Gerald Hines’s new projects—especially a planned office tower near River Oaks—attract both attention and controversy. But the Galleria, of which he is the founding father, is almost beyond criticism, and Hines knows it. Though he sold his stake in it more than a decade ago, the 88-year-old still speaks of his mall with a mixture of modesty and pride, rather like a parent whose child has been successful and married well. 

Did you stake your entire fortune on the Galleria?

I’m not sure I bet the whole ranch on it. I might have had $1 million left or so. I had a family at that time, a young son … [and] a real estate net worth of $6 million, and real estate net worth is not easy to liquefy. But I had great partners such as John and Charles Duncan, Ed Randall, and Jerry Finger. I wasn’t into it 100 percent by myself.  

Getting all that land couldn’t have been easy even in the ’60s.

The acquisition of all that land was extremely painful. I remember trying to acquire all that land along Westheimer. (Oilman Michel) Halbouty was the holdout. We’d dug a hole completely around his building 30 feet deep. And we finally made a deal with Mike where we gave him a building across the street that was four or five stories. He got a really good deal out of it.

You knew it was vital to bring in Neiman-Marcus, and I understand you personally negotiated with Stanley Marcus himself.

He was a fabulous person, a great salesman. He even tried to sell me diamonds and so forth during the negotiations! He’d bring these diamonds out and say 'Gerry, you need to take these home for your wife.'

Didn’t the design of his Galleria store influence the Galleria as a whole? 

There was no interaction, except Marcus had an interiors person who said “Gerry, you ought to look at Gyo Obata in addition to Neuhaus & Taylor.” So I had a little mini-competition between the two, and Gyo came up with a far more interesting design. 

Were there any variations from your original plan?

I really wanted to do four levels but I didn’t have enough money. So then when I finally had to top it off with the roof, I said, ‘I think I’ve got an idea with what to do with that fourth level. We can put indoor tennis courts there!’ My partner said ‘What? Whoa. I’m glad Gerry doesn’t like to play golf!’ But it was and is very successful. We introduced air-conditioned tennis courts in Texas.

Where did the idea for the ice rink come from?

There had never been a skating rink inside a shopping center except one that I found in a shopping center in Seattle, but that was just like an in-line store. [The rink] was two cents a square foot, and I thought it would generate traffic, so that was nothing. So I went with the skating rink hoping I would get more traffic on the lower level, which I did. And the rents are equal there to the fashion level. 

You believe in high-end accents for your mall spaces, such as expensive doors.  

We liked to do things where people can see, touch and feel the quality, and people do see the quality in the Galleria. People told me, 'You can’t have that much space between your tenants. That’s too much! You’re not gonna get the interchange.' Well, people love the open space, so some of those axioms don’t necessarily apply.

As much as people love the Galleria, they hate Galleria traffic.

We have people tell us, 'Oh, you don’t want to lease in the Williams Tower because of traffic at Christmas.' Yes, it takes our tenants a little longer but not significantly in relation to the Galleria’s food and retail outlets. I think that as we get more rail transportation, we will alleviate the traffic. And we need more rail in Houston, as our Main Street line has shown between the Medical Center and downtown and all the apartments that have been built there.

I have a 9-year-old daughter, and her whole face lights up when I ask her if she wants to go to the Galleria. 

Well, I’m glad to have impacted the younger group. 

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