What Are the Major Historical Architectural Buildings in Texas?

Whether it’s the Spanish mission-style, Victorian, Romanesque Revival, or contemporary style, Texas is home to diverse architectural styles that have gone through different eras. The variety of buildings are one of the things that Texans are proud of as they also speak of the state’s distinctive culture and heritage.

This article lists only a few of the famous buildings that best epitomize Texas’ architecture throughout the centuries (the year indicates the period of a building’s completion).

Mission de San Antonio de Valero, aka The Alamo
San Antonio (1718)

the alamo

Through orders from the Spanish government, the Roman Catholic friars established a series of religious missions in the Americas to spread Christianity among the natives and to give Spain a territorial hold in the frontier land. The series of these missions was among the first colonial structures in Texas. One of these missions is the Mission de San Antonio de Valero, more popularly known today as The Alamo, which was built in the early 18th century. The Battle of the Alamo in 1836 catapulted this mission to fame, becoming one of the most iconic buildings (and popular tourist destinations) in Texas.

Texas State Capitol
Austin (1885)

texas state capitol

As Texas’s seat of government, it’s only appropriate that its building should look imposing, impressive, and majestic. It is the sixth-tallest state capitol in the country, even taller than its more famous counterpart, the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. At the time of its construction, the Texas State Capitol was dubbed as the “Seventh Largest Building in the World,” and it was obvious at the time where dizzyingly tall skyscrapers were once unheard of. The capitol building was constructed in the Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. The focal point of the building is its distinct pinkish color, which comes from large amounts of a mineral in granite called orthoclase feldspar that also makes the structure more durable.

Mission San José
San Antonio (1782)

mission san jose

Another Spanish mission on this list of historic Texas architectural wonders is the Mission San José in San Antonio. While the Alamo is more famous, the Mission San José is considered the “queen” of all the San Antonio missions. The mission, founded in 1720, existed in the first place because the Alamo had become overcrowded with refugees from closed East Texas missions. Its church was built in 1768. Once the heart of a thriving Spanish community in San Antonio, the Mission San José now attracts tourists mainly on account of its beautiful church.

Pennzoil Place
Houston (1976)

pennzoil place

Pennzoil Place is an award-winning masterpiece conceived and designed by Philip Johnson/John Burgee Architects. Although this pair of 36-story buildings aren’t the tallest, their appearance is otherwise striking, making them a Houston icon. Both twin towers feature a trapezoidal shape, making them a standout in the Houston skyline. But adding to the buildings’ uniqueness is their sleek and dark appearance due to the bronze-tinted glass. The entire street-level plaza (the lobby area) connecting the two towers, which are separated by a mere 10-foot space, is enclosed by a 115-foot-high pyramid-shaped glass atrium.

Kimbell Art Museum
Fort Worth (1972)

kimbell art museum

At first glance, you’d think there’s nothing unusual or extraordinary about the Kimbell Art Museum – just a group of five arched buildings and a portico. But once you enter the premises, you’ll be amazed to learn that the museum illuminates its interiors with nothing but only natural daytime light to properly exhibit the artworks. It was the intention of its architect, Louis I. Kahn, who wanted light to play a significant role in the exhibition process. The five connected vaulted galleries, plus the portico supported by mere four columns at the corners, were inspired by the Roman vaults that Kahn had always admired. The resulting building, constructed in a spartan, minimalist style, is a work of art itself.

Bishop’s Palace
Galveston (1893)

bishop’s palace, galveston, texas

If you visit Galveston (or plan to), you should not miss this strikingly beautiful Victorian-style mansion, located on Broadway and 14th Street in the city’s East End Historic District. Its distinctly ornate exterior alone never fails to leave visitors in awe, and it’s just a prelude to what the mansion has in store for them inside. The house was initially named Gresham’s Castle after its owner, Walter Gresham, and his large family (he and his wife had nine children). The generous lawyer and politician would welcome hundreds of hurricane survivors into his home, which tells you that space didn’t seem a big problem. The ownership was later passed on to Bishop Christopher E. Byrne, which explains the mansion’s present name. Everything in this three-story mansion is worthy of admiration, from the intricate carvings when it was first built to the stained-glass windows which were later installed when the diocese moved in. When visiting this gorgeous mansion, prepare to hold your breath!

Reunion Tower
Dallas (1978)

reunion tower with green light on saint patrick’s day

The Dallas skyline wouldn’t have been iconic as it is today without the Reunion Tower, famous for its spherical top that glitters at night. “The Ball,” as the Dallasites fondly call it, holds 259 custom LED lights that illuminate with various colors and patterns, often reflecting a holiday or special event. The building has 50 floors, while the “ball” itself has three floors that include an observation deck and a rotating restaurant, allowing guests and patrons to enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Frost Bank Tower
Austin (2003)

frost bank tower

While most modern skyscrapers look the same with their humdrum boxy silhouettes, the Frost Bank Tower breaks the mold with its uncharacteristically pointy “crown” at the top. Completed in 2003, the Frost Bank Tower opened to the public the following year; at the time of its opening, it was the tallest building in Austin. Now, the 33-story, silvery blue skyscraper is the fifth tallest building in the city. Not surprisingly, the tower’s distinctive pyramidal crown has earned polarized opinions from the Austinites (a local politician likened the crown to an “enormous set of nose hair trimmers”). But one thing’s for sure – the Frost Bank Tower has undoubtedly made the Austin skyline look a lot more exciting than ever before.