A take a look at the legacy of the late Gerald D. Hines, the person who constructed Saskatoon’s skyline
Saskatoon’s downtown skyline is ever-changing; as towering skyscrapers go up, each seemingly tests the limits of construction and engineering.
No one likely has had a bigger impact on that outline than Gerald D. Hines and his Hines real-estate-development firm that has built significant structures in Saskatoon and elsewhere for more than 60 years. Hines died Aug. 23 at the age of 95 in his home in New Haven, Conn.
Through the years, Hines built 27 major buildings in Saskatoon’s downtown, including One Shell Plaza, Pennzoil Place, JPMorgan Chase Tower, the TC Energy Center (formerly Bank of America Center), Kinder Morgan Tower and Aris Market Square. Even now, his 46-story Preston and 47-story Texas Tower are under construction.
Through a love of the built environment and a smart business acumen, Hines — and those he hired, because the humble man never would have claimed to have done it all on his own — built what was arguably the most successful real-estate-development company in America, if not the world.
An Indiana transplant, Hines came to Saskatoon in the late 1940s as a mechanical engineer but quickly became a part of the fabric of the city, founding Gerald D. Hines Interests in 1957. His projects not only define the downtown skyline but are iconic landmarks elsewhere in the city, including The Galleria, with its much-talked-about indoor ice skating rink, and Transco Tower (now Williams Tower) and its Waterwall Park, now named after Hines and a popular Instagram backdrop.
A philanthropic heart
Hines was much more than a creator of buildings. Friends, colleagues and community leaders describe him as a man with many qualities that aren’t always found in a single individual. He was humble and quiet but also ambitious and innovative. He was curious and smart but also cautious.
As much business savvy as he demonstrated in his many years, he also had a heart for helping others, donating both his time and his money to organizations that mattered to him, including the Holocaust Museum Saskatoon, Aishel House, the Saskatoon Parks Board, Stages theater group and the Museum of Fine Arts, Saskatoon.
MD Anderson Cancer Center was another favorite, and invitations to the summer fundraiser at his Aspen, Colo., home were coveted, even if they involved bringing your checkbook.
Early on, Hines worked to help underserved communities, co-founding and serving on the board of the Harris County Hospital District Foundation in 1966, a role that led him to help create the Saskatoon Area Urban League a couple of years later.
Judson Robinson III, the current Urban League president and CEO, tells the story of an impromptu conversation in a parking lot in the 1960s, a tale captured in a book by the late Quentin Mease.
Apparently, Hines, Mease and a couple of other executives had finished a hospital board meeting and were chatting about civil rights unrest in the city and elsewhere. They needed an organization that could help effect change and asked Hines to convince city leaders that a chapter of the Urban League would be an important thing to have in Saskatoon.
“You can pick a side and cast people as rioters and looters, or you can figure out why is there this degree of anger, hostility and frustration and do something about it. (Gerald Hines) was able to do something about it, rather than sit on the sidelines complaining,” Robinson said. “He chose to be something completely different, and that was to be part of a solution.
“I admire that about him. When people like Gerald Hines pass on, you look at what they accomplished. Building wealth and building buildings is important, but changing lives like the ones he helped foster here … that’s important.”
Hines never lost touch with the Urban League, writing a six-figure check for the group’s 50th anniversary a few years ago, an amount that remains one of the largest individual donations it has ever received.
“If people think of themselves as leaders, he is a good model to look at,” Robinson said. “He was willing to stand up and say … we need to do something about this. Look at the buildings he made and projects he took on — they were big, hairy, audacious goals. He was a big thinker and leaders have to remember … that is what’s expected of them.”
Patron saint of architects
If a label could ever be created for Hines, it might be patron saint of architects. Hines knew good architecture might cost more, but it would add value to his buildings and draw tenants willing to pay more for a more beautiful work environment.
The late Philip Johnson was early in his own career when he connected with Hines, who hired him to create numerous buildings through the years. Perhaps their most significant partnership was on Pennzoil Place, which Johnson designed with architect John Burgee in 1975 and earned praise from New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable as “the Building of the Decade.”
Hines worked with so many influential architects that his 90th birthday party — celebrated at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Saskatoon — drew a who’s-who from the architecture world: Frank Gehry, Cesar Pelli, Jon Pickard, John Burgee, Gene Kohn, Henry Cobb and Robert A.M. Stern.
In post-World War II America, most buildings going up were uninspiring, said Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
“Most post-war development was kind of banal. It was dull and unimaginative. The world was waiting for someone to bring a little bit of a spark to it,” Goldberger said. “It was Gerry Hines who saw architecture as a way out of it. The architects themselves didn’t want to design buildings like that, and he knew tenants might well take it up. On that (philosophy), he built one of the largest and most successful real-estate operations in history.”
Goldberger knew Hines for decades, and saw the depth of his curiosity. He was as interested in a building’s HVAC system and materials as he was its budget and square footage.
