall opened in 1970, it had 600k SF of retail space, anchored by Neiman Marcus, and the Houston Oaks Hotel (now the Westin Oaks Houston). The shopping center's large ice rink, open year-round, was an instant hit.  

Galleria Mall Houston

The first expansion came in 1976, adding 360k SF on two levels, most notably a Marshall Field’s store designed by acclaimed architect Philip Johnson. A second hotel was also added, the Galleria Plaza Hotel (now The Westin Galleria Houston). In 1986, the second wing opened, bringing the total to almost 1.6M SF. 

In 1999, Hines sold the Galleria to the partnership of Urban Shopping Centers, beginning a tumultuous few years of ownership as Urban was acquired by Rodamco, which was subsequently taken over by Simon Property Group in early 2002. In 2010, Simon secured majority ownership. The rapid ownership changes didn’t slow down development. A third expansion, known as Galleria IV, was completed in March 2003, adding another 800k SF, anchored by Nordstrom and Foley’s. For those keeping score at home, that’s 2.4M SF of retail space full of the finest brands from Chanel to Versace.

Houston History: The Galleria And Uptown

These days, the Galleria conjures images of office towers as quickly as it does a shopping mall. The 1,000-acre Uptown business district contains 24M SF of office space, making it the 17th-largest business district in the US. Approximately 2,000 companies call the area home, representing more than 11% of Houston's total office space. The area grew up alongside The Galleria, and the Uptown/Galleria names are often used interchangeably. By 1987, it had more hotel rooms and retail than Downtown Houston.

Williams Tower
Williams Tower

Uptown’s highest achievement is the 901-foot-tall Transco Tower (now Williams Tower). The landmark development was the world's tallest skyscraper outside of a central business district. Both the tower and its accompanying Williams Waterwall were Pritzker Prize-winning designs for architect Philip Johnson

Galleria Arches

The construction of Four Leaf Towers, a high-rise residential project designed by Cesar Peli, consisting of two 40-story towers, was the first sign of Uptown’s hot multifamily market. In the late 1990s, there was a mini-boom of mid-rise residential tower construction, typically about 30 stories tall. There are now more than 100 properties with about 23,000 units between them. 

The Galleria and Uptown are unique (and particularly resilient) products of Houston. As energy company operations and office development drive development further west, Uptown is becoming the heart of the city. The confluence of affluence and hard work continues to serve the area well.