WHAT’S BLOCKING THE BRAYS BAYOU TRAIL That sign posted just west of Chimney Rock declaring that the Brays Bayou trail “connects 31 miles of uninterrupted, off-street, multi-use trails and greenspace from the Ship Channel to George Bush Park and the Addicks-Barker Reservoir” is more aspirational than accurate at this point, a Houston Parks Board official admits to David Olinger. (“It got ahead of itself, let’s put it that way.”) Olinger set out to walk the supposed marathon-distance-plus continuum, but found it blocked and interrupted by construction zones, an unidentified fork to a neighboring bayou, and dead ends, including some fronting 7-miles-worth of land adjacent to Arthur Storey Park the parks board is still in the process of acquiring: “I tried walking west from Kirkwood and waded into knee-high weeds. I tried walking north on Kirkwood and found no trail. I drove up and down Kirkwood, searching in vain for Arthur Storey Park. Finally I consulted a map — and found the park about 2.5 miles northeast from the westbound Kirkwood dead end.” The Bayou Greenways trail system is expected to connect that length of Brays Bayou by 2020. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Brays Bayou trail: Jan Buchholtz
Last May, photos of what appeared to be an intensive indoor plant-growing operation appeared with the MLS listing for the 1992 5-bedroom home at 13630 San Martin Ln. in the Alief-area neighborhood of Pheasant Trace Village. All horticultural-themed photos were removed from the listing, however, after one of the images (above) was featured on Swamplot. The home sold in October for $125,000 — $10,000 above its asking price.
After a “remodeling from top to bottom,” according to a new listing, the new owners have placed the property back on the market, with nary a hint as to what may or may not have been photosynthesizing inside previously under the stares of all those grow lights. New AC units and coils come with the property now too. Offered for lease at $1,995 a month, or for sale for a quick $219K.
Grow House Price Grows
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NEIGHBORHOOD NAMES STICK “Alief didn’t start getting rebranded as the International District till about 3 years ago; as a matter of fact, no one that lived there knew anyone was calling it something other than Alief. It wasn’t until they put those idiotic balls in the medians that anyone local knew someone was calling it something other than Alief.
The Super Neighborhood is still called Alief. Hong Kong City Mall was transformed from a pasture to a Mall over a decade ago, that huge strip center at Wilcrest and Bellaire is almost as old.
Maybe in 40 or 50 years people may latch onto the name International District in favor of Alief, but then they’re going to wonder why the Library is still called Alief Regional Library, and the school district is still Alief Independent School District, or why the community center is called Alief Community Center. Or why there’s a animal hospital called Alief Animal Hospital. I have a strong suspicion Alief will always be called Alief, no matter how many weird balls they put in the medians.
And I’d also rather just call it Montrose and have people ask me if I’m gay than call it Lower Westheimer and have the 15 minute discussion about where it is, and the end result being that I tell them it’s the new name for Montrose and I’ll still be asked if I’m gay.” [toasty, commenting on Headlines: Eating Steak at CityCentre; Watching SkyHouse Rise]
Dancers ranging through the 100,000-sq.-ft. former JCPenney at the West Oaks Mall — now known as the West Oaks Art House — “got pretty vigorous,” explains local art blogger Robert Boyd, who attended one of the inaugural performances in Houston’s newest, largest, and loneliest independent arts facility. One of them kicked the hole in the wall pictured at right. No grief from the free-range arts center’s laid-back L.A. landlord, though: “I kind of love the hole in the wall,” Pacific Retail’s Sharsten Plenge tells him. “It is like a souvenir of the energy that Suchu graced WOAH with.” (Yes, Plenge is an artist herself.)
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The very first event at the brand-new West Oaks Art House takes place this Friday night, when the Suchu Dance company performs its first work in the eerie fluorescent-lit cavern left behind by JCPenney when it gave up on its freestanding building at the West Oaks Mall in 2003. The performance kicks off the appropriately named Big Range Dance Festival. It’s not just the repositioning dance of the vacant mall department store: 16 Suchu dancers will range around the enormous space in a piece called “Afternono.” To counter claims that this event is a bit too “way-out” for Suchu’s usual East Downtown audiences, the company is commandeering a trolley-style bus to bring audience members from the Spring Street Studios north of Downtown to the West Houston mall at Westheimer and Hwy. 6.
