In 1836, two real estate entrepreneurs from New York, Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen, purchased 6,600+ acres along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou River with the purpose of establishing a new city. The Allen brothers decided to name this new city after Sam Houston, the popular general and commander from the Battle of San Jacinto. Houston rapid growth as an important commercial hub, led to the community’s formation of a chamber of commerce to promote the shipping business along the newly created Buffalo Bayou port. By 1860, the city was becoming a major commercial and railroad center for the export of cotton and the convergence center of the Texas railroad industry.
In 1901, a year after the devastating Galveston hurricane, oil was discovered in a field near Beaumont, prompting the development of the Texas petroleum industry with Houston as its logistical base. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson approved millions in improvement funds to further increase the creation and expansion of the deep-water Houston Ship Channel. During World War II, the demand for petroleum and synthetic rubber products by the defense industry led to further strategic growth with an increase in manufacturing plants and ship building facilities along the port, significant defense contracts, and massive job creation.
From Shipping Hub to Space Center
The 1950’s brought an economic boom and move towards the energy sector, as the availability of air conditioning and wages lower than northern cities spurred many companies to relocate operations to Houston. A decade later, in 1961 came the establishment of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center and the home of our newest heroes, the Mercury 7 astronauts and their successors. Houston was now the center of the aerospace industry.
Houston’s energy industry boom of the 1970’s brought job seekers in large numbers. The Arab Oil Embargo highlighted the strategic importance of the petroleum industry and led to even greater job opportunities. The 1970’s also signified the start of a construction boom as many Downtown skyscrapers were constructed. This continues in through today, as Houston’s skyline is now the fourth tallest in North America. A unique, seven mile system of tunnels and skywalks link many buildings with shops and restaurants enabling pedestrians to avoid the oppressive summer heat and rain.
Houston’s historic economic trajectory is not all positive growth though. The 1980’s brought falling oil prices and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, hitting the city’s major industries and plunging Houston (along with the rest of the nation) into an economic recession. Subsequent efforts were made to diversify the economy by refocusing on the aerospace industry and the burgeoning healthcare/biotechnology fields.
A Diverse Economy Indeed
Houston is known worldwide as the center of America’s energy industry, especially oil and natural gas. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power have gained inroads in this city as well. The development of the Houston Ship Channel has made the Houston area the top US market for exports, surpassing even New York City. The Port of Houston ranks first in international commerce for the U.S. and the tenth largest port in the world. With many of the largest petrochemical companies, including Phillips 66, Marathon, ConocoPhillips, and Shell headquartered here, the energy industry is among the top employers in the area.
Houston is home to more than 190 biotechnology and life sciences companies. The world’s largest concentration of medical research and healthcare institutions is located within the renowned Texas Medical Center. The 49 member organizations which provide patient care, preventive medicine, leading edge clinics, and top research are all non-profit. More than 73,000 people are employed in the 13 hospitals, two medical schools, dental and nursing schools. More heart surgeries are performed at the Texas medical center than anywhere else in the world. Among the internationally acclaimed institutions are MD Anderson (Cancer) Center, Baylor College of Medicine and UT Health Science Center.
The tourism industry is another major part of the Houston economy. The Museum District, featuring the Museum of Fine Arts, Natural History Museum plus the Bayou Place entertainment complex, attracts more than 7 million visitors per year. Another major destination is the Johnson Space Center, where visitors get a hands-on education in space exploration and a glimpse of modern aerospace operations. Don’t forget the famous Galleria – Texas’ largest shopping mall – satiating the retail urge.
Surprisingly Vibrant Culture
Houston is considered the most ethnically and racially diverse major metropolitan area in the country. The city is almost equally divided among Caucasians, Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. That may be one of the many reasons why the New York Times referred to Houston as “one of the country’s most exciting places to eat” with such a large number of noteworthy Vietnamese, Creole, Mexican, Barbecue and seafood restaurants.
Many of the city’s major yearly events celebrate the diversity of Houston’s cultural scene. The longest running is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest annual rodeo and livestock show in the world. The festival celebrating Houston’s cowboy heritage spans the course of 20 days every year. Other events include the annual Greek Festival, Houston Auto Show and the very popular Bayou City Art Festival – recognized among the top 5 art festivals in the country.
Houston’s Theater District is home to a major entertainment complex that houses nine major performing arts centers and six performance halls. It is one of the few U.S. cities with companies in all the major performing arts – opera (Houston Grand Opera), ballet (Houston Ballet), music (Houston Symphony Orchestra, and theater (The Alley Theater).
Condo Market in the Metropolis
The late 1990’s and early 2000’s saw a surge in the construction of high-rise residential towers with more than 30 new buildings within the past 10 years. All together there are now over 70 high rises towering over Houston. The Uptown District has even had its share of new development from prominent architects such as Philip Johnson, Cesar Pelli and I.M. Pei.
The Houston real estate market has been on an upward swing over the past few years. The Houston housing market has continued a robust 2015, after the record-breaking numbers of 2014. New listings coming to market and sustainable inventory levels indicate a healthy market. While the number of condominium sales transactions is basically flat year-over-year from 2014, sales prices have continued to edge up with the median condo sales at $149,000. Exciting new construction is another good sign for the Houston condo market. Houston is 3rd among U.S. cities in number of new condominium constructions. Luxury condo buildings like the brand-new Astoria, Belfiore, Riva at the Park, and in-development projects like The Arabella and The Wilshire are sure to entice buyers looking for the best units and amenities in Houston.