12/12/18 5:30pm

The new owner of 812 Main St. (shown above) is the same entity that owns the JW Marriott next-door at 806 Main St. Well, sort of. Technically, the properties belong to 2 separate entities, but they both tie back to the same real estate overlord: Pearl Hospitality, a Houston-based hotel operator with a few extra properties in Lubbock. Pearl closed on the 812 Main St. building last month for $3.6 million.

Designed by Houston architects Joseph Finger and George Rustay the recently-transacted tower was completed in 1950 for the Battelsteins’s department store — which occupied each of its 10 floors. It’s now been vacant for roughly 30 years. Battlestein’s signage has been replaced by the smudges visible above the mural-ized storefront face in the photo at top. But 2 naked flagpoles remain on either side of where the lettering once was.

After visiting the property in December, 2015, PDG Architects estimated it’d cost nearly $17 million to renovate it into something suitable for office tenants to inhabit. Just bringing it up to code could cost $8 million, according to public records.

The JW Marriott next-door at Rusk St. — formally known as the Samuel F. Carter building — underwent its Pearl-Hospitality redo starting in 2010 with a bit of financial help from the city and HUD, as well as architectural know-how from Gensler:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Department Store Skyscraper
12/05/18 12:45pm

Think your street’s drainage is bad? Listen to this: In 2015, Kris Handoyo was heading north on Travis St. in the backseat of a Mazda when the downtown storm drain cover pictured above came loose and punched through the floorboard of the car, severing half of his right foot. Handoyo, a digital content employee of the Houston Rockets, filed a lawsuit against the city asking for up to $1.25 million in recompense. And this morning the city voted to give it to him. Well, some of it: After mediation, the parties had settled on $200,000.

The drain in question — shown above in the Travis St. bus lane just north of Clay St. — is still there, although the particular grate that impacted Handoyo has been removed and patched over with concrete. Many of its relatives remain in their asphalt habitats however, where they’ve been since the late ’90s and early 2000s.

And where neighbors in Downtown and Midtown have been complaining about them for at least a decade:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Drainage Lawsuit
11/28/18 11:45am

Note: We’ve appended a photo showing off Caffè Di Firenze’s espresso machine to the end of this story.

New signage is up in the windows of the Henry Brashear Building at 910 Prairie St. downtown on account of Caffè Di Firenze‘s recent move into the place. It’s now serving drinks and food inside and plans to do so on the outside, too, once the city signs off on permission for chairs and tables to go on the sidewalk. The photo at top shows the storefront pretty much the same as it’s been since going red in 2016. Except now some new tri-colored tiling peeks out from underneath the doors.

Inside, there’s this hashtagged wall of greenery:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

New Coffee Grounds
11/05/18 11:30am

Chevron made some strikingly real 3D changes to the fake 3D facade of the old Houston Press building last week, bringing it closer to total collapse. The photos above — shot over the weekend from the YMCA catty corner to the scene — show Suzanne E. Sellers’ 1994 trompe-l’œil additions to the building’s east face no longer fooling anyone, though a few sections of her work on that side and off Leeland St. remain intact.

Nothing’s crumbled yet on the unpainted, Pease-St. side:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Illusions Shattered
10/26/18 5:15pm

 

Note: This story has been updated to indicate that City Council’s October 23 vote approved funding for previous work that was already completed on the plaza, not for future renovations.

This week Houston City Council voted to cut a check to workers that finished the first round of renovations on the plaza. The results of their work  — including new fencing, gates, and a terrace — clear the way for the second chapter of redos to begin. The video at top winds it way through round 2 of changes, showing off the new children’s reading area, stage, and outdoor seating bound for the 0.75-acre space between the Jesse H. Jones Building (AKA Central Library) and the Julia Ideson building directly east of it.

