June 3, 2023


We Bring Good Things to Life

Real-Estate Developer Gerald Hines Bet on Elegant Designs

J. Hugh Liedtke, chief executive of Houston-based Pennzoil Co., wanted a new corporate headquarters in the mid-1970s. Gerald Hines, a local property developer, introduced Mr. Liedtke to the architect Philip Johnson, who shared the oilman’s disdain for boring designs.

The result was Pennzoil Place, a pair of trapezoidal towers with slanted roofs that gave Houston’s skyline a jolt. The project—extolled by the architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable for its “brilliant, shifting geometry”—was an early sign that Mr. Hines was going to leave a mark far beyond his home base of Houston.

A low-key mechanical engineer, Mr. Hines went on to team up with Mr. Johnson and other big-name architects——including I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry and Kevin Roche——to develop office towers, hotels and shopping malls around the world. Among his nearly 900 projects were the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, the Porta Nuova district in Milan, the Diagonal Mar complex in Barcelona and a stack of oval tiers in Midtown Manhattan known as the lipstick building.

Mr. Hines, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and died Aug. 23 at the age of 95, believed architectural flourishes paid for themselves by attracting prosperous tenants. He insisted on solid doors, luxurious hardware and tall ceilings. At the same time, he used his engineering expertise to pare the more mundane costs of construction.

In his breast pocket he carried a slide rule and often whipped it out to make calculations during meetings. Sometimes he worked out costs on his slide rule with his hands propped against his steering wheel while driving. “It was kind of scary,” said Perry Waughtal, a former chief financial officer of the Hines development company.

Though Mr. Hines preferred to retain ownership, he pulled off timely sales of some of his buildings, allowing him to scrape through real-estate slumps in the late 1980s and early 1990s that toppled other developers. “We’ve learned equity is king and debt is death,” he said in a 1992 speech.

The company he founded, now headed by his son Jeff, has more than 4,800 employees and a presence in 25 countries.

Gerald Douglas Hines was born Aug. 15, 1925. His parents, natives of Nova Scotia, had settled in Gary, Ind., where his father was an electrician at a

U.S. Steel

plant. His mother had been a teacher. Young Gerald delivered newspapers, sold vacuum cleaners door to door and ran on the cross-country team in high school.

At Purdue University, where he enrolled in 1943, he chose mechanical engineering, partly because his father had said engineers didn’t get laid off during the Depression, according to “Raising the Bar,” a 2016 biography of Mr. Hines by Mark Seal.

He joined the Sigma Chi fraternity, was a cheerleader at basketball and football games and operated a laundry service on campus. After interrupting his studies to serve in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he completed his mechanical engineering degree in 1948.

American Blower Corp., a maker of ventilating equipment, hired him as a salesman and sent him to the boomtown of Houston, where he initially roomed at a YMCA. After two years, he joined a small firm that designed mechanical systems for buildings. Soon he formed his own business, investing in real estate and developing warehouses and office buildings in the Houston suburbs.

“It was great to be in Houston,” he said later. “They didn’t want to know how many generations back you came from. It was an open society, and it was terrific.”

As a mechanical engineer, he knew how buildings functioned. As a developer, he grew interested in how they looked. “I suddenly realized that we’d hit upon a great marketing idea: good design at a reasonable cost,” he said.

The Houston Chronicle in 1967 quoted him as saying buildings should have “perpetual character and monumental quality.”

In the mid-1960s, he made a leap in scale by taking on two audacious projects in Houston: A headquarters for Shell Oil and the Galleria mall, anchored by a Neiman Marcus store and featuring an ice-skating rink in the basement and air-conditioned tennis courts on the roof. Developing both projects at the same time was “the craziest thing in the world,” he said later. “I could have gone broke.”

Oil-market gyrations in the 1970s and 1980s persuaded Mr. Hines he had to diversify geographically. That required a notorious micromanager to learn how to delegate.

When Mr. Hines was in his 50s, a doctor told him he had clogged arteries and needed heart-bypass surgery. He refused to have the operation and followed alternative treatments: extreme exercise, including bicycling and skiing adventures, and a better diet. He went vegan, ate steamed broccoli for breakfast and carried a brown bag of health food to dinner parties.

Influenced by his second wife, the former Barbara Fritzsche, he took up meditation and yoga. (To avoid alarming his more conservative friends, he sometimes referred to the latter as stretching.) They moved to London with their two young children in 1996. Mr. Hines pursued international projects while his son Jeff ran the overall business. The elder Mr. Hines and his wife moved back to Houston in 2012.

Mr. Hines is survived by his wife, four children, 15 grandchildren and a great-grandson. The University of Houston’s architectural school is named for him. He endowed a graduate-student design competition at the Urban Land Institute.

In terms of what can go wrong during construction, he had seen nearly everything. “I’ve learned that lesson a thousand times,” he sometimes told colleagues.

Write to James R. Hagerty at [email protected]

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