the 1928 convention, the Rice Hotel and even the Houston Chronicle all had something
in common – Jesse H. Jones.
Practically broke, Jones hit Houston
in 1908 to take over manager of his late uncle’s lumber company. In one of Texas’
best almost-rags-to-big-time-riches stories, Jones made a fortune in the lumber
business and real estate. By the time the 1928 presidential election drew near,
Jones owned the Rice Hotel and the city’s afternoon daily, the Chronicle.
he might as well have a national political convention to go along with everything
else, legend has Jones traveling to Washington with a suitcase containing $200,000
in cash. When he alighted from the train back in Houston,
he no longer had the money, but Houston
had been selected as the venue of that year’s Democratic nominating convention.
Not since before the Civil War had a presidential convention been held in the
south, and never in Texas.
A frame convention
building called Sam Houston Hall, the construction of which was overseen by Jones,
rose in only 64 days. Soon after its completion, thousands of delegates, party
officials and functionaries, journalists, conmen, hookers and other politically
minded people converged on Houston.
All who could booked rooms at either the Rice or the Lamar Hotel. (Jones owned
When the convention concluded its work about noon on June
28 with the nomination of anti-prohibtion New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith for president
and Sen. Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas as vice-president, several thousand people
headed for the Rice.
long,” the Chronicle reported, “the lobby was packed tightly. The entrances were
jammed. As the crowds grew, the heat grew.”
The hotel’s management had
planned ahead to some extent, roping off the elevators to allow for orderly access.
Two men, presumably with hotel security, stood before the crush of humanity and
said, in effect, “Six at a time, please.” A few police officers also were on hand.
the delegates and other visitors were tired, hot and hungry. Many had trains to
catch as soon as they could freshen up, pack and check out. A good many probably
needed to go to the bathroom. For whatever their reasons, they choose – en masse
– not to quietly stand in line to get to their room.
local newspaper did not report how many elevators the hotel had, but whatever
the number, it was not sufficient on this day. And the cars were operated by people
and traveled slower than they do today. Shoot, elevator music hadn’t even been
“At each call of the elevator man the crowd pushed forward –
then rebounded,” the newspaper continued.
suggested using the stairs, but someone else in the crowd pointed out that all
the people had blocked the entrance. “You can’t ride and you can’t walk,” someone
bodies continued to jam the lobby. Fortunately, the only injuries were to sensibilities.
“Many odors mingled there,” the unnamed journalist on the scene reported.
“As the crowd grew the heat grew. As the heat grew the odors grew. There was Listerine,
Nuit de Noel perfume, cigarette smoke, perspiration, onions, Black Narcissus perfume,
Speatmint gum, Beechnut gum, black cigar smoke – and what not.”
police officers began arriving to prevent a mass assault on the ropes intended
to block access to the elevators. Meanwhile, the younger, more able visitors began
taking the stairs and the human logjam began to loosen. By 2 p.m., the noisy mob
scene had abated and demand for elevator room finally equally supply again.
Surely it has nothing to do with the elevator problems at the Rice – long since
closed -- but the Democratic Party has not staged its national convention in Texas
since then. The Republicans met in Dallas
in 1984 and in Houston in 1992, but
with many more hotels and more and faster automatic elevators, delegates concluded
their work with no major elevator incidents.
Cox - August 16, 2012 column
with a Past | Columns | People
| Texas | Texas Town