10/03/17 10:30am

ALLEY THEATRE FLOODING DRAMA CAME FROM AN ALLEY THIS TIME, NOT THE TUNNEL Harvey flooding caused an estimated $15 million of damage to the Alley Theatre’s basement-level stage, lobby, and dressing rooms, but for the most part spared its recently renovated box-office entrance, main stage, and upper-level lobbies. The good news, relayed by theater managing director Dean Gladden in an email to members: Submarine doors in the tunnel prevented water flowing from the Theater District’s underground parking garage from entering the theater as it had during Tropical Storm Allison. But this time there was another way in: a fresh-air intake vent in the Alley’s drive-thru Alleyway driveway fronting Jones Plaza on Texas Ave. (pictured at left in the above photo): “Harvey’s waters crested so high that this in-take vent provided an opening that enabled the flood waters to enter the building unimpeded. The water was so powerful it knocked through a cement block wall and blew open locked doors. When the cement block wall collapsed, it broke a 2-foot fire line that started spewing water out at 150 gallons a minute. About 900,000 gallons of water would come from this source before it was turned off. The flood water from the bayou would account for 2.8 million gallons of water. The water would reach 10-feet high in the Neuhaus Theatre and lobby and 15-feet high in the basement level. The Alley Theatre below ground was completely flooded.” [Alley Theatre] Photo: Jason Hrncir  

09/27/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: INSIDE THE WESTERN UNION BUILDING BURIED INSIDE THE BANK OF AMERICA CENTER DOWNTOWN “The Western Union building is only 2 stories. It is completely intact, tar and gravel roof included. The 3rd floor Mezzanine of the BOA building was built clear span over the top of the old WU building. The windows you see on the outside are for the mezzanine. As for the ‘gap’ between the buildings, you can walk/crawl around most of it. Some areas between the buildings are big enough that you could set a desk in there, some are tight enough to induce panic. There is basically nothing left from WU in there, but there were still some curious old artifacts last time I was in there. I worked for the building for a while, and led a few of the tours of architects/designers when this project was in the concept phase.” [ProFixer, commenting on For Its Next Trick, Bank of America Center Will Completely Digest the Secret Building It Swallowed 35 Years Ago] Photo: Mary Ann Sullivan

09/26/17 1:15pm

Something you might not have noticed about Houston’s iconic Bank of America Center (top) at 700 Louisiana St. Downtown: There’s an entire unused building hidden inside. The thrice-renamed spiky Dutch-ish PoMo tower complex, designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1982, sits across the street from his other famous Downtown Houston office building, Pennzoil Place. It’s not obvious from the exterior or interior, but the 2-story former Western Union building on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets (pictured above in a photo from 1957) takes up almost a quarter of the block Bank of America Center sits on. This was Western Union’s longtime regional switching center; Johnson was asked to design his building around it because the cable and electrical connections maintained within it were deemed cost-prohibitive to relocate.

Thirty-five years later, it’s the building’s anchor tenant that’s relocating: Bank of America, which now occupies 165,000 sq. ft., will move to Skanska’s Capitol Tower in a couple years. As part of a new set of renovations to the structure the bank is leaving behind, owner M-M Properties plans to completely dismantle what remains of the Western Union building, recapturing 35,000 sq. ft. of space without expanding the building’s footprint. Among the plans for the resulting space: A “reconfiguration” of the lobby and the addition of a “white tablecloth restaurant.”

The secret Western Union void is well disguised. It isn’t in the lobby of the 56-story tower but in the 12-story adjacent bank-lobby building fronting Louisiana St., more formally known as the the Banking Hall when the building first opened in 1983 as RepublicBank Center. It takes up the entire northern half of that structure: It’s beyond the colonnaded-but-blank wall on your right as you enter the lobby from Louisiana (on the left in this photo):

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Tales from the Vault
09/15/17 12:30pm

Residents of the 79 apartments in the Hogg Palace Lofts are expecting air conditioning in their units to be restored sometime today — for the first time since power went out early on the morning of August 27th. At a meeting earlier this week, attorneys for and representatives of the Randall Davis Company told tenants of the 8-story building at 401 Louisiana St. that they were aiming for Friday for the AC to be turned on, though could not guarantee it — but that work would continue over the weekend if it couldn’t.

