Best Demolition: The Official 2011 Ballot

What was this year’s Best Demolition? That’s what we aim to find out in this, the second category in the 2011 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. And the official nominees are now in the (soon-to-be-demolished) house!

The voting rules for this year’s Swampies are posted here, but they’re not that complicated: You can vote for this category once each through each of 4 methods: in a comment below, in an email to Swamplot, on Twitter, or on Swamplot’s Facebook page. If you’ve got a favorite candidate, start a campaign! The polls close for all categories at 5 pm on December 27th.

The nominees for Best Demolition of 2011 are . . .


1. Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel, 711 Polk St., Downtown. “Floor by floor, workers in Brookfield Properties’ Total Plaza cheered the delicate removal of this long-vacant 28-story Beatles-blessed 1962 hotel, which stood in the way of their southern view — and bequeathed them an actual plaza.”


2. Houston Main Building, 1100 Holcombe Blvd., Texas Medical Center. Why did the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center decide to go ahead this year with its longstanding plans to demolish the iconic tower it bought in 1975? To make way for 2 new structures on the site. Except the UT medical institution has put its plans for those buildings on hold for 3 to 10 years, and hadn’t begun any design work on them anyway. No matter; the stripped, hulking corpse of Kenneth Franzheim’s 18-story 1952 building — Houston’s first-ever office campus, designed originally for the Prudential Life Insurance Company — awaits a January implosion. Once the debris is cleared, the site will be turned into a “park-like setting” until better plans are worked up. A curved, 46-ft.-long mural painted for Prudential by Peter Hurd and appraised at $4 million may have been damaged before it was removed from the building in April.


3. Buffalo Grille, H-E-B Buffalo Market Parking Lot, 3116 Bissonnet St., West University. “An incredibly efficient demolition: One week the restaurant was there, serving pancakes; the next week the building was gone. Torn down for parking; how much more Houston can you get?”


4. H.A. Lott House, 818 Sugar Creek Blvd., Sugar Land. “Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte Karl Kamrath’s 1975 steel-frame home for Astrodome builder H.A. Lott looked all redone and ready to go for a mere million bucks when it was bought last April. ‘Had I known, I would have never sold to them,’ the former owner commented on Swamplot: The buyers, it turned out, had other plans for the 36,041-sq.-ft. waterfront lot. Another MacKie and Kamrath house at 59 Tiel Way in River Oaks was also demolished this year.”


5. Exterior, River Oaks Shopping Center, 1952-2047 West Gray. “What was the problem, exactly, with the portions of the sleek, sophisticated, and distinctive Art Deco landmark its owners hadn’t already knocked down and replaced? Apparently, the ‘sleek, sophisticated, and distinctive Art Deco’ part. Weingarten Realty’s high-eyebrow-look ‘updatecovered over the Moderne shopping center’s low-slung lines, removed more of its original black clay tiles, pasted fresh expanses of sandstone and beige stucco over the buildings’ painted brick, and tacked on turrets at the corners.


6. Interior, Alabama Theater, 2922 S. Shepherd Dr., Upper Kirby. “Last year, Weingarten Realty backed off from demolishing the 1939 Art Deco landmark’s noted interior after Swamplot published plans the company had drawn up to prepare the space for a big-box-style retailer such as Staples. This year, while dangling the still-unconfirmed prospect of a Trader Joe’s moving into the space, the company went ahead with an only slightly scaled back interior demo of the former Bookstop bookstore, burying the sloped floor and lower levels of the former auditorium in concrete (when a less-permanent platform system could have served most tenants just as well), and destroying 2 giant murals and the theater’s original screen wall in the process. If a Trader Joe’s doesn’t materialize, the REIT will at least have succeeded in unburdening itself from the unenviable task of trying to lease a popular and distinctive space.”


Downtown YMCA with Chevron (Formerly Enron) Building in Background, Houston

7. YMCA Building, 1600 Louisiana St., Downtown. “As part of a deal with Chevron, the YMCA of Greater Houston had its own 10-story 1941 Kenneth Franzheim building dismantled. One reader said he’d miss ‘the swimming pool in the dungeon and the disproportionately high number of creepy old naked men hanging around the locker room.’ The shiny new Tellepsen Family YMCA down the street is smaller, has a swimming pool that’s entirely visible from the street, but made no room for residents of its predecessor’s 132 apartments.”


8. Forbidden Gardens, 23500 Franz Rd., Katy. “Was there ever a Houston demo like this? Garden-gnome-hungry visitors ransacked the mock gravesite of an ancient Chinese emperor, after the 14-year-old cultural museum that had been tending to it failed to find any institutional buyers for its painstakingly created but well-worn exhibits, including the 6,000 vaunted one-third-scale terracotta soldiers and a smaller scale model of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Why evacuate Katy? To get out of the way of the impending Segment E of the Grand Parkway. Oh, but for a few feet of property — or maybe just a different strategy on the part of the institution’s mysterious owner — Forbidden Gardens could have become a true roadside attraction with actual feeder-road frontage.”


9. Flagship Hotel, 2501 Seawall Blvd., 25th St. Pier, Galveston. “Tilman Fertitta’s quest to build a Kemah Boardwalk-style attraction on the site of the Hurricane Ike-battered Galveston landmark had a few bumps on the way. In March, Landry’s denied that demo crews were knocking large chunks of debris from the pier-mounted hotel into Galveston Bay — until video footage posted on YouTube proved otherwise. Later, the demo contractor’s disposal problems were overshadowed by the death of one of its workers, after a concrete floor collapsed on top of him.”


