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169 } JESSE JONES JUGGLED A LOT OF BALLS. Even as he obtained and hosted the 1928 Democratic national convention, he had major buildings under construction in New York, Fort Worth, and Houston. His new projects in New York included the sixteen-story LeRoy Sanitarium, a medical professional building at E. 61st Street. In Fort Worth the eighteen-story Fair Building would soon house the Fair Department Store in its lower levels. In Houston, down toward his theaters and the Lamar Hotel, Jesse was now building an ornate four-story shoe store for Krupp and Tuffly and an eight-story building for Levy Brothers department store; Jones put a foundation under the smaller buildings that would allow him to add floors in the future. Up toward Buffalo Bayou, on the seventh block of Main, the 1928 conventioneers saw the start of Houston’s tallest building , the thirty-five-story Gulf Oil Company Building, whose steel skeleton stuck out above the lower-lying skyline. Returning to Houston from New York just before Thanksgiving, Jones declared in an interview, “Houston never looked better to me than it does today. Its prospects and possibilities are brighter than they have ever been.” He continued, “If we can have some stabilizing legislation in the interest of the farming class, the prosperity about which we have heard so much in recent weeks and months will be better distributed.” He added 1928–1932 Never Rope a Steer Going Downhill The 1929 Gulf Building (now the JPMorgan Chase Building) remained Houston’s tallest skyscraper until the forty-four-story Humble Oil Company (now ExxonMobil) Building opened in 1963. In the photograph, Jesse Jones’s Bankers Mortgage Building is to the right of the Gulf Building; the top of the Rice Hotel, now with three wings, is on the far right; the top of the Bristol Hotel is in the center; and Jones’s first National Bank of Commerce Building is in the bottom right corner. Never Rope a Steer Going Downhill 171 concerns about “mass production of every kind and the ability of the country to continue to absorb the many things . . . that can now be produced so rapidly.”1 Financially, publicly, and personally, it had been a great year for Jones. His buildings produced more than $5 million ($62 million in current dollars ) in rent and netted $2.5 million ($31 million) after expenses.2 The Democratic National Convention made “Houston as well advertised as any city in America”3 and shone a glowing spotlight on Jones. During the 1928 holiday season, he sent sixty-eight crates of Texas Rio Grande valley grapefruits. Newly-elected New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt received a box and wrote, “Ever so many thanks for the delicious grapefruit . We all enjoyed them so much. I wish you could have been here for the Inauguration; it was a great day.”4 Jones began 1929 by purchasing a bankrupt sixteen-story hotel in Houston which he furnished and opened, changing its name to the Texas State Hotel. It was his fourth major downtown Houston hotel. In April, the Gulf Building’s impending completion was signaled by the opening of Sakowitz Brothers’ men’s and boy’s clothing store. More than 40,000 Houstonians mobbed the greatly expanded and elegant store on its first day. To the delight of ladies, Sakowitz introduced fine clothing and accessories for women.5 That same month, also with great fanfare, Krupp and Tuffly opened its four-story Art Deco shoe store. In May, Jones completed a forty-four-story office tower at 10 East 40th Street in New York. Interviewed about the building and allowed to edit the final copy, the revisions reveal a bit about him and his ideas about building. The first line of the interview was originally written to say, “New York’s ever-changing skyline has a new contribution of importance, and it comes from Texas.” Jones redirected attention by changing the line to, “New York’s ever-changing skyline has a new contributor of importance, and he comes from Texas.” He also added that, after the Woolworth Building , his new building was the tallest in New York. He pointedly did not change the statement that read, “It is said his real estate holdings approach the $100,000,000 [$1.2 billion] mark.”6 1. Houston Chronicle, November 21, 1928. 2. Financial statements, 1928, Jesse H. Jones Collection [HE]. 3. Houston Chronicle, November 21, 1928. 4. Franklin Roosevelt to Jesse Jones, January 7, 1929, Jesse H...


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