A somewhat parallel sequence of events played out after the promised trailer-mounted Aggreko 1 MW generator pictured above was parked along Preston St. in front of the building last Friday; difficulties in connecting it to the electrical system — including a hunt for the unknown owner of a white BMW parked in a tenant spot in the parking garage that stood in the way of a hook-up — delayed the restoration of electrical power until Monday.

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Power to the People
09/08/17 11:15am

Today’s the day a 48-ft.-long trailer-mounted 1MW Aggreko generator is expected to park on the Louisiana St. side of the Hogg Palace Lofts, a Randall Davis Companies rep tells residents. The goal: Power restored in all 79 units by the end of the day. But generator power won’t be going to elevators, corridors, or the building’s retail tenants (which include the Pad Thai restaurant on Louisiana). Those areas will have to wait until replacement electrical equipment arrives and is installed to restore permanent power in the building. References to a series of so-far-unsuccessful efforts to repair existing equipment are included in a series of emails sent to residents by the building’s management over the last 2 weeks.

The 8-story building at the corner of Louisiana and Preston has been without power since around 8 am on August 27th. “What we as tenants have been able to piece together is sub-level parking levels of the Lyric Center and the new Lyric Center garage became flooded as the bayou took a short cut down Prairie and took a left on Louisiana,” a tenant tells Swamplot. Water coursed into those parking garages down entrance ramps, then “made it under the street through vaults or conduits or whatever into the basement of the Hogg where it shorted out the electrical equipment.”

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Harvey Outages
08/30/17 12:45pm

City Hall, the City Hall Annex, the Bayou Lofts, Market Square Tower, The Rice (formerly the Rice Hotel), Hogg Palace, the Theater District and Tranquillity Park parking garages, Bayou Place, the Downtown Aquarium, the Houston Ballet Center, the Wortham Theater Center, Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, the Hobby Center, and the some of the historic homes in Sam Houston Park are all buildings that were damaged in some way by floodwaters rolling in after Hurricane Harvey’s days-long assault on the city, according to a statement released by the Downtown District today. Damage mostly came from water pouring into first-level or basement spaces, though the building at 1415 Fannin St. did catch on fire.

High water flowed to Downtown’s low points, to the north and west — primarily in the Warehouse, Historic, and Theater Districts. How did the tunnels fare? Only sections adjacent to the Theater District and Civic Center garages were damaged, according to the district.

Other structures that took on water: The Spaghetti Warehouse, the new AIA Houston offices under construction across from that restaurant on Commerce St., the Sunset Coffee Building, the Dakota Lofts, and the Cotton Exchange Building on Travis St. Here’s the complete list (with addresses):

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Casualty Lists
08/29/17 4:15pm

Just days before Harvey hit Houston, the newest corner restaurant at 1302 Nance St. in Downtown’s old warehouse district looked ready to debut. The photos here, taken by Swamplot reader Will Breaux shortly before the rains came and the waters swelled, show the spot formerly occupied by Oxheart sporting a new exterior paint job and window nameplate.

Inside, renovations had been taking place for months. Proprietor Justin Yu had plans to open Theodore Rex later in August. But the restaurant flooded. Now, he writes, “it might take a little more time to open.”

Photos: Will Breaux

 

To Redo Again
08/24/17 1:00pm

The City of Houston website may still describe Jones Plaza as a “fully renovated” public square that forms the centerpiece of the city’s Theater District downtown, but Houston First appears ready to fully renovate it again. The quasi-public agency says it will select 5 teams from among any “experienced urban design firms, landscape architects or architects capable of creating an inspired, iconic, accessible and welcoming design” that apply before September 5 to create preliminary designs for a redo. Among the possibly familiar items listed for inclusion on the redesign menu: a water element, a “green oasis with seasonal plantings,” a performance space, an art installation, and a 4,000-sq.-ft. fast-casual restaurant.

Jones Plaza’s current design, which features similar items, dates from a 2001 rebuild led by Bricker+Cannady Architects; that renovation lowered and canted the previously raised plaza surface so that all steps could be removed from the Louisiana St. side facing Jones Hall:

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Do-Overs
08/21/17 11:15am

Events that took place overnight at the University of Texas in Austin may have repercussions for Houston: Workers under cover of darkness removed 2 statues of Confederate generals and one of a Confederate government official from prominent display on campus. University president Gregory Fenves announced that the bronze statues would be relocated to the university’s Briscoe Center for American History — after events in Charlottesville last weekend made it “clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.

