History of The W .L. Foley Building
The second building on the block designed by prolific Texas courthouse architect Eugene T. Heiner, the venue features two stories of wood, brick and mirrored walls that light up with vibrant colors at night. While built in 1889, much of the modern updates are accredited to former owner Lee Benner.
The original W.L. Foley building, also known as the Kennedy-Foley building, was built in 1860 by local bakery owner John Kennedy. Though he planned to operate his store out of the building, fate had other plans. As the U.S. Civil War burgeoned, the building was employed as a Confederate armory, brimming with guns and explosives. At the war’s end, the building was raided, during which live explosives were spilled and left behind. Kennedy hired men and teams of horses to flood the building, drawing water from the bakery’s cistern. After several years of running the bakery, however, Kennedy’s dreams were foiled once again when the building was partially burned in 1888.
A year later, in 1889, Eugene T. Heiner was hired to reconstruct the building. Known for designing some of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings in Texas, including many on the Texas A&M Campus, the Houston Cotton Exchange, the Wharton County Courthouse and the Jasper County Courthouse, Heiner successfully rebuilt the original structure which soon became home to dry goods business run by John Kennedy’s son-in-law, W.L. Foley, until 1948.
A few decades later, the building burned a second time in 1989. While scheduled for demolition in 1994, the building was once again given new life when it was purchased by Houston artist and architect Lee Benner. Known for his unique merging of modern eclectic designs and folk genre with local history, Benner applied his signature style to the new design of the building. H and his colleagues can be credited for the iron and brass workings inside much of the building, including the staircase, its railing and the built-in shelving and cabinets.
In 2008, Landmark Houston Hospitality Group bought the historic site for its restaurant Hearsay, which opened its doors to the public in late 2009. Landmark Hospitality preserved Heiner’s unique design featuring alternating colors in the arches and angles to achieve contrasts of depth, color and shape, and added the signature chandelier now associated with the Hearsay restaurants. The new owners also kept with the classical revival style Heiner used for the Cotton Exchange building but also included features in keeping with 19th and 20th century architecture in Houston, such as the cast-iron columns supporting a canopy lining the front of the building. Landmark’s final decorative touch is the mirrored Post-Benner Bar-Back wall was designed to reflect the hanging bulbs of varying lengths, each one glistening like a firefly.
Through more than a century of design and reinvention, the original Hearsay building has achieved a timeless blend of old and new for a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that has been carried over to the second Hearsay location. Whether at the original Gastro Lounge or On the Green, there is no dining experience in Houston quite like Hearsay.