Robert and Agnes Cohen House was given to the faculty of Rice University through the generosity of their son George Cohen and his wife Esther in 1927. The Cohen House was the first purpose-built university faculty club building in Texas. It was also the first building at Rice whose construction was funded by a philanthropic donation rather than by the university. Although the club has been expanded in size (most dramatically in 1958–59, with smaller additions in 1976, 1994,and 2005), it retains strong associations with the generations of Rice professors, administrators, staff members, and graduate students who have dined there, and with such organizations as the Houston Philosophical Society and the Rice University FacultyWomen’s Club, which regularly meet at Cohen House. The scrolled walnut plaque designed and executed by the Austin wood carver Peter Mansbendel. It is inscribed with a dedicatory text; a line in Hebrew from the Decalogue translated as “Honor your father and mother;” a shield bearing two Rice owls, the lamp of learning, and a pair of gloved hands raised in priestly blessing, the symbol of the Kohanim.
George S. Cohen was born on Galveston Island, November 14, 1885, to Robert I. and Agnes Cohen. As a young boy, Cohen worked in his father’s store and as a cabin boy or deckhand on steamers sailing between Galveston and New York. He was educated at Ball Public High School in Galveston and later at Peeksill Military Academy in New York, but he left college to pursue a career in business. He went to work at every major department store in New York, as well as a few smaller stores, to gain business experience. Cohen returned to Galveston in 1904 to again work in his father’s store.
Three years later, he and his father became business partners and they eventually bought Foley Bros. Dry Goods in 1917. After its purchase by the Cohens, the store’s sales volume increased by 50% annually for several years. By 1927, it was Houston’s largest department store in size and volume of business. George Cohen became head of Foley’s, which was still one of Houston’s leading department stores in 1945. Cohen married Esther Regina Meyer (also from Galveston) in 1921. He and his wife gave several large, unrestricted gifts for loans and scholarships to Rice University. He donated $125,000 to Rice to erect a faculty club in honor of his parents, Robert and Agnes Cohen. Cohen House was finished in 1927, and a new wing was added to it in 1959. He was also the President of Nehoc Land Company, a supporter of the Houston Symphony Society, and board member of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. He chartered and brought to Houston its first passenger liner from Europe in 1925 and helped develop the first airline connections for the city. George Cohen died at the age of 86.