The 1952 Melrose Building designed by architects Hermon Lloyd and William B. Morgan is Houston’s first Houston skyscraper designed in the International Style. While in the late 1940s and early 1950s there were other large office buildings under construction, such as the Hermann Professional Building by Kenneth Franzheim and the City National Bank Building by Alfred Finn, no other building received the same degree of coverage in the local press. It was not much of an exaggeration to say this building served as most Houstonians` introduction to modern architecture. Its prominent location was also important. At the time it stood out for visitors entering downtown from the south east via the brand new Gulf Freeway, Houston`s first modern freeway, completed the same year as the Melrose Building.
Its architectural design was quite advanced, including the building’s distinctive horizontal and vertical brise-soleils. Lloyd and Morgan acknowledged gaining inspiration for their design from buildings in Brazil, Sweden, and Mexico City as reflected in the tropical inspired, turquoise-colored spandrel panels below ribbon windows all protected with a continuous, horizontal eyebrow. The project team also included Walter P. Moore as the structural engineer, Hermonn Blum as the mechanical engineer, and the Tellepsen Construction Company as the general contractor.
Technologically the building was distinguished for its use of the `Carrier Conduit Weathermaster Air-Conditioning System` which allowed each office to be separately heated or cooled according the occupants` desire. The architects also used Haydite, a type of lightweight concrete made with an aggregate of expanded clay and shale that was designed for use in humid climates to prevent the accumulation of moisture on its surfaces.
The only major exterior change was made in 1969 when the original turquoise glazed ceramic tiles in the window spandrels were covered by bronze colored anodized aluminum panels and the windows were tinted to match. The Melrose Building was vacant for nearly 30 years prior to a major rehabilitation project completed in 2017.
The 2017 rehabilitation utilized federal federal and state historic tax credit programs to update the building to become the Le Méridien hotel. The rehabilitation restored the spandrels, replaced the original clear glass and updated the interior for use as a Le Meridian hotel. The spandrels, window framed, ground floor storefront, heavily damaged green marble and terrazzo flooring in the lobby were restored and the original upper floor corridor configuration retained.
Text by Ben Koush, Anna Mod and Delaney Harris-Finch
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