01/12/16 3:45pm

Demolition of 517 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Time to bid adieu to 2 more of downtown’s oldest buildings: readers sent both sky-high and excavator-side photos of yesterday’s teardown work at 517 Louisiana St., and 509 is permitted to follow). According to the building’s owners, the next-door Lancaster Hotel’s parking crunch is the reason the 2 1906 Theater District neighbors will meet their flattened fates, along with a long-hidden pecan tree that shades a once-secret courtyard at 509. Taking their place: a surface lot for 50 cars — and, maybe, one day, an expansion to the hotel.

517’s transformation to empty space was complete by the end of the day yesterday:


Coming Down in Downtown
01/09/15 5:15pm


Above the renovations that have been opening up the bunker-like Alley Theatre all the way from its sub-basement to (new) fly loft, the revamped skylight — distinctive triangles kinda forming a series of “A’s,” for Alley — now appear in high relief (top). A hard hat tour for the media Thursday showed off portions of the $46.5 million project, which was designed by Studio RED Architects.

Construction kicked off in July 2014 and plans to wrap up for an October 2015 debut. Here’s a peek at what’s been going on behind the behind-the-scenes:


The Inside Story
12/18/14 10:45am

BEN KOUSH: ADDING A 4-STORY ‘GAS TANK’ TO THE ALLEY’S ROOF NOT MY IDEA OF PRESERVATION 10-alley-theater-houston-archpaperCiting it as epitomizing Houston’s ineptitude in historic preservation, architect and former Houston Mod president Ben Koush soundly lambasted a May rendering of the Alley Theatre’s ongoing renovation by Studio Red, of Summit-into-Lakewood transformation fame. Koush saves most of his bile for the planned gridded fly-loft rising 4-stories above the theater’s roofline. “The original building evoked a castle,” Koush writes. “In the drawing, the new fly loft looks looks like a gas tank or grain storage bin dropped atop that castle. One can only wonder why Studio Red’s insistent design was not more restrained. Studio Red has since pulled the rendering from its website, calling it “a terrible fisheye view of the fly loft that completely distorts what it will look like.” Distorted or not, the fly loft’s metallic appearance will contrast with Ulrich Franzen’s Brutalist concrete design, and Koush contends that such an essential alteration of the Alley is not the sort of project that groups like Houston Mod and the Texas Society of Architects should be lauding. [Gray Matters; previously on Swamplot] Photo: The Architect’s Newspaper.

06/05/13 4:00pm

BREAKING DOWN STUDIO RED’S ALLEY THEATRE REDO The $46.5 million that the Alley Theatre is spending on a remodel drawn up by Studio Red has created a plan that threatens to “muddle” the Ulrich Franzen-designed space’s “magical” effects, writes local architect, homebuilder, and mod fanatic Ben Koush. Though Koush concedes that changes to the main stage, seats, and lighting and sound systems are necessary to meet the demands of more elaborate productions — including the decision to increase the number of stalls in the women’s restroom from 13 to 24 — Koush wonders whether the “smooth, corporate image” proposed for the interiors won’t ruin a good thing: “At the street-level ticketing lobby, the architects propose to cover the concrete floor with terrazzo. Franzen integrated seemingly opposite sensations of closure and openness in a building with very few windows by cutting out strategic and rather large floor to ceiling openings at the entrance and at the upper level balconies. . . . To further this intentional ambiguity he continued the concrete of the exterior steps not only on the floor of the lobby but also on the battered surfaces of the banks of ticket booths. The drama of the red carpet cascading down the upper lobby stairs is [heightened] by the contrast with the humble concrete below. By covering this floor surface, an important part of the design concept will be lost.” [Studio Red; Arts + Culture] Rendering: Studio Red