LA artist Sharsten Plenge, who’s been working to transform the abandoned 100,000-sq.-ft. store into some sort of arts center — in part by offering free rent to artist groups willing to venture so far from their usual haunts and set up shop or exhibits there — tells Swamplot she hopes the inaugural Suchu performance (as well as additional ones on subsequent Saturday afternoons) “marks the beginning of what we hope to be many more unique projects” in the building, which now bears the acronym WOAH.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: FEEDING THE WEST OAKS MALL JCPENNEY ARTS BEHEMOTH “At 100,000 square feet, it is more than twice as big as all the alternative/artist-run spaces currently in existence in Houston combined. If it can actually be filled with stuff and events in a compelling, convincing way, it moves the center of gravity for Houston art to the west purely by virtue of its size. The more I think about it, the challenge will be figuring out ways to effectively use that space. Usually the issue for an art exhibit is a lack of space — a show at, say, Labotanica can feel uncomfortably cramped. For a curator or artist, this space presents the precise opposite problem. A good model in this regard might be Mass MOCA, the enormous museum in North Adams, MA. Filling the cavernous old factory buildings required big, bold artworks. Are there Houston artists who could step up to this challenge? I’d say yes — for example, Sharon Engelstein’s inflatables.” [Robert Boyd, commenting on New Arts Complex Planned for Abandoned JCPenney at West Oaks Mall] Photo: Sharsten Plenge
How did an artist out of L.A. convince the owners of Houston’s West Oaks Mall to turn the vacant building of former mall anchor JCPenney into a 100,000-sq.-ft. department-store-sized arts complex? Well, it helps that the building — at the northern crotch of the West Houston mall — has been sitting vacant for 8 years and has received no major retail anchor interest in the 2 years Pacific Retail Capital Partners has owned the property. It also helps that the artist, Sharsten Plenge, is a Pacific Retail employee — and that her father is the firm’s managing principal. But Plenge tells Swamplot the company is behind her novel rehab concept, which is currently her main focus at work.
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SOMEBODY FORGED TURTLEWOOD SQUARE SIGNATURES, BUT IT WASN’T HOANG Who forged neighbor signatures on a petition circulated to change the name of Turtlewood Dr. to Little Saigon Dr.? Someone who submitted them to city council member Al Hoang, a preliminary inquiry by the city’s Office of the Investigator General has determined. The report, issued last week, also appears to clear Hoang of allegations that he abused city resources in seeking to get the name of his street — in a development called Turtlewood Square, south of Bellaire Blvd. just outside the Beltway — switched. A lawsuit filed by neighbors in the case will continue; the decision on whether to proceed with an investigation of the forgeries will be up to the district attorney’s office. [Houston Politics; more detail; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HAR
THE NANNY DIDN’T DO IT In a statement released last Friday, council member Al Hoang clarifies statements he made earlier to the Chronicle and KHOU 11 News’s Jeremy Rogalski that appeared to place blame for the forging of 16 neighbors’ signatures on a nanny no longer employed by Hoang’s family. The signatures were gathered for a petition requesting the name of Hoang’s street be changed from Turtlewood Dr. to Little Saigon Dr. “I have never placed blame on my former personal assistant, as some stories have portrayed,” the statement reads. “I have clearly said that the homeowners association tendered the petition to my assistant at home, not that she maliciously forged that petition.” Hoang says he welcomes the Office of Inspector General investigation into the incident, which Mayor Parker announced last week. [Houston Politics; previously on Swamplot]
Update, 6/20: Hoang has issued a statement about his nanny.
Mayor Parker has requested a separate city investigation into whether council member Al Hoang forged the signatures of 16 neighbors in a bid to change the name of his street from Turtlewood Dr. to Little Saigon Dr. A petition requesting the name change was circulated among the residents of Turtlewood Square — a development of 47 nine-or-so-year-old homes located behind a Bellaire Blvd. strip center just west of Arthur Storey Park. A lawsuit filed by several residents of the development alleges that the when the petition was given to Hoang it didn’t have the signatures of the required 75 percent of residents. The lawsuit claims that by the time Hoang submitted the petition to the city, it had gained an additional 16 names — all forged. Hoang appears to have told 11 News reporter Jeremy Rogalski that he believes his nanny — who no longer works for him — was responsible for the extra names. After the allegations of forgery, Hoang submitted a direct request for the name change to the city’s planning department. The mayor has put both name change requests on hold pending resolution of the investigation.
How long will the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema be sticking around at the West Oaks Mall, now that Regal Entertainment Group has announced it’s going to open a new 14-screen Edwards Theatre multiplex there in the fall of 2012? A spokesperson for Triple Tap Ventures wouldn’t say directly, explaining that the beer-and-movie house will remain open “throughout the planned construction and into the foreseeable future.” But the Alamo Drafthouse owner doesn’t appear to be looking as far ahead as the mall’s owners, who’ve already announced that the 6-screen theater will close after the new theater is opened.
The Edwards multiplex will go into the mall’s west wing, where Mervyns used to be. Next door will be a new plaza with 3 restaurants and outdoor seating. Triple Tap reports it is still looking to open new Alamo Draft House locations both inside the Loop and around the Houston area.
Photo: Joel Barhamand