While 25-year naming rights are already locked down on the Phillips 66 Jumbo Video Screen (on the right in the rendering abvoe) and Janice and Robert C. McNair Performance Stage (left), the puppet theater depicted below is still in need of a namesake:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Downtown Redo
10/26/18 10:30am

THE CASE AGAINST THE HOUSTON FORENSIC SCIENCE CENTER’S SHARED OFFICE SETUP Last month, leaders of the Center told Houston City Council their 200-plus person staff just isn’t fitting in at HPD’s downtown offices in 1200 Travis, pictured above. For one thing: “Technicians test guns by firing live ammunition on the 24th floor,” which neighbors offices above and below, reports the Chronicle‘s Zach Despart. They also “transport evidence upstairs in public elevators.Although “shortcomings in the Houston Police Department’s own crime lab” were what prompted the city to found the Center as an independent body in 2014, the agencies’ ongoing closeness tends to raise eyebrows: “You walk into HPD’s headquarters on the way to the laboratory,” says Center president Peter Stout. The good news: their proximity is only temporary. Earlier this month, City Council approved a new 30-year lease for the Center at 500 Jefferson — a privately-owned building 9 blocks away — where it’ll get 83,000 sq.-ft. for “toxicology, DNA testing, fingerprint analysis and narcotics storage,” as well as a 25-ft. firing range in the basement, reports Jasper Scherer. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 1200 Travis St.: WhisperToMe

10/22/18 2:45pm

A SATURDAY NIGHT SWAN SONG AT SPRUCE GOOSE: SOCIAL FLYERS CLUB This past weekend was the last one ever for the concert venue known as Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club on the second floor of 809 Congress, across from Market Square Park and directly above Henke and Pillot. The 100- to 300-person club only opened up earlier this year, but managed to stay booked through the summer and all the way up until its finale on Saturday, which featured — among others — self-described “Punkish?” band Branagan, shown sending things off in the photo above. [Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club] Photo: Branagan

10/19/18 10:00am

“Houston must have looked huge to Lyndon Johnson as he drove toward it across the flat Gulf plains in his battered little car,” writes Robert Caro in his biography of the former president. Johnson’s destination: Sam Houston High School (shown at top), which opened in 1921 in place of the even-older Central High School on the block bounded by Austin, Rusk, Caroline, and Capitol — the same spot where the new Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is now “90 percent complete,according to Paper City’s Annie Gallay.

Hired to teach public speaking and coach the debate team, Johnson — writes Caro — promised his new principal he’d win the state championship. He didn’t, coming in second at the tournament in Austin. Still, Johnson had succeeded in making a name for himself among staff — who gave him a $100 raise and a contract for the next school year — and among the school’s 1,800 students — who jockeyed for enrollment in “Mr. Johnson’s speech class” during the following school year. By the end of LBJ’s first full year at Sam Houston, reports Caro, enrollment had increased from 60 to 110 new students.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Sam Houston High to HSPVA
10/16/18 11:15am

CHASE BANK CLOSING IN THE TOWER THAT BEARS ITS NAME December 13 is the last business day at Chase’s Chase Tower branch. The bank — which a portion of the lobby shown beyond Joan Miró’s Personage and Birds sculpture in the photo above — is following in the footsteps of the upstairs Chase employees who left in 2006 when the corporation moved its offices out of the building and lost the naming rights to it, reports the Chronicle’s John C. Roper. The nearest branch: in the former Gulf Building at 712 Main St., on the block catty-corner southeast of the Chase Tower. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: 42 Floors

10/10/18 4:00pm

Nancy Sarnoff has a few more details today on what the Downtown Redevelopment Authority will be paying the private owner of the area shown shaded at top — which wouldn’t give up its one-acre parcel there for a new park but will grant the Authority a 30-year lease for: “$355,992 in annual rent,” during the first 5 years, a spokeswoman says, with a 10 percent hike every 5 years thereafter. With that agreement in place — and the Goodyear Auto Service Center that currently occupies the block’s Fannin-St.-side slated for demo next April — the Authority is now seeking plans from landscape architects that’d be responsible for designing the space, though it notes that whatever the chosen firm comes up with “will have a potentially short life, between 30 and 50 years, per the lease agreement currently in place and options to extend.” (The parking lot shown without shading belongs to the South Texas College of Law and is there to stay.)