The statues depicted Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate postmaster John H. Reagan. A fourth statue, of former Texas governor “Big Jim” Hogg — also known as dad to the developers of River Oaks and to Houston matriarch Ima Hogg — was also taken down, according to a university spokesperson only because it was part of the set (2 years ago, a likeness of former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson that was symmetrical with another statue moved to the Briscoe Center, that of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, was taken from the main mall and put in storage.) According to reports, the sole remaining statue on either the UT main or south mall depicts George Washington.

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Down in Austin
08/17/17 4:45pm

HOW THE NEW ARCHITECTURE CENTER HOUSTON WILL BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES WHEN HIGH WATER COMES What’s going to happen to the new exhibition, meeting, and office spaces at the Architecture Center Houston — set to reopen next month in its new location in the ground floor and former boiler room of the 1906 B.A. Riesner Building at 900 Commerce St., next to the Bayou Lofts and across from the Spaghetti Warehouse Downtown — in the very likely event that floodwaters rise from nearby Buffalo Bayou? Kyle Humphries of Murphy Mears Architects, the firm chosen to lead the reconfiguration of the space after a competition last year, tells the Architect’s Newspaper’s Jason Sayer that the designers imagined the interior as a bathtub, and accordingly wrapped a quarter-inch-thick plate made of aluminum around the interior on 2 sides: “’Our storefront system that faces Commerce Street is sealed and uses structural steel panels up to 3.5 feet long all along that facade,’ described Humphries. Furthermore, custom fills and seals on the doors (the profiles of which were manufactured in Switzerland) were prescribed with a custom-designed drop-in flood panel that can be operated by one person standing outside.” [The Architect’s Newspaper] Video walkthrough: Murphy Mears Architects

07/28/17 2:45pm

Workers who began removing windows earlier this month from rooms in the long-vacant 30-story abandoned hotel tower at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. haunting the southern reaches of Downtown have reached a critical height. Photos sent to Swamplot show that the systematic effort to yank off the fenestration of every room of the former Heaven on Earth Plaza Hotel (it also spent time as a Days Inn, a Holiday Inn, and a Vedic school) have now reached the 13th floor above the structure’s parking garage. This now affords viewers above a certain height — from a neighboring office building, say, or driving along the Pierce Elevated — actual views through the building.

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Acts as an Air Filter, Too
07/27/17 3:45pm

COMMENTS OF THE DAY: WHEN HOUSTON JEWELRY WRAPPED A SHINY BAND AROUND A COUPLE OF DOWNTOWN BUILDINGS AT 720 RUSK “We bought this building from Star Furniture in 1966 and operated in it until 1983 when we were offered a very generous price at the top of the market. After we left the building stayed empty until the Subway opened. . . . This is how the building looked when it was remodeled by architect Arnold Hendler in 1966.” [Rex Solomon, commenting on Downtown Houston Is Now Down To A Single Street-Level Subway] Photo: Houston Jewelry

07/26/17 11:15am

DOWNTOWN HOUSTON IS NOW DOWN TO A SINGLE STREET-LEVEL SUBWAY With the shuttering last week of the Subway sandwich shop at the corner of Milam and Rusk streets — catty corner from Pennzoil Place, in the ground-floor space below the Level Office at 720 Rusk St. (pictured here) — the national sandwich chain is now down to a single Downtown location that can be accessed from a sidewalk. Another streetside Subway, in the ground floor of the Americana Building 5 blocks to the south at the corner of Milam and Dallas, exited its space before demolition began on that structure in February. A total of 8 Subways are located Downtown, but they’re all now harbored in tunnels or lobbies or food courts — except the lone fresh-air holdout at 405 Main St., at the corner of Preston. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of former Subway space at 802 Milam St.: cmoney_htx

07/10/17 3:30pm

There appears to be some uh . . . work being done to a few of the (long-time-since-they’ve-been-rented) rooms at the former Downtown Days Inn building at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy., also known as Houston’s last remaining (for now) abandoned skyscraper. Look at the lowest level of windows above the parking garage in the top photo. See how the windows appear to be busted out —in a way that’s maybe somewhat different from how many of the other windows are busted out? A somewhat systematic regime of glass removal appears to be working its way up the building’s southern façade, according to a quick comparison of the shot at top, taken today, and this one, from a slightly different angle, taken almost exactly a month earlier:

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Windows Ate