A Peek Inside the Old Riviana Silos, Where the Deal Company Is Transforming Rice Space into Art Space


Clarification, 12/22: Jon Deal of Deal Properties writes: “Just wanted to clarify that Studio Red is not specifically working on the silo project, rather they are studying a master plan of approximately 35 contiguous acres owned by Frank Liu, Steve Gibson and myself of which The Silos are part. Jason Logan and Matt Johnson of LOJO architects is working on the facade.”

Under the sign of the merry Mahatma, workers are sweeping out what stray grains of rice may linger within the 38 silos at the old Riviana Foods complex at 1520 Sawyer, which last contained the cereal crop in 2008.

They are prepping for its new purpose as the Silos on Sawyer, a 79,000 sq.-ft. art space and the latest addition to the Deal Company’s pre-existing Spring Street Studios, Winter Street Studios and Silver Steet Studios complex in the heart of the State of Texas-recognized Washington Avenue Arts District.

Reader Noah Brenner ventures inside, camera in hand:


A total of 55 workspaces are now available for lease, along with 20,000 sq.-ft. set aside for flexible buildouts such as restaurants, galleries or retail.



The complex’s 9,000 sq.-ft. “Honeycomb” features a warren of 27 rooms at the base of the 83-foot silos, offering the visitors to mind-meld with a worker bee. Deal touts the Honeycomb as ideal for “unique” spaces or events.


According to PaperCity, Studio Red, renovators of the Alley Theatre and transformers of the Summit into Lakewood Church, has been hired to brainstorm on the Silos’ rebirth; one idea being kicked around now is to slot in a restaurant on the complex’s old railroad loading dock.

The Winter / Spring / Silver Studios complex hosted its first FotoFest this spring and now claims to be home to the highest density of artists in Texas.


Photos: Noah Brenner 

Granaries To Galleries

14 Comment

  • This is what the owner of a functionally-obsolescent industrial facility does when they think that they want to speculate on land prices in an area. It’s something that I’ve done myself in the past, although thank goodness(!) I’m not doing it right now with oil prices dropping as they have.

    The problem with this site, though, is that land prices have already risen about as fast as they’re ever going to. They’d be considerably better off over the long term selling this site and buying and operating artists’ studios in the Greater East End.

  • Why not both east end and 1st ward for artists? I think people still think Houston is a small city. I have news for them … Much has changed in the last decade. I am in Minneapolis currently and everyone here thinks of Houston as a mega city!

  • If the owner just wanted enough income to pay taxes, he/she could have easily made the building into storage units. The perfect place to park your ICBMs! Perhaps there are tax advantages, subsidies, and/or restrictions attendant on being located in an ‘Arts District’, what ever that is.

  • East end and 1st ward could both work. 1st ward could be for the established artists and wealthy hobbyists (which is more or less what I saw at the Christmas party at Silver Street, which was awesome btw), and East End could be for the true struggling artist. I believe there is an art studio on Harrisburg already.

  • FYI.. Houston has been the 4th largest city for at least 25 years. It did not just sprout over a decade. I’ve lived here my entire life and it always surprises me when people comment how Houston has become such a large city?? It’s been in the top 5 in population since at least I was born in ’76. I support your comment that the city can and does have multiple areas for artists.

  • Well, I applaud the concept and hope to visit the place.
    It kinda scares me – in a good way – like jumping out of a plane. I’ve seen those silos tip over in You-Tube videos…

  • Jay – It’s 4th largest because it covers 600 square miles. That’s twice the amount of NYC and still 100 more than Los Angeles. Houston is essentially expansive suburbia where the majority of the population is outside of the city center. That’s why Houston isn’t really thought of as a big city in the same sense as NY, Chicago or Boston.

  • Perhaps I spent too much money on my project, but it was successful at luring the top end and it was certainly not located in a part of the East End with any near-term gentrification potential. From a business perspective, I honestly cannot conceive of a reason to do this sort of thing in the 1st Ward. The East End is where its at, and its where the economics make sense.

    OTOH, if you’re going to do something more like Vine Street Studios where your space crosses over as an office building, then that’s something else altogether. That makes more sense.

  • TheNiche – no need to critique. If it works, it works and for now, lets just expect that it will work. Management is easier and less costly when projects are concentric, the price would have not been THAT different going East and the concept would have been more speculative. Secondarily, this piece of property has been sitting here for many years and with many problems – I am sure the developer wishes that the project would have been ready to go a year or two ago but it doesn’t always work that way.

  • This may be the best that can be done with this property. It really only has street access at Sawyer and has the railroad tracks cutting it off from the northern half of the old Ravinia property. Very difficult to put in multifamily or build an office tower on that lot. Loft conversions are often as much about saving a few bucks on retaining a solidly built structure versus demoing and starting over as they are a recognition that the original infrastructure for the area is inadequate for any other use.

    1st Ward is going to see a lot of major redevelopment with the Tarkett property being sold soon, the new development at Grocer’s Supply, Lovett’s Sawyer Yards and another Lovett development coming across the street from Target. And as noted in the update, Frank Liu (of InTown Homes) and others have a ton of acreage ready for redevelopment. All this in addition to a lot of town homes going in and a few new restaurants coming in on Washington Ave. The east side still doesn’t even have a decent grocery store. I would buy anything in the 1st ward that I could get my hands on.

  • This is really exciting to see…I’ve always wondered why Houston hasn’t made a play at Hollywood…Atlanta is really going hard at it….

  • @Gisgo: As a child of the Cold War, “ICBMs” to me are very scary things lobbed at us by Russia…can you please educate me on the other meaning of this acronym?

    @Mitch: Actually, Houston ranks near the top in both surface area AND actual population (i.e. head count) and has for decades. Not following your point…to me Houston is not thought of as a big city by the rest of the USA because Houston is economically (oil, medicine) and geographically (Gulf Coast) independent from the Eastern and Western seaboards, which continue to dominate American culture (movies, music, politics, et al.), tough that trend is finally showing signs of breaking.

  • In addition to Old School’s comment, I’d add that the 1st ward’s strongest selling point is its centrality to the most culturally progressive parts of Houston. It’s almost equidistant between Downtown, Montrose, and the Heights—and right off of Washington. It has the potential to be a far better “arts district” than other areas in Houston that have previously held that title.

    What’s shocking to me is that it’s taken developers so long to discover it.

  • Will they allow dogs in the new place? Wouldn’t allow this pet photographer to rent space at Spring, Winter, etc. They are friggin concrete so wtf?