“My idea of heaven is a place with no telephones”: George Cohen and Foley’s Department Store

HD_Implosion_G_RamIt’s been impossible for me to read the stories about the implosion of the old Foley’s building on Main Street without thinking about George Cohen, who both built Foley’s into Houston’s biggest department store and gave Rice Cohen House. He was an extremely generous and civic-minded gentleman as well as a brilliant businessman and he was also, I think it’s fair to say, a bit of a character. This summer we were given his scrapbook and some other memorabilia by a family member and it was packed with   photographs and papers from a long and eventful life. Here’s my favorite, a piece that appeared in the Post in January, 1959, as part of a regular series of personality pieces called “Titled Texan.” It’s kind of a winding tale and a fascinating look at how Houston worked in those days.

Cohen article 1 January 1959Cohen article 2In truth, it’s hard to imagine what Rice would have been like without Cohen House. In its early years, when the Institute was still so isolated from the rest of Houston, it provided a indispensable arena for camaraderie and hospitality on campus. For decades it was the center of faculty life and work. Among the things in the scrapbook I found this resolution that the Rice faculty presented to Mr. Cohen’s wife, Esther, after his death in 1972:

Cohen resolution

And here’s an image from one of the Cohen’s not-to-be-missed New Year’s Eve extravaganzas, held each year in Cohen House for the entire Rice faculty. Left to right are Ken and Jean Pitzer, Mildred and William Houston and Esther and George Cohen:

Cohen Scrapbook 1967 1

Bonus: Here’s Alex Dessler, who signed the resolution above as Chairman of the Faculty Club board.

Space Science Dessler April 1965

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7 Responses to “My idea of heaven is a place with no telephones”: George Cohen and Foley’s Department Store

  1. Buddy Chuoke says:

    Fascinating story of the life of George Cohen, from his early days in Galveston, to his business success in Houston. Didn’t know of his support for Rice football and a being force behind the creation of the physical education department in the 1920’s. We could use a few more modern day benefactors like Cohen to step forward and bring Rice athletic facilities into the 21st century.

  2. I tried to embiggen the Cohen pages but just got a blank, black screen. Hmmm. Couldn’t download them either.

  3. Lou Ann Montana says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the story of George Cohen – what an inspiring man! Thanks much, Melissa.

  4. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    Melissa,
    Just to keep the record straight on the George Cohen/Cohan memories:

    George M. Cohan
    http://www.musicals101.com/cohanrevue.htm
    a George M. Cohan song: “Telephone Me Baby,”

    http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0703.html
    Cohan … transacted much of his business from public telephone booths, remarking that his office really was in his hat.

    (Sorry, but we Irishmen must stick together too.)

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