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Chevron Buying Enron’s Tower

Special to The Times

ChevronTexaco Corp. is buying the house that Enron built but never lived in.

The San Ramon, Calif.-based oil giant wouldn’t say Wednesday how much it was spending on the glass-clad 40-story Houston tower. But if the sale goes through in March, it means the former Enron Corp. property can end its inglorious reign as the nation’s largest corporate ghost ship.

Chevron spokesman Mickey Driver said the company’s new digs would bring under one roof 3,200 workers from seven locations in Houston as well as 500 others from offices in San Ramon, New Orleans and Midland, Texas.

“The purpose of this is to consolidate and become more efficient,” Driver said.

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About 165 employees from Chevron’s international upstream division in San Ramon will begin relocating to Houston this summer, he said.

The empty Enron tower became a parable for Houston’s boom-and-bust energy sector, which was devastated two years ago by a poor economy and a wave of criminal investigations into once highflying energy companies. Downtown office vacancy rates hit 22% last summer, more than doubling in two years, according to real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield.

In the late 1990s, Enron wanted a custom-built headquarters and turned to acclaimed architect Cesar Pelli, who designed the 1,483-foot-high twin Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, among the world’s tallest structures.

With 1.2 million square feet of space, Pelli set to capture the bravado of the then-untouchable trading company.

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From the high-ceilinged trading floor, circular staircases rambled up to what were to be the offices of Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling, the top executives at the time. In the lobby, Pelli placed a huge etched-glass sculpture of the world. And Pelli suspended a skywalk over one of the largest streets in downtown Houston to connect the new tower with Enron’s original 50-story headquarters.

“Enron spared no expense building that building,” Driver said.

But by the fall of 2001, before anyone from Enron had moved into the tower, financial scandal pushed the company into bankruptcy and thousands of employees were out of work.

In 2002, Intell Management & Investment Co. of New York purchased the building and the land surrounding it for $102 million, significantly less than the $300 million that Enron executives had paid to build their dream tower.

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Even the original Enron building is nearly empty, occupied by a small cadre of employees, and surplus equipment and furniture being prepared for auction.

Enron is scheduled to move to a smaller building next month.


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