Hines, by the water wall of the Williams Tower he developed, lives in London but considers Houston his hometown. "Gerald Hines put us on the map in terms of great buildings," said Barrie Scardino, of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
June 10, 2007, 12:51AM
Hines is a towering influence on Houston landmarks
From the Galleria to downtown skyscrapers, developer Gerald Hines reflects on triumphs
By NANCY SARNOFF
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
In the mid-1960s, developer Gerald Hines started two major real estate projects unlike anything he had ever done before: a 50-story skyscraper in downtown Houston for a major oil company and a multilevel indoor mall with an ice-skating rink in the middle.
It was a chaotic time for the young developer, who until then had built mostly small office and warehouse properties.
"The time when we built One Shell and the Galleria at the same time with a small net worth — that was crazy," said Hines, who didn't get much sleep in those days. "I'd get up at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning."
His son, then about 12, remembers it as a stressful time for his father. Having everything on the line "made him feel very uncomfortable."
"I think the ranch was bet," said Jeff Hines, president of the Houston-based real estate firm founded by his father, now chairman. "Luckily, the two projects came off well."
In the year of the company's 50th anniversary, Hines recently took a rare driving tour of many of the local landmarks he created here over the past five decades.
It's hard to imagine this city without a Galleria, Williams Tower, JPMorgan Chase Tower, Pennzoil Place or any of the number of Hines buildings designed by world-renowned architects I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli and the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. His collaboration with the late Philip Johnson resulted in a showcase of buildings that some say was the architect's best work.
"Gerald Hines put us on the map in terms of great buildings," said Barrie Scardino, executive director of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "Architecturally, Houston would be pretty poverty-stricken without him."
Hines raised the bar by showing that quality and financial success can be mutually attainable.
He was one of the first developers to hire world-famous architects, believing tenants would flock to top-quality buildings, even in a down market.
And architects appreciated his vision.
"Many developers just want to tell the architect what they want," said Gyo Obata, a founding partner of HOK, the company that designed the Galleria. ''I think he's one of the few developers that really listens to the architect."
That's not to say he's not a demanding client.
Hines said he rejected Philip Johnson's first four designs for Post Oak Central, an office complex on Post Oak, because "they didn't make sense economically and real estatewise."
On a recent overcast morning, Hines stepped into a Lincoln SUV outside the Williams Tower, where his company is headquartered, to return to his roots.
Dressed in a tailored brown suit with a patterned olive tie, the 81-year-old has an understated presence. When speaking, he chooses his words carefully, and his voice is soft enough that you almost have to lean in to hear him.
He hardly seems the type to dream up complex, city-shaping real estate projects or persuade institutional investors to fork over billions to spend at his discretion.
But few developers have amassed the real estate portfolio Hines has.
His privately held firm of 3,150 employees — with 618 in Houston — owns or has an interest in 167 properties worth about $16 billion and has offices in 96 cities, including 29 outside the U.S. It also manages another 129 properties for third parties valued at about $13 billion.
Since launching the company as a one-man shop in 1957, Hines has completed more than 590 projects worldwide, acquired 140 properties and has another 95 under development. The firm would not reveal rental income or revenue.
Those close to him say he's the consummate salesman.
"He has the ability to listen to people and hear what they have to say, or perceive what they're not saying," said Louis Sklar, a retired executive vice president with Hines. "It's the characteristic of any good salesman. He's just better at it than most people."
Completing the Galleria and One Shell Plaza sent Hines' star soaring.
One Shell Plaza was the world's tallest reinforced concrete structure when it was completed.
The Galleria, built on what was then a prairie, was striking in a different way.
Modeled after Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, its success made it the model for many mixed-use complexes in the U.S. and abroad, according to the Houston Architectural Guide.
The ice-skating rink was added to increase lease rentals on the basement floor by drawing traffic to it, Hines said.
It also gave the mall a distinct identity.
"That's what you're trying to do as a developer, differentiate your product," Hines said.
After both projects were completed by 1971, Hines' newly elevated reputation allowed him to enlist partners with deep pockets so he wouldn't have to shoulder all the risk.
Some of his early investors were Deutsche Bank, Royal Dutch Shell Pension Fund and the PGGM pension fund. Today, they include the California Public Employees' Retirement System, GM and the New York State Common Retirement Fund.
Though he handed over the company reins to his son in 1990, Hines' desire to create is still evident.
A few minutes after leaving the Williams Tower, Hines revealed with some excitement that his company had just put in a bid topping $1.5 billion for a development in London called Chelsea Barracks that would be the largest project it's ever done.