So . . . what’ll it be? Which one of these smashing contestants wins the year? Let’s hear your vote!

Photos: Swamplot inbox (Sheraton-Lincoln), Karen Lantz (Prudential Tower), Josh Burdick (Buffalo Grille), HAR (Lott House), Weingarten Realty (River Oaks Shopping Center), Laurie Ballesteros (Alabama Theater; license), Flickr user bilbao58 (YMCA and Chevron Tower), Candace Garcia (YMCA demo), Jennifer Gray (Forbidden Gardens), Ellen Yeates (Flagship Hotel)

39 Comment

  • The one that hurts me the most is #4. There are others that are worse for the community as a whole (hear that, Weingarten?), but the H.A. Lott masterpiece didn’t deserve to die.

  • OH MAN. This one is hard. My personal favorite, the amazing MCM church on Richmond, didn’t make the cut, so who to vote for?

    I’m torn between the Lott House, the Flagship and the Alabama Theatre, all for sentimental reasons, but I think I’m gonna have to go for Forbidden Gardens if only because of the odd circumstances surrounding its unnecessary closure, its mysterious owner, and the straight-up madhouse it became as people lined up to buy its cast-offs.

  • Lott house. It’s just too tragic not to vote for.

  • I vote for number 8.

  • I guess I’ll vote for #1 because the demo process sounds pretty cool!

  • Definitely #8 – Forbidden Gardens. I don’t think people truly appreciate how strange this place was. Very sad to see it go, but at least I was able to acquire a (very small) keepsake.

  • This one is just too sad to vote on.

  • 711 Polk, the most technically difficult of all the nominations. Tight downtown area, the Contractor did a great job.

  • I have to go with #4. I liked that house and wished I had the funds to buy it. I hope whoever purchased the land builds something just as lovely and not another unimaginative, cookie cutter McMansion.

  • I’m going off grid and voting for #4a, the Kamrath you mentioned at 59 Tiel Way. It was truly a masterpice complete with custom desgined MCM furniture. I live out of Texas and when my company thought of relocating me to Houston, I met the owner for a tour and to possibly buy it. Alas, the timing did not work out and it went into foreclosure, at which point the bank tore it down. It really rmeinded me of Fallingwater inside, and the lot was amazing for inner-loop land, which is probably why a developer bought the empty lot for more than what I was going to pay for the house.

  • As to the “best” demo, I go with number 1. As to the one with the most lost to the community, it is much closer, but I would go with number 6. We need to determine the names of the decisionmakers on that one, and put the names on a bronze plaque which we will attach attach at the spot where vagrants commonly urinate.

  • #4 – Whatever is put in its place is certain to incorporate the design cliche of the year from a few years back. It is in Sugarland after all.

  • Forbidden gardens – I never got to see it :(

  • 4. Lott house. Such a waste.

  • #4. It’s the only one I consider truly tragic.

    I think we should do a wager about what crappy design/building cliches its replacement will have. I vote for lick ‘n’ stick fake rock.

  • Buffalo Grille — I never got to try their pancakes.

  • #8 – the forbidden gardens. One of the most unique things I have ever seen in the US. What a waste.

  • They all win as another loss to Houston’s heritage. #4 and #5 just kill my soul.

  • And I will always weep for the loss of the Alabama Theater. Damn to hell Weingarten Realty.

  • Definitely 1. SHERATON-LINCOLN HOTEL, 711 POLK ST., DOWNTOWN. I work in Total Plaza so I now have an amazing view and Im also glad we now have an actual plaza.

  • #4 – Though this category should be renamed ‘Worst Demolition.’

  • #1 because it felt like the never ending demo, wasn’t it on the ballot in 2008?

  • #4 because good architecture can’t easily be replaced. You know, if you’re looking for a lot to build your dream home upon, the Houston area comprises over 1500 square miles. You mean to tell me that this was the ONLY suitable location the new homeowner could find to build on?
    I will have to say that the demo of the Sheraton-Lincoln was done in a really cool way, seemed that a floor or two disappeared every week!

  • #1 – In order to satisfy the word “Best”. Agree with many on here that #4 is tragic.

  • #4, #5 & #6 are the Triumvirate of Despair for Houston history fans. I have to surprise myself and go with #4 because no one saw it coming – we’ve had a bit of time to stock up on Klonopin for the continual WRI thumbscrews.

  • Agreed with poster 25 above, we really needed a subcategory for “worst”. I am sticking with #1 as the “best”, and the worst is a four-way tie between 4, 5, 6 and 7.

  • Because of the audacity and weirdness of aiming to make a small, awkward and unnecessary grocery store out of a lovingly maintained theater space-cum-bookstore and really only creating a giant sandbox which now should, of course, be used as a parking garage, I vote for #6.

  • I just cannot bring myself to vote for any of them except for #1. The rest all make me sad inside.

  • #1.. The bigger they are, the harder they fall !!

  • #8. Drove past there last weekend, and it seems the prairie has already reclaimed it.

  • The Flagship! An eyesore WAY past it’s prime. If the Swampies were around in 1989, it should have won then.

  • Such a sad line of nominees. Of course I have to vote for the Lott House. I found it by accident one day several years ago and would gawk at it as I slowly drove by. Amazing home made more amazing by the way it took advantage of its lot.

    On another note, I must agree with other comments that “Best Demolition” technically would have to go to the Sheraton.

  • #4–just too sad!

  • Wow, this one is hard. Mom has two little warriors guarding her Cypress area backyard from ancient Mongol hoardes. Sister works for Weingarten and I benefit from the Grand Parkway.

    #1 gets my vote because category is “Best Demolition” not worst.