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Cooling Off: The history of A/C in Houston

When the city got it start in 1836, air conditioning meant something else entirely. 

This week, as the feels-like temperature nears 105 degree, it's hard to imagine living in Houston without access to conventional air conditioning, but in the history of Texas is largest city, A/C is fairly new.

When the city got it start in 1836, air conditioning meant something else entirely.

“There were big open porches on the houses. Doors on the front and the back, so you could cool out the house as much as possible,” says Lindsay Scovil, a public historian with the Houston History Alliance. “They also built big sleeping porches where you could sleep outside because it’s shockingly cooler in the evenings outside than it is inside.”

When ice became available from up north, Houstonians used it to cool their homes.

“People would buy ice, put it into systems in their house with large fans in them and that would blow across ice, cooling some air and pushing that into the house,” Scovil says.

WATCH: How to build a DIY swamp cooler

It wasn't until the 1920s that HOU got A/C as we know it. The first room: the cafeteria at the Rice Hotel, which got air conditioning in 1922. A year later, there was another milestone reached at Second National Bank.

“Most people today will know it as the newly renovated JW Marriott that opened recently,” says Scovil. “That was the first air-conditioned building in Houston.”

Movie theater, such as the Texan and Majestic, were quick to catch on too in 1926.

Once central air was introduced to cool off homes, the Houston housing boom got hot.

“You get a 50 percent increase in population from 1940 to 1950 in Houston,” Scovil says. “It’s pretty substantial.”

A couple other big milestones: What was the Sharpstown Center became the first air-conditioned, enclosed shopping mall in 1961. Then in 1965, the Astrodome became the first air-conditioned stadium in the world.

These days, a home without central air is almost unimaginable. Just ask Seth Mapp from AirCon Air Conditioning and Heating, which has been serving the greater Houston area since 1969. This weekend, phones have been ringing with customers whose systems aren’t working.

“They don’t have any A/C and they’re not happy,” Mapp says. “It’s very much something that we take for granted until it doesn’t work.”

AirCon crews will be out all day, making sure Houstonians get that cool air flowing as the temperatures outside heat up. Mapp encourages homeowners to get regular maintenance done, so their units don’t fail at the worst possible time.