The south bank of Buffalo Bayou from Montrose
Boulevard to Waugh Drive is a profound, but subtle, tribute to one of
Houston's most significant benefactors, Gus Wortham.
The most visible, and public, recognition of Wortham is the Gus S.
Wortham Memorial Fountain which is located on bayou park land near
Waugh Drive. The Wortham Fountain was designed by William Cannady and
construction was complete in 1978. The spray and mist created by the
nozzles at the end of the copper tubes that radiate from the center of
the fountain provide the fountain with its common name, the Dandelion
Even more impressive is the tract of land which is bounded by Allen
Parkway on the north, West Dallas Avenue on the south, Montrose
Boulevard on the east and Waugh Drive to the west. Most of this tract
is owned by the American General Corporation, the gigantic insurance
conglomerate that was founded by Gus Wortham in 1926.
This site was mostly rural pasture land throughout the 19th century and
the first two decades of the 20th century. By 1924, however, there was
some development on the tract. The A. T. Lucas Brick Company occupied a
large block next to the Magnolia Cemetery and the complex included
three dry kilns, a dirt shed, an office, a reservoir, a general storage
building and a caretakers dwelling. The only other improvements on the
tract were a handful of scattered dwellings or farms on Link Road (now
In the economic prosperity of the post World War II period, businesses
and residences began to appear along Waugh Drive. The Buffalo
Town House Hotel Tourist Courts at Allen Parkway, the Ineeda Laundry on
Peveto Street, and the Carnation Milk Company on Waugh Drive at D'Amico
Street were the commercial developments. A few residential dwellings
also were built along Waugh Drive and West Dallas Avenue.
In the 1960's, the American General
Corporation began to acquire the
land for its own business development. Over the next twenty
years, the forty-four acre American General Center took shape. The
center eventually came to consist of five high rise office buildings,
three parking garages and a health spa. The complex's flagship high
rise, the America Tower, was constructed in 1982 and contains 956,380
square feet of improved space. A 2007 market appraisal of the American
General Center placed its value at a cool $200,421,755.00.
Gus Sessions Wortham was born in Mexia to John Lee and Fannie Sessions
Wortham on February 18, 1891. He began his career in insurance in 1912
when he went to work for the Texas Fire Rating Board in Austin. In
1915, Gus and his father moved to Houston and founded the John L.
Wortham and Son insurance agency. In 1926, Gus Wortham and Houston
businessmen Jesse H. Jones, James A. Elkins and John W. Link organized
the American General Insurance Company, with Wortham was president and
John W. Link as chairman of the board. It was one of the first
multi-line insurance companies, writing both fire and casualty
insurance and that proved to be a key to the company's success that has
persisted through the Depression, World War II and the post war period
to the present day.
After years of successful acquisitions, the American General Insurance
Company became a general business holding company in 1980. Twenty-one
years later, in 2001, the American General Corporation was acquired by
the American International Group. The American International Group
became a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average on April 8,
2004. The AIG logo was added to the exterior facade of the Wortham
Tower in the spring of 2007 to join the ever-waving American flag atop
Gus Wortham married Elizabeth Lyndall Finley
on October 4, 1926, and
they had two daughters. Throughout his life, he was devoted to his
family, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Opera and the general
well being of the city. During the 1950's and 1960's, Wortham was a
member of the "8-F Crowd" - a group of business leaders who met
for lunch in Suite 8-F of the Lamar Hotel to chart Houston's civic
affairs. He served two consecutive terms as the president of the
Houston Chamber of Commerce.
In the 1970's, Wortham helped to rescue a neglected cemetery that lay
adjacent to his American General Center. It was said that he hand
picked his final resting place in Magnolia Cemetery because it gave him
a view of his American General headquarters building.
Henrietta Steiner buried her family members John P. W. Steiner and
Arthur Steiner on a tract of land on the north side of the San Felipe
Road near the western edge of Houston in 1884. Shortly thereafter, the
First German Methodist Church of Houston (now known as the Bering
Memorial Methodist Church) established this tract as the Magnolia
Cemetery for its members. In 1892, the Magnolia Cemetery Company
amended its charter to permit membership privileges to persons who were
not members of the church.
The Magnolia Cemetery was originally a ten
acre tract extending from
the San Felipe Road (now West Dallas Avenue) to Buffalo Bayou. In 1929,
the trustees of the Magnolia Cemetery deeded about two and a half acres
of unused cemetery land to the City of Houston to provide the right of
way for Buffalo Drive and to pay the cemetery's part for paving the
By 1970, the Magnolia Cemetery had fallen into a state of disrepair.
The trustees of the Magnolia Cemetery sold an unused section of land on
the north end to Gus Wortham's American General Insurance Company in
1974. That parcel later was converted into park space for
visitor and local citizens. In 1970, an acre on the cemetery's south
end was sold to establish a perpetual care endowment. This tract on
West Dallas Avenue is still owned by AIG American General Life
Insurance and is vacant commercial land.
Today, the Magnolia Cemetery, 809 Montrose Boulevard, consists of six
acres in a peaceful, park-like environment and contains about 4,000
burials. After his death on September 1, 1976, Gus S. Wortham was
buried in a mausoleum in the cemetery. When his wife Elizabeth Wortham
died July 12, 1980, she joined him in eternal rest in the picturesque