08/16/17 4:45pm

GUNNAR BIRKERTS, 1925-2017 Latvian-born architect Gunnar Birkerts, designer of the stainless-steel-clad Contemporary Arts Museum that’s stood at the northwest corner of Montrose Blvd. and Bissonnet St. since 1972, passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Birkerts moved to Michigan in 1949 after graduating from architecture school in Germany; he later worked in the office of Eero Saarinen and set up his own architectural practice in Birmingham, a Detroit suburb. The exterior of the CAMH was altered to its current appearance in 1997 after a design by Houston architect Bill Stern. [Chicago Tribune; more here] Photo: CAMH

08/01/17 12:00pm

From the skies above Montrose Blvd. just north of Bissonnet, here’s a view from late last week of progress on the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s new Glassell School of Art. The new building, designed by Steven Holl Architects, is under construction across the street from the Glassell Junior School building (in the foreground, with the curved roof) — and on the same site where the original Glassell School, designed by Houston architect S.I. Morris, was demolished in 2015. Morris’s Glassell School featured exterior walls of glass block; the primary exterior materials of Holl’s replacement building are sandblasted panels of precast concrete, assembled to shape an inclined plane along the long edge of the building’s L shape.

If that part of the building is starting to look like it’ll form a giant ramp, it’s because it will: Models of the structure show an outdoor amphitheater at the ramp’s base; a rooftop public path will ascend beyond it to a sculpture garden on the roof of the building’s northern leg. An addition to the existing sculpture garden to the south will extend into the courtyard shaped by the building’s two wings, fronting Montrose Blvd. The space designated for the garden is filled with construction materials in the center of the photo above; it’s pictured in a more completed state in this rendering by the architect:

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A View from Above
06/01/17 2:00pm

Construction started yesterday on the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, going up in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s former parking lot north of Bissonnet St. at Main. That’s the curvy-roofed structure itself visible in the rendering above — the drawing shows the expected view of the building from the rooftop garden of the already-under-construction nearby replacement for the formerly glass-covered Glassell School (whose underground parking garage opened up when the surface lot closed last week). Both of the new buildings were designed by Steven Holl Architects — here’s where they fall on the map, along some of the other big changes in the works for the Museum’s campus:

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Museum District Parking
04/03/17 11:30am

Bus Shelter April Fool's Day, Bissonnet St. east of Montrose Blvd., Museum District, Houston, 77005

Bus Shelter April Fool's Day, Bissonnet St. east of Montrose Blvd., Museum District, Houston, 77005 Shots of Orwellian wall ornamentation and conspiracy theorist headgear were turned up by a reader’s surveillance of the Bissonnet St. bus shelter east of Montrose Blvd. by the Museum of Fine Arts early Saturday morning. The setup looks like one of the series of bus shelter makeovers purportedly planned around town by a vigilante redecorator — though perhaps because of heightened citywide gag tolerance spurred by April Fool’s Day, this round seems to have significantly outlasted the pre-dawn tiki hutch installed in front of the Public Storage on W. Gray back in February.

Eyes on the scene sent a few further monitoring reports on the decorations throughout the day, including notes of edits to the display from various passer-bys:

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Museum District Surveillance
11/07/16 5:00pm

Trains over Texas setup at HMNS

A through-the-curtains peek at at the reassembly of about 2,500 sq. ft. of miniaturized Texas landscape (made by T W Trainworx for the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s soon-to-open model train exhibit) comes from a reader who snuck a glance on Thursday. The exhibit, which should open some time after the 2nd week of installation wraps up, looks like it’ll include hand-carved models of some of Texas’s less flat geographies, including the Balcones Escarpment and Texas’s own pretty darn grand canyon, Palo Duro. The official details on opening and closing dates aren’t out yet, but a behind-the-scenes event description on the museum’s website notes that the exhibit will also show off some more familiar Gulf Coast features like “oil country salt domes, prairies and wetlands.” Natural stone landmarks, like Enchanted Rock, and unnatural stone monuments, like the state capitol, will also be part of the display.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

Tiny State Tour
10/14/16 5:00pm

Art Colony Phase 2, 5313 Chenevert St., Museum District, Houston, 77004

Like the looks of this light-display-slash-townhouse-trio at Prospect and Chenevert streets on the Almeda side of the Museum District? All 3 of the homes hit the market yesterday for between $925,000 and $975,000 (that’s 5313 Chenevert, 1805 Prospect, and 1807 Prospect, from left to right). Developer Dreamscape Modern posted the (rendered) view above to its website for Phase 2 of its The Art Colony townhouse development, which includes a see-through panel to catch shifting colored light projected onto the house after dark.

The light displays shown in the rendering and in the video above are a bit more intricate than the particular pattern shown in the new listing photos — though the illuminated driveway strips appear to be the same shade of aqua, amid the xeriscaping in place of the grass lawns originally depicted:

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Lighting Up in the Museum District
08/24/16 10:30am

La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77098 La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77098

The Richmond Ave branch of La Tapatia at the corner of Woodhead St. is back in operation this week after the late summer toasting of its 1969 building, a few readers report. Up top is a shot of the July 22 response from the Houston Fire Department (whose Station 16 is located a convenient half-block away across Richmond at the corner with Dunlavy St.). That’s Fairmont Museum District looking on worriedly from the background; the poop-scrutinizing Richwood Place apartment complex’s older half would have had a clear view of the action from the western turret. 