The deal would involve redeveloping a 13-acre British military site into a high-end residential complex.
'An area in transition'
Jaser Harris Jr., who runs a driving service and has driven for Hines and his company for about 18 years, started the tour in Midtown, where Hines began his real estate career by purchasing a building. The 3,000-square-foot structure at 1309 Anita is gone, replaced by new town homes.
Hines' words trailed off as he looked out the window at how the neighborhood has changed.
"It's an area in transition, which we have lots of in our city," he said.
He's pleased with the way Houston has developed but thinks more housing would be good for downtown. "I think dead cities at night are dangerous and cause all kinds of problems and lead to rapid deterioration," he said.
Hines has a home in River Oaks, but he lives in London full time. He moved there more than a decade ago to concentrate on international operations as his son took over running the Houston-based business.
"I think he's doing a fantastic job," Hines said. "I think we have a lot of outstanding executives."
He also met his wife in Europe. In his second marriage, he wed German-born Barbara Fritzsche in 1981. The former French and English teacher attended New York's prestigious Pratt Institute and has been involved in architecture, interior design and painting. The couple has two children, Serena and Trevor. Hines and his first wife, Dorothy Schwarz, had two children, Jeff and Jennifer, before divorcing.
Living overseas helped Hines expand worldwide.
Lately his focus has been on the Middle East and on India, where developing means dealing with complex governmental controls and shifting leadership.
"We like problem areas because other people will normally try to avoid those and we'll try to figure it out," Hines said.
The next stop on the tour was Richmond Avenue, where Hines developed about a dozen 1960s-style buildings.
Hines' memory sharpened as he talked about these early projects, recalling the tenants that have occupied them and when each was built.
When he saw a big, blue sign on one of his early buildings, he winced.
"That's so awful," he said, lamenting that the city doesn't have strict sign regulations.
Whether pioneering a concept for a shopping mall or skiing 60 days the year of his 80th birthday, Hines isn't the type to do things half-heartedly.
When diagnosed with a heart condition at 50, he radically changed his diet and lifestyle.
He became a "living example" of how a largely vegetarian diet, exercise and meditation can reverse coronary heart disease, said health guru Dean Ornish, author and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif.
When Ornish was in medical school at Baylor, Hines helped him fund a study on the subject and recruited others to do the same, leading to larger grants to expand his research.
"It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that none of this would have happened without him," Ornish said. "In a very real sense, many, many people's lives will be healed and saved, most of whom he will never meet but will be indebted to him for that."
Learning early on
Hines' legacy includes setting a standard of quality. He's obsessive over small details, such as the weight of a door, the feel of a handle or the look of a sign.
Hines learned about building early on in his career.
After graduating from Purdue University, not far from his hometown of Gary, Ind., with a degree in electrical engineering, he took a job with American Blower Corp. and was soon transferred to Houston. A couple of years later he joined Texas Engineering.
After learning about building systems, he decided to take the leap to development.
Though those who know him well say he's an expert in every discipline of development, he's best when he's conceiving a project and working with architects.
"He gets so ginned up and loves it so much," said Jeff Hines, 51. "In a session with Cesar Pelli and David Childs you can just see the passion come out."
Jeff Hines experienced that early on. He recalled when his father drove him to school: "We'd leave at 5 or 6 in the morning and go look at construction sites."
Meeting the developer
As the tour came to an end, Hines was back at the Williams Tower standing by the 64-foot water wall nearby.
He looked across the street to the site of a future high-rise and called over to a man in a suit to ask him about the project.
The man recognized Hines and rushed over to shake his hand, introduce himself and ask what the legendary developer thought about his proposed building.
The brief exchange was like a fledgling actor stopping a celebrity for an autograph or a bit of wisdom.
Hines is slowed by some of the ailments that brought him to Houston. He was in town for medical reasons, which included a hip replacement and an unexpected heart bypass.
Once he's recuperated he'll spend some time at his home in Aspen and then go back to England.
Though the company eventually lost out on the Chelsea Barracks bid, there's plenty to do.
Hines has 50 projects under development outside the U.S. and is considering opening an office in Turkey.
But that doesn't mean his bond to Houston is any less strong. When asked whether he'll ever return here to live, he answered quickly.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Houston was where I planted my flag in 1948, and it's still my hometown."
ABOUT GERALD DOUGLAS HINES
• Born: August 15, 1925, in Gary, Ind.
• Education: Engineering degree from Purdue University
• Family: Wife, Barbara; children, Serena and Trevor; Jeff and Jennifer from his first marriage
• First job: Sold Ladies Home Journal door to door when he was about 8