One Shell Plaza: License To Cruise

At the end of a long article chewing over the possibility that Shell Oil might move out of its longtime Downtown office-tower home, real estate writer and promoter and longtime mustache-wearer Ralph Bivins finally reveals why he likes One Shell Plaza so much: Long ago, the 50-story concrete building with the travertine facing saved him and his brother-in-law from a possible night in the slammer.

A few decades ago, the Houston Police Department employed some officers who had a sore spot against guys with long hair and other suspected hippies. Anytime, you could get pulled over because having long hair and a mustache was “probable cause” for HPD to make a traffic stop. I was in the passenger seat late one night when my slightly shaggy brother-in-law got pulled over in the Montrose area. Even though we were doing nothing wrong, the policeman gave him general hassle, scrutiny and in-depth questioning.


“You expect me to believe you work at One Shell Plaza?” the cop asked my brother-in-law. To prove it, my brother-in-law dug out his Shell Plaza ID badge and the policeman immediately waved us on and we drove away free.

No other office building in Houston had the cachet that even the ordinary patrolmen on-the-beat respected.

Photo of One Shell Plaza: Antonio Foster-Azcunaga

8 Comment

  • Shell has been quietly downsizing for years now, and not just in terms of manpower. They’ve been going to cube farms and really pushing the limits of density.
    It’s odd to me, though, that they still have offices in so many different downtown buildings. Unless they’re just worried about terrorist attacks or something, it’d seem to make a lot of operational sense to consolidate.

  • i like the very, very subtle offset on this building that creates an awesome optical illusion.
    im not an architect, so i dont even know what the term is, but the front and back of the building have two slight changes that run all the way up the building

  • I love One Shell – and also all of the skyscrapers in downtown Houston. When I got my first job out of college and went to work on Louisiana Avenue, it felt like I was finally a grown-up – as a kid, I wondered what exciting things happened in those buildings and now I was actually working in them. Good for Hines for bringing good architecture downtown – I hope Shell decides to stay.

  • To JPSivco:

    Concerning the ripple effect on the facades of the tower, I once heard Joe Colaco, the structural engineer on the project, lecture about that. He said the ripples are an expression of the forces as they travel down the structure to the ground.

  • Oh, come on–it’s a fifty story travertine box. It’s not as bad, however, as that horrible glass tower with the Aztec temple on top.

  • When I was in college, I spent a summer in London. I happened to live near Shell’s London office. It felt like a little piece of home, because at the time I thought the building looked so much like One Shell Plaza.

    After reading this post I went and looked it up. It does resemble the Houston office, but not as much as I remember it…

  • Ripple Effect!

  • The Shell building in New Orleans is almost identical to the One Shell Plaza in Houston (same builder, even).