Photos: Marcie Newton (top), James Glassman (sign)

Where There’s Queso, There Was Fire
07/15/16 3:30pm

Montrose at Main, ca. 1925 from Preservation Houston archives

Mecom Fountain in front of Hotel ZaZa, Main and Montrose, Houston

The elliptical roundabout where Main and Montrose come together has gotten a bit taller since the scene showed in the photo above (which the archivist activists at Preservation Houston dug out of their files this week). The photo shows the sunken garden that once occupied the space at the acute intersection; the Museum of Fine Arts building can be seen lurking behind a few trees in the background, flanked to the left by the long-gone Montrose Apartments. A trail of mid-1920s automobiles can be seen caravaning northeast alongside Main St.’s spacious esplanades toward a sparsely-towered Downtown.

The fountain (which was recently granted protected historic landmark status after its crowdfunded de-restoration) replaced the gardens in the 1960s when John Mecom built redid the Warwick Hotel nearby (shown in the second photo above in its more recent but still storied reincarnation as Hotel ZaZa). Below is a look straight up now-well-treed Montrose Blvd. from southeast of the fountains, along Hermann Park’s rail-sliced Grand Gateway corridor — that’s the 5000 Montrose condo tower on the left, and the Museum Tower on the right:

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Growing Up at Montrose at Main
06/29/16 3:45pm

Mecom Fountain from COH
2120 Sabine St., First Ward, Houston, 77007This morning the city announced that it’s giving protected historic landmark status to the Mecom Fountain, in the wake of this year’s partial tuscanization of the 1960s mod landmark (and subsequent crowdfunded reversal thereof). All that bright blue primer has been cocooned over, and full de-restoration was scheduled to be finished by the end of last month.

Also getting the same protective status bump today: the 1883 house at 2120 Sabine St., formerly the First Ward home of state representative August von Haxthausen, who in the late 1800s ran Houston’s German language newspaper the Texas Deutsche Zeitung. That house got its own (more permanently) colorful restoration in 2015 — below are some close-up photos of the newly-technicolor wraparound porch from a previous listing of the property on HAR:

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Colorful Histories
05/19/16 10:30am

Mecom Fountain de-restoration, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

The blue all over the Mecom Fountain on Monday signaled the start of the now-fully-funded work to undo the damage to the 1960s monument caused by the quickly-backtracked application of limestone panels to its exterior earlier this spring. Also on the docket, as the panel damage gets fully repaired: another restoration, this one using architect Eugene Werlin’s original plans (which the fundraising group Friends of the Fountain says it found in a Houston parks department office).

The group says workers are using historically appropriate materials, including Cocoon brand liquid polymer coating (to be layered over the blue primer on the exterior) and Moon Dust plaster (to line the insides of the basins). Here’s a look at parts of the 1964 architectural drawings, which call for Cocoon in the notes:

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Drained on Main
05/03/16 10:30am

MFAH Stickers at Fannin at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77005

A reader sends a few shots of a developing piece along Fannin St. composed of traffic signal poles and discarded Museum of Fine Arts visitor stickers. The section above can be viewed from the intersection of Fannin with Montrose Blvd. (just south of the Mecom Fountain near the name change to Hermann Park Dr.) To the southwest lies Hermann Park’s Grand Gateway corridor (the string of light-rail-divided esplanades that started getting jazzed up as part of Hermann Park Conservancy’s 100th birthday present to the space); the landscaped strip runs directly north-south from the fountain roundabout to the Sam Houston statue.

Poles in the vicinity have been accumulating stickers since at least 2013. Here are a few more artsy angles on the scene:

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Stuck in the Museum District
02/26/16 10:15am

Mecom Fountain, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

A group called Friends of the Fountain has started an online campaign to raise $60,000 for reversing the recently-halted-after-all changes to the Mecom Fountain, at the roundabout confluence of Main St. and Montrose Blvd. near the entrance to Hermann Park. The group’s crowdfunding page says the money will be used to remove the limestone panels recently screwed around the concrete wall of the 1964 modernist fountain’s elliptical main basin, as well as to repair the concrete and to repaint. A member of Mayor Turner’s transition committee involved with the project also tells Swamplot this morning that around $25,000 of those funds will replace the grant money spent to add the panels in the first place.

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In Reverse at the Roundabout
02/22/16 2:45pm

1638 Banks, Houston, 77006

An uncovered courtyard is the centerpiece of this former home of Astrodome and ex-Houston Post building architect Ralph Anderson, who designed the 1,805-sq.-ft. space and lived there leading up to his death in 1990.  The 2-bedroom 2-bath house features floor-to-ceiling windows and brick floors arrayed around the central atrium, which held a large tree until early last year.  The 1959 home, now housing a much smaller tree in a courtyard planter, went on the market a week and a half ago at $875,000.

The front door is set into a patterned concrete wall:

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A Tree Grows in Boulevard Oaks
02/11/16 10:30am

Mecom Fountain with Limestone Paneling, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

Here’s a late-afternoon look at the limestone slabs that have been working their way around the concrete oval basin of the Mecom Fountain in the last week, which the Texas Historical Commission is hoping that TXDoT and the city will stop applying for the moment, according to the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray. Commissioner Linda Henderson told Gray that the organization approved work to redo the north entrance to Hermann Park without realizing that the updates included work on the fountain itself (which is currently being looked at for potential inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and for city protected landmark status).

Meanwhile, the city planning department has been receiving complaints about the work that include phrases like “suburban mall,” Margaret Wallace tells the Chronicle. As of yesterday evening, the panels had already marched around both ends of the ellipse, with a gap remaining on the southwest side:

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Getting Stoned at Main and Montrose