08/11/11 12:16pm

THAT THEATER SPACE IN THE NEW HOUSTON BALLET BUILDING REALLY CHAPS MY ASS “I have been going to the theater for nearly four decades, which means at the very least that I’ve encountered every possible sort of venue. I’ve sprawled on dirty gymnasium floors while watching modern dance, perched in rickety folding chairs during community Shakespeare productions, and squeezed into wooden fold-downs from the 19th century for long Mahler symphonies. I’ve languished in some of the oldest opera houses of Europe, where the seats are notoriously awful. I am sorry to say that even paint-chipped baseball bleachers are more comfortable than the seven rows of upholstered benches in the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab at Houston Ballet’s new Center for Dance. . . . The seats are exactly one foot deep, with “backrests” only one foot high. Place two rulers in an “L” shape on your backside and you’ll get the idea: no support at all. You might be thinking that I should just lose some weight, and I won’t argue the point. However, a female friend told me recently that I have ‘no ass,’ so I don’t think it’s merely a matter of my size. I looked around and noticed everyone else shifting as well. There were several large people in the audience, and they looked positively miserable.” — Theodore Bale, reviewing a pair of Woody Allen plays put on by the Back Porch Players. [Culturemap; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Michael Coppens [license]

11/10/09 2:38pm

An article on Bloomberg.com forwarded by a reader provides an update on the progress of fundraising efforts for the Houston Ballet’s new building Downtown planned for the block surrounded by Congress, Smith, Preston, and Louisiana streets. You’ll remember that back in August, Ballet managing director Cecil C. Conner told the Chronicle‘s Molly Glentzer that the board had raised “about 70 percent of the funds” needed for the $53 million building — which the organization hopes to have ready for move-in by 2011.

What’s the latest news, 3 months later?


08/04/09 9:09am

When the building is finished in 2011, what will wayward pedestrians poking past the new Houston Ballet Center for Dance from the intersection of Congress and Smith streets Downtown be able to glimpse of the action inside?

. . . the architects . . . envisioned the granite like a proscenium stage, framing views from the street through windows on several floors of the north and west facades.

Those windows, [Gensler managing principal James] Furr added, are like a “billboard for dance,” enabling passersby to see classes and rehearsals.

Furr spoke to the Chronicle‘s Molly Glentzer, and Gensler provided more-up-to-date images of the 115,000-sq.-ft. facility, which will be clad in black granite on one portion and “a light plaster” on the other:


07/24/09 11:43am

Shhhh!!! The curtain hasn’t gone up yet on the new Center for Dance the Houston Ballet is constructing at 601 Preston St., between Louisiana and Smith, at the northern end of Downtown. There have been no big public announcements about the project, no local news stories, nada. But it looks like preliminary construction work on the building has already begun.

Yes, the new Ballet building is the mystery construction project Abc13 reporter Miya Shay posted in her Twitter feed yesterday, prompting an impromptu guessing game here. After some smart guesses from Swamplot readers and Tweeters, Shay revealed the answer this morning. In a later tweet, she gave a few more details: that fundraising for the building had reached more than 50 percent of the organization’s goal and that the building’s skybridge — which would connect it directly to the Wortham Center, so performers’ ballet shoes wouldn’t have to touch the street — was “def[initely] in.”

Shay also posted a second photo showing work going on at the construction site:


12/12/08 2:48pm

It’s been obvious for some time that economic conditions and credit problems have placed a giant question mark next to almost every major proposed new development in town. But it sure is fun to revisit them one by one!

A week after Swamplot posted renderings of the new building the Houston Ballet has been planning for a Downtown block near the Wortham Center it bought last year, the Houston Press‘s Richard Connelly made some inquiries with Houston Ballet PR manager Melissa Carroll about the building. In reply came this very brief message:


12/03/08 1:56pm

What’s the Houston Ballet’s new $53 million, 120,000-sq.-ft. Downtown headquarters building going to look like? Two renderings of the 6-story building planned for the block between Smith, Louisiana, Congress, and Preston Sts. have appeared on an architecture website based in the U.K.

A connecting skybridge would prevent tutus from wilting on the long journey between the new ballet practice facilities and the Wortham Center, which is catty-corner to the site. The new building will also house the ballet’s offices and wardrobe shop, as well as the the Ben Stevenson Academy.

The two views of the building don’t exactly gibe — a likely sign that the design is not final: