Houston City Hall designed by Austrian-born architect Joseph Finger



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City Mayors ranks the world’s largest, best as well as richest cities and urban areas. It also ranks the cities in individual countries, and provides a list of the capital cities of some 200 sovereign countries. More


City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world. More


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City Mayors reports political events, analyses the issues and depicts the main players. More


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City Mayors describes and explains financial issues affecting local government. More


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City Mayors investigates health issues affecting urban areas with an emphasis on health in cities in developing countries. More


City Mayors reports on how business developments impact on cities and examines cooperation between cities and the private sector. More


City Mayors examines the contributions history and culture make to urban society and environment. More


City Mayors examines the importance of urban tourism to city economies. More


City Mayors questions those who govern the world’s cities and talks to men and women who contribute to urban society and environment. More


City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More


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City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More

Houston City Hall built for
the masses not the classes

By Gregor Gosciniak

1 March 2007: The City of Houston, named after General Sam Houston, was founded on 30 August 1836. Its first municipal government was inaugurated in 1840 and its seat at Old Market Square lasted from 1841 to 1939. The old City Hall on Market Square was rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire in the 1870s. It was again rebuilt in 1901 after another devastating fire. Old Market Square was a lively commercial area, with the city’s offices surrounded by bustling fish markets and every variety of street-trader. By the 1920s debate started on moving the city council away from such an environment, and in 1927 voters approved bond issues for the construction of both a new City Hall and Civic Centre.

In 1929 a report prepared by the planning Commission of Houston urged the establishment of a downtown area of architecturally coordinated buildings and parks – the so called Civic Centre, including City Hall. However, the years of the great depression delayed plans. In 1933 the City of Houston applied for a federal grant from the Public Works Administration to help with construction, and on 8 August1937 it was finally approved. In October 1937 the City Commissioners awarded the City Hall planning contract to Joseph Finger, an Austrian-born architect, who had designed, among other things, the William Penn Hotel, the Montgomery County Courthouse and the Temple Beth Israel.

But old-fashioned Mayor Fonville disliked Finger's so-called "ultra-modern" design for City Hall. He wanted the building to conform architecturally to the old City Library as well as to the site of the former Sam Houston Coliseum, located on either side of the proposed building. Finger said this was impossible, since the library and coliseum were built in different styles.  "Here in America we are rapidly developing our own type of architecture which is far above that of foreign countries," he argued. "We are building for the masses, not the classes." 

The City Commission finally accepted his plans and construction began on 7 March 1938. The cornerstone was laid on 1 October 1938, in which a time capsule was placed, containing a Bible, copies of the City charter, Houston's three daily newspapers and the City Auditor's report for 1937. The building was completed 20 months later in July 1939. On 3 December 1939 the Mayor and the City Commissions moved into the new building.

Its main doors are made of a specially cast aluminium. In the grillwork above the main entrances there are medallions commemorating the "great lawgivers" that span past civilisations from antiquity up to the time of the shaping of modern America. These include Akhenaton, Julius Caesar, Moses, Charlemagne, King John and Thomas Jefferson. The entrances to the Tax Department are inlaid with bronze, nickel and silver. All elevator lobbies are of marble base with wainscoted walls. Wood trim and wooden doors are of figured gum, a typical product of Texas.

At the opening, the Houston Chronicle described the Mayor's Office in these terms: "His large business office is tastefully decorated with a beige rug and apple green draperies. His desk and other office furniture are of a modern design and of imported koan wood, with teakwood and ebony inlay, trimmed in aluminium. Some of the chairs are upholstered in apricot-colour leather.”

Today, Houston's City Government’s 23,000 employees are spread throughout 500 buildings, but the core of local government is still located in the downtown Civic Centre and City Hall. Mayor Bill White serves as the Executive Officer of the City. As the City's chief administrator and official representative, the Mayor is responsible for the general management of the City and for seeing that all laws and ordinances are enforced. The ground floor of City Hall houses the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and its Visitors Centre.


Bill White, Mayor of Houston


On other pages
Bill White
Mayor of Houston

The Texan city of Houston is noted for its oil wealth, social conservatism and cosmopolitan appearance. Its city chief Bill White was re-elected for a second term with massive support in 2005 and is even rumoured to be seeking the state governorship.

Mayor White was born in San Antonio in 1954, the child of schoolteachers. He then attended Harvard on a scholarship, where he graduated in economics. After studying law at the University of Texas at Austin, where he edited the college law review, White joined the Houston practice of Susman Godfrey LLP, eventually becoming partner. After 14 years with the firm, he joined the Clinton administration in 1993 as Deputy Secretary of Energy, leaving two years later to take on boardroom duties in the private sector. He also served as state chairman of the Democratic Party in Texas during this time.

Immediately prior to running for mayor, White was serving as Chairman and CEO of the WEDGE Group, a Texan real estate developer. In 2003, the Democrat Lee Brown stood down as mayor, prevented by the city charter from seeking a fourth term. A former New York Police Commissioner, Dr Brown was Houston’s first Afro-American mayor and also served in the Clinton administration as ‘Drug Czar’. In his 2003 election bid, White stood as a moderate Democrat, winning against the Cuban American Orlando Sanchez, who had received President Bush’s endorsement in the previous election against Brown. White was then handsomely re-elected on the first round in 2005, with 91% of the vote. More