But that hasn’t stopped those involved from dreaming big while they can. A conceptual map of the park drawn up Project for Public Spaces — a New York planning firm hired to brainstormed some preliminary ideas for the Authority — shows it divvied up among a pair of buildings and a variety of different green spaces including a dog park:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Block 333
10/03/18 5:00pm

WHO PUSHED THE BUTTON THAT BLEW UP THE DOWNTOWN MACY’S According to the Vice President of Demolition at Cherry Companies, which oversaw the demo: “the person who bought the building had his son do it.” His push triggered 1,500 pounds of explosives — the demo exec estimates on the Chronicle’s latest episode of LoopedInobliterating the structure and clearing the way for the 23-floor Hilcorp Energy Tower his dad would later commission Hines to build in its place at Dallas and Main St. Although technically a partnership connected to Doug Kelly, president of Hilcorp Ventures, “bought” the building around the time of the teardown in 2013, it was more of a shuffling-around than a hand-off. Hilcorp had already owned the former Foley’s since 2010; the later transaction just transferred it over to different entity under the same umbrella of corporate oversight. [Previously on Swamplot]

10/03/18 10:30am

Crews have begun tearing into the building 4 blocks north of the Pierce Elevated formally known as U-Haul Moving and Storage of Midtown at San Jacinto in order to replace it with a new storage building nearly 8 times larger. About half the existing structure is down now thanks to the excavator that foregrounds the SkyHouse Main apartment building in the photo at top. Still standing: the entrance ramp to U-Haul’s rooftop parking lot — from which a fleet of orange trucks took off sometime before construction fencing surrounded the 28,376-sq.-ft. building late last month.

The new, 220,160-sq.-ft. facility could extend partly into the adjacent surface parking lot along Leeland St. according to plans the developer filed with the county earlier this year. Whether or not it does, most of the extra space will show up vertically in the form of something much taller than the 2-story that’s now crumbling at 1617 San Jacinto.

Photos: Eric Ramon (demolition); U-Haul (building)

Be Right Back
09/13/18 1:00pm

A FINAL FAREWELL TO THE FORMER HOUSTON PRESS BUILDING The former alternative newspaper HQ at 1621 Milam St. that’s also done stints as an auto dealership will be demolished, reports the Chronicle’s Craig Hlavaty.  Back when the Houston Press moved into it 15 years ago, the structure’s parking-lot sides were unadorned; artist Suzanne E. Sellers slapped her trompe-l’œil mural onto the north and east facades in 1994. Along Milam, however, things haven’t changed as much since the building’s first tenant Shelor Motor Company opened up in the ’20s — according to former Press staffer Abrahán Garza. Even its original 1920s glass windows — he reported — stayed put on the second and third floors through 2010. Now construction barriers are up around the whole block, and the property owner Chevron tells Hlavaty that a demolition permit is under review by the city. The oil company bought the 38,000-sq.-ft. structure in 2013, the same year Houston Press staff left it for a new spot on the corner of La Branch and McGowen. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Capital Realty  

08/24/18 1:45pm

The brick Western Union building shown in black and white on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets vanished from the downtown landscape in 1983 — although it didn’t go anywhere. Because the longtime regional switching center was too expensive to move, architect Philip Johnson simply designed his much larger landmark — then-called RepublicBank Center Center — around it, sealing the telecom structure off from public view. Inside the skyscraper’s lobby, the dead building takes up nearly a quarter of the floor space, with its west corner wedged into the Bank of America Center’s own, catty-corner to Jones Hall.

Last year, renovations were announced that’d add a new restaurant and cafe in the doorless and windowless portion of the Bank of America Center’s ground floor where the building is entombed. Crews began stripping away portions of the office building’s exterior earlier this year in order to make room for new openings to access the eateries. They’ve now busted all the way through the red granite, revealing the decades-older facade that lies behind it.

It’s still mostly obscured by the scaffolding that looms over the Capitol St. sidewalk :

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Western Union Sees the Light
08/20/18 2:30pm

The title of artist Joan Dodd’s new composition 88 Keys undersells it — it’s actually 275 keys, more than 3 times the amount found on a piano. Installation artists laid them down along the rounded east west side of Jones Hall over the weekend. Constructed from 900 pounds worth of temporary marking tape  — the kind commonly used on highways — they now span the entire block of Louisiana between Texas Ave. and Capitol St.

That material choice means they can really take a pounding from anyone who feels like stomping out a silent melody with their feet while heading south to check out the Bank of America Center’s ongoing renovations. Or those lured in by the glow of the Lyric Center parking garage’s new lighting, pictured off in the distance below:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Sidewalk Chromaticism