Exploring the Past: The Ruins of an Abandoned Hotel: Ben Milam Hotel By: Neil Dalal

Corner of Capital and Crawford in Downtown Houston

January 2004–Numerous feelings flow through me when five friends and I run across the parking lot to access the parking garage via the stairs. What I was about to do could put me in jail because trespassing on to private property is very illegal. I peer over the edge of the railing to see if anyone was coming down the street. I creep to the door, turn my flashlight on and aim it in to the building. As I do through the door and look around, I could tell that this room was the hotel gym. I see volleyball nets and some basketball hoops.

For every explorer’s adventurous mind, The Ben Milam Hotel is quite the place to go. The old run down hotel is located in the historical downtown Houston area. It was built in the 1930’s and was one of the most modern hotels in the nation. This hotel was also the first air conditioned hotel in the Houston area and was rated highly luxurious because of the rare technology of air conditioning. The present day Milam hotel is now boarded up and abandoned and it is not in use to the public. This building is the place for people who like to explore old historical and creepy places.

Since it was built right after the Great Depression, the owner, John Henry Cooker, must have had a lot of money and quite the motivation to build such a fancy hotel. The Great Depression was a time of economical crisis. The economy of the United States was so low people could not afford to buy food for their family. The low economy now is nothing compared to back in the 1920’s. When this hotel was being built the economy was getting back up off its feet. This hotel was built for the wealthy to stay in when visiting Houston for conventions or for pleasure. Conventions and meetings were held at this hotel before moving to a venue on the Rice campus. The hotel was named after Ben Milam, a hero, as he fought during the times of the Texas Revolution.

Long after the hotel served its time, its aging is quite apparent. While walking into the abandoned building, the smell is memorable of an attic in an old house; however, this smell is magnified by ten times. Along with the mustiness, the hot, humid air engulfs you. Pungent smells of rotting drywall hits your nose when walking throughout this abandoned building. The most intense is the smell of insulation and rotting drywall. Leaky roofs causing the ceiling panels to become weak and break to the floor below rot through out the years. Throughout the hotel, insulation and ceiling tiles were everywhere, there was no escaping the smell. Another horrible smell was the smell of urine because of the homeless people living in it. The smells were something you would normally expect in an abandoned house or your grandparents dusty attic, minus the smell of urine.

Just as in the horror movies where a young teenager is walking through a dark mysterious house, everything makes noise. Walking through the Ben Milam Hotel was the same way. The floor makes a creaking noise every step of the way as well as the stairs in the old ragged building. As I wander my way through the building, various sounds from outside the building could be heard inside. Sounds echo through the hallways making some feel jumpy and turn around in panic. Making the way down to the basement, water drops can be heard echoing through the stairwells. People are edgy when they are in a place they know they should not be. My friends and I heard peoples’ voices, but we were the only ones there.

It isn’t so freaky, I thought, but I shouldn’t say that since I was in there for about one minute. My friends and I head through another set of double doors. I saw a pit in the middle of the room, and upon closer inspection I realize it is a pool. I peer in a closet and happen to see a bag of clothes apparently belonging to a homeless person inhabiting the hotel. I think we might run into someone. We continue on towards another set of doors, and proceed to walk through them. Our flashlights scan the wall, ground and then back to the other side of the wall to keep an eye out for homeless people or interesting artifacts.

We walk into some of the room and I see different kinds of furniture that was left from when it was closed down. My friends and I walk into some of the rooms too see what it looked like on the inside. There were chairs made out of thin wood inside overturned on the carpet. Desks are positioned in the middle of the room sometimes overturned or in odd positions. In the bathrooms, the tile is stained and the bathtubs are stained brown. Mirrors were also left in there which you could see your reflection on the dirty glass.

We eventually find the stairs; however, there is no way I am going to walk down the stairs first, I tell someone else to lead. As we walk through the hotel we haven’t ran into anyone but the thought still lingers in my head. The next floor below is the floor above the lobby. There is nothing too exciting around there, so we find another set of stairs that must have been the grand staircase. It was hard to imagine what the hotel looked like back in the 1930’s; the present condition of the hotel was too hard to put it back together mentally.

The room is littered with strange artifacts which combined the history of the hotel and our current society. There is a mobile home type trailer in the center of the room. In another room on the ground floor, there is a big iron case. It is a vault with a date back from the 1930’s. I knock on it and the vault responds with a big thud. After looking around for a little bit, we find another set of staircases, which leads up and down. We quickly agree to head down the stairs.

I am the first one to go down, and after reaching the landing after one flight of stairs before reaching the bottom, I stop. I can feel an extreme temperature change. From a hot, humid temperature, I can feel it start to become frigid cold. I point the flashlight up to my face and breathe out slowly, and I can see my breath. I vaguely remember hearing about rooms turning cold when paranormal activities occur so I get a little freaked out. Also, I hear a distant buzzing coming from the basement below and can see a faint light emitting through the doorways into the hall.

I walk down to the doors to see what it is and I am astonished to see a long glowing light bulb! I thought it is kind of creepy because this old, abandoned building still has power flowing through it and only one light bulb is on. I walk around some more in the basement and I see a piece of paper with an advertisement. This advertisement is about the building of Sugar Land. It was kind of mind boggling to see that because of how large Sugar Land is now.

When that paper was printed, Sugar Land must have been a small town not even close to touching the Houston city limits. After poking around some more, we head back upstairs to the door we came in through. We exit the building, sneak down the stairs, and casually walk toward the sidewalk to give the illusion that we came from behind the grand Ben Milam Hotel. We make it back to our cars with no involvement with the police or any authorities.

This hotel is interesting to see how the old buildings looked in the times when Houston was a developing city. It is always fascinating to see what things looked liked in your city before you were born. Old buildings and structures that have been up since the 1930’s are quite interesting. These spots may not be the safest structures to go into, but is one of many chances you take when you go exploring. To have seen the luxuriousness of the Ben Milam Hotel at its grandest in the 1930’s would have been fascinating. I can only imagine what it looked like by piecing together my memories of visiting the hotel and pictures.

There aren’t many articles or resources about the Ben Milam Hotel so reading about it does not help a person out with a background. I have not found many pictures of the insides of the Ben Milam Hotel when it was an actual functioning hotel for the wealthy. If there was a way to go back in time and see what the Ben Milam Hotel was like, I would take that opportunity in a heartbeat. To go into the Ben Milam Hotel was quite amazing; it was like watching the History channel, but without the narrator. This place is the best place in Houston, in my opinion, because it has history “bouncing” off the walls. Unfortunately, space must be made for the growth and development of the Houston skyline, which no longer has a place for the grand Ben Milam Hotel.

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