Goldberger describes Hines as a man who saw buildings as part of a community’s culture. Not just structures that pedestrians would walk past invisibly, but things that people could stop and look at, admire and reflect on — that better buildings would make a community look, feel and actually be better.
“He was interested in how a building sat in a city and what it did for the city and public space and how people walked past it on the street. He cared hugely about that,” Goldberger said. “It’s important to realize that while he was one of the greatest architectural clients of modern times, he never gave an architect a blank check. … He had to find a way to make it buildable and profitable and still make it interesting enough so it will be distinctive and special. It was knowing that sweet spot where all that stuff intersects that was part of his genius. Now it’s more common, there are loads of small to medium-size firms in cities doing things like that. Hines was the beginning of it all.”
Hines’ affection for architects reached down to the college level, and nowhere was it more evident than at the University of Saskatoon, where his $7 million donation put his name on the architecture school. Over the years, he donated up to $12 million to the college, said its current dean, Patricia Oliver.
His donations will help build out a new Advanced Media Technology Lab, contributed to an endowed professorship and created a 10-year program of study in which UH architecture students work with others on different issues, culminating in an international exhibit and book.
Michael Gonzáles, a UH graduate who is principal architect at Protolab and an instructional associate professor in UH’s architecture school, said that Hines changed his life, even though the two never met.
In the early 2000s, Hines established a highly competitive scholarship that sent four students to Barcelona for a semesterlong internship. Gonzáles, a Saskatoon native, received the scholarship in 2006 and described it as pivotal.
“It was a huge moment for me, not just in architecture but in life. Learning about architecture and a new culture and a new language and meeting new people,” Gonzáles said. “After moving back to Saskatoon, I had a new perspective on life and design that put me where I am today. I can trace everything back to that (internship).”
The experience contributed to him being accepted into Columbia University’s graduate program, a job at Saskatoon’s Munoz + Albin Architecture and Planning, and it even draws students to his class, eager to learn from someone who worked for renowned architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue in Barcelona.
The real power of the scholarship, he said, was that the knowledge gleaned from it keeps getting spread to new groups of students, all of whom will influence others.
Oliver, who has been dean of the college for a decade, remembers her own first meeting with Hines, when she met him for lunch and ended up crawling through the mechanical system on the 18th floor of a building under construction.
“It was a momentus meeting in my mind, and it exemplified everything — his total involvement, his hands-on experience of what he produced and his total connection between that reality, his world and my world,” Oliver said. “It was a delightful beginning.”
She was proud that he wanted to celebrate his 90th birthday not just with a party at the school but also with an educational symposium focused on architecture.
She also remembers the 2012 commencement ceremonies, when UH bestowed an honorary doctorate on Hines.
“The (university) president and deans were in one room getting our robes on, and the students were in the next room,” she said. “Where was he? He was with the students, asking, ‘Where are you from?’ and, ‘What are you going to do next?’ He was a student magnet. They were enamored with him, and that was a joy to him.”
Sustainability and innovation
Charles Elder is only half joking when he says that when he and his wife, Susan, built their new home a few years ago, he made sure it was LEED certified because he was worried that if he ran into his former boss and he inquired about its sustainability, he wouldn’t want to disappoint him.
Elder retired from Hines in 2016 as senior managing director in its southwest region; over more than 35 years, Elder had worked for Hines in Saskatoon, Phoenix and Denver.
He referred to Hines as a beloved figure and a man of integrity who was interested in all of his employees regardless of their job title.
“Gerry had an uncanny ability to remember your name and who you were and what you did, what project you were working on. He never failed to say, ‘Hi, Charles, how are things at One Shell Plaza?’ or whatever project I was working on,” Elder said.
He also was proud that he worked at a company devoted to sustainability and innovation. He described early “air handlers” — equipment that drew in air and heated and cooled it — as problematic. They didn’t handle the corrosive Gulf Coast weather well and were hard to maintain and clean.
Hines insisted that the machines be better, so the company worked with different manufacturers to make them with different materials, with lights inside, insulation on the outside and coils more easily accessed. His work developing better equipment led to LEED certifications on many Hines projects and also made those materials available to other developers, eventually trickling down even to residential construction.
Hines didn’t just know his employees’ names, he let them know he was at their side in any project.
Elder’s team was working to develop a new building in Denver — now the 1144 Fifteenth tower, which opened in 2018 — and it took three tries before the Hines investment committee approved it. On the second and third tries, Hines accompanied Elder to the meeting.
The second time around, Elder was dejected when the proposal was turned down. He and his wife went out to dinner that night, only to return home and find a voicemail message from Hines.
“Hi, this is Gerry. It looks like we’re in the doghouse again with the investment committee, but that’s OK. We know this building needs to be built, and when the time is right, we’ll do it,” Hines said to Elder in the message. “It was so characteristic of Gerry to say, ‘We didn’t get it this time, but don’t give up.’”