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Collections ( Travel History )

1850s and 1860s Hotel and Restaurant Menus

Number of Items: 80 items

These mid nineteenth century menus located in the Hospitality Industry Archives, at the Hilton College of the University of Houston reveal a treasure trove of historical information. The menus relate not only the regional cuisine of the particular restaurant but also show some of the cultural and social norms of society. The menus are from hotel restaurants, stand-alone restaurants and steamships.

Exotic Impressions, Views of Foreign Lands

Number of Items: 16 items

This collection is comprised of a diverse array of books from the William R. Jenkins Architecture & Art Library’s Rare Books Room. Each one depicts a foreign land in etchings, photography, or sketches.  Unlike typical travel literature, these books primarily evoke an exotic, picturesque locale in imagery.  Some, like Fontainebleau, le Château: Album Artistique or Besley’s Eighteen Views of Devonshire (stamped Price One Shilling on the cover) are clearly travel souvenirs.  Others, like Constantinople and the Scenery of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, Illustrated, are scholarly works for an audience unlikely to visit the city of their own.  The collection also includes an anonymous album of Victorian photographs taken in Edinburgh and inscribed by hand.  The collection spans most of the 19th century, beginning with H.W. Williams’ Select Views in Greece, published in 1829.

Havana, Cuba, The Summer Land of the World

Number of Items: 23 items

This collection consists of images taken from an early 20th century promotional pamphlet encouraging Americans to visit Havana, Cuba. The color illustrations depict palaces, beaches, parks, boulevards, harbors, and other tourist attractions. All 23 pages of the booklet are represented, including the colorful front and back covers.

Titled Havana, Cuba: The Summer Land of the World, the booklet itself was published sometime in the years 1921-1939, capturing the allure of the island in the pre-Cuban Revolution era. The introduction page extols the many activities that might entice American travelers to visit Havana – especially to escape the “icy gales” of winter – such as sailing, sun bathing, deep sea fishing, golf, tennis, polo, and dancing. While trumpeting the city as a top tourist destination, the introduction also adds historical and contextual information about Havana’s harbor, architecture, commerce, and culture. Americans are assured that passports are not required and that their “personal liberty is unrestricted.” A full transcription of the page is provided beneath the image.

Highlights of the collection include colorful images of the Country Club of Havana, the Presidential Palace, City Hall, La Fuerza Fortress, the Senate Building, and the Malecon, a broad avenue and esplanade curving along the coast. Other images showcase parks, monuments, a tobacco field, and views of the water as both background scenery and a center of recreation and transportation. Titles of the images are taken directly from the booklet.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in Havana, Cuba:The Summer Land of the World.

India Illustrated

Number of Items: 217 items

This digital collection features fascinating photographs of early 20th century India under British rule. The 217 black and white photographs come from a rare book called India Illustrated: Being a Collection of Pictures of the Cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, Together with a Selection of the Most Interesting Buildings and Scenes throughout India. The book was published by Bennett, Coleman, & Co., publishers of the English language newspaper Times of India, around the year 1905.

Complete with titles and descriptions taken directly from the book, the images capture the full scope of India’s scenery: from cities to farmland; from rivers and beaches to jungles and mountains; from crowded streets to idyllic countryside; from Western-style cathedrals to elaborate Indian temples. Of particular interest are photographs of the majestic Taj Mahal and the historic Chepauk Palace, which was constructed in the mid-1700s. A handful of the photographs are set in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, in what is now Pakistan.

Hallmarks of British colonialism are evident in images of the Madras Cricket Club, the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, the Adyar Club for golf and tennis, the Gymkhana Club, which hosted polo matches, and a top-coated huntsman leading a pack of hounds on a fox hunt.

The collection also shows villagers engaged in a variety of daily activities, such as fishing, basket-weaving, harvesting the fields, and washing clothes on riverbanks.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in India Illustrated: Being a Collection of Pictures of the Cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, Together with a Selection of the Most Interesting Buildings and Scenes throughout India.

Scenes from the Middle East

Number of Items: 114 items

This collection of 114 images from three books provides a view of life in the Middle East during the nineteenth century through colored and tinted sketches of the people and places of Afghanistan, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. The digital collection also includes pages of printed text highlighting descriptive passages about these areas.

Of great artistic and historical interest, these illustrations have been culled from three rare books held by the University of Houston Libraries’ Special Collections: Sketches in Afghaunistan (1842), by James Atkinson; Lewis's Illustrations of Constantinople (approximately 1837), by John Frederick Lewis; and Sinai and Jerusalem; or, Scenes from Bible Lands (1870), by F.W. Holland.

During this time period, Afghanistan found itself in the middle of the British-Russian conflict known as the “Great Game,” and James Atkinson’s sketches depict troop movements and scenes of conflict amid the country’s rugged landscape.

The drawings by Royal Academy of Arts Associate John Frederick Lewis and the colorful illustrations by F.W. Holland capture a time when Constantinople and Jerusalem were part of the declining Ottoman Empire. The works offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of residents, as well as the regions’ natural beauty, ancient ruins, mosques, and other buildings.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections.

Shamrock Hotel Collection

Number of Items: 86 items

The Shamrock Collection consists of menus from the many restaurants, bars and lounges in the hotel, staff newsletters, and promotional pamphlets. It chronicles the transition of ownership and highlights of the hotel’s golden years.

The Shamrock Hotel was the grandest hotel in the city of Houston from 1949 until its decline and demolition in 1987. Built by Glenn McCarthy (wildcatter and oil tycoon) between 1946 and 1949, it opened with great fanfare. Three thousand dignitaries, celebrities and the socially prominent were present for its grand opening on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1949, attended by no less than Errol Flynn, Ginger Rogers and Robert Preston. The partygoers were brought in on a customized Boeing 307 Stratoliner and by a Santa Fe Super Chief train specially chartered by McCarthy. Approximately 50,000 people gathered outside of the hotel.

While the hotel was immense, expensive and lavish, it was also considered by many to be garish and more than a little over the top.

The hotel became a destination for Houstonians and played host to numerous social events such as debutante balls, receptions, business meetings, presidential visits and visits from other heads of state.  The Shamrock hosted cattle auctions and also was a gathering spot for the Houston Rodeo.

The hotel had 1,100 rooms and many restaurants, bars and lounges. Those who swam in the hotel’s huge swimming pool, which measured 165 by 142 feet, remember it fondly. The swimming pool even hosted water skiing exhibitions, complete with motorboats.

The Hilton Hotels Corporation acquired the Shamrock Hotel in 1954. Burdened with a poor location, burgeoning competition and stagnant occupancy rates, its popularity declined. The hotel described in Edna Ferber’s novel Giant as the “Conquistador,” which saw performers such as Dorothy Lamour and Frank Sinatra grace its clubs, never fulfilled McCarthy’s vision of a destination resort, conference and shopping center.

“Let us consecrate THE SHAMROCK to friendship – the motto of the State of Texas….May that motto be alive here as long as THE SHAMROCK is privileged to serve the great city of Houston as its ambassador of good will to the world.” – Glenn McCarthy