07/21/17 4:00pm

THE INVENTION OF UPPER KIRBY Among Houston’s grids, strips, and cul de sacs, let a million neighborhoods bloom! Perhaps the story of how the area around upper Kirby Dr. came to be known as Upper Kirby can form some sort of template for this city’s vast numbers of undifferentiated districts just waiting to be branded? “We weren’t Greenway Plaza, we weren’t Montrose, we weren’t Rice Village,” Upper Kirby Management District deputy director Travis Younkin tells reporter Nicki Koetting. It was a section of town that lacked identity. “This nameless neighborhood, Koetting adds, “was the sort of place you drove through on the way to other, named neighborhoods.” One helpful step along the way: Planting the shopping areas with red phone booths. “The authentic British phone booths are an homage to Upper Kirby’s acronym, and actually operated as phone booths for a few decades until cellphones became the norm,” Koetting notes. “Now, the telephone booths are lit from within and locked, serving today as a visual indication to visitors that they’ve arrived in Houston’s own UK.” [Houstonia] Photo: WhisperToMe

07/06/17 10:30am

THE NATIONWIDE MCMODERN INVASION HAS BEGUN, AND THE UPPER KIRBY AND GREENWAY PLAZA AREA IS ITS GROUND ZERO “The typical McMansion follows a formula: It’s large, cheaply constructed, and architecturally sloppy,” writes Kate Wagner on Curbed. “Until around 2007, McMansions mostly borrowed the forms of traditional architecture, producing vinyl Georgian estates and foam Mediterranean villas.” But Wagner, who regularly dissects and ridicules the housing type on her McMansion Hell Tumblr page, notes that McMansion purveyors of late have increasingly begun borrowing, distorting, misunderstanding, and enlarging aspects of a newer type of home. “We are witnessing the birth and the proliferation of modernist McMansions: McModerns,” she writes. Where can we find these sleek new specimens? “In cities, McModerns are frequently constructed in rapidly gentrifying areas, such as the Greenway/Upper Kirby neighborhood in Houston, where $1 million, five-to-10-bedroom, builder-designed McModerns have been increasingly sprinkled among houses selling for $200,000 to $700,000: an earmark of speculation based on the increasing land values brought by rabid development.” [Curbed] Photo of 3003 Ferndale St.: HAR

06/13/17 10:30am

Developer Giorgio Borlenghi may have just shelved plans to build the 26-story condo tower he had dubbed Villa Borghese on the 1.43-acre site a block south of Westheimer at Bammel Ln. and Earl Ln., but work clearing the property of the 15 separate cottage-y structures that once stood in the way of the now-on-hold project has not stopped. A reader sends pics of the scene from last Thursday, as workers from Cherry House Moving mounted the houses-turned-shops-and-offices surrounding the shuttered wedding venue known as the Gardens of Bammel Lane onto steel rails and prepared them for exit:

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There They Go, Borghese or Not
06/12/17 11:45am

Another round of changes appears to be on the horizon for the oft-swapped Asian fusion joint just south of the former Alabama Theater, a reader notes — a leasing sign advertising the shopping center’s (only) restaurant endcap spot was spotted behind the center along W. Alabama St. last week. The space has been serving under the banner of Maiko Bar + Bistro since 2014 (reportedly acting as a test kitchen for the restaurant’s Austin location of similar name); Maiko replaced short-lived Onaga Pan Asian Bistro, which took over from Zake Sushi Lounge.

Any swapouts in the space will follow in the wake of some more skin-deep touchups the shopping center received back in January — the pastel rainbow forehead of Trader Joe’s was redone in a monotone grey-brown, as was the pale yellow block behind Petsmart‘s logo:

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S. Shepherd Restaurant Sequels
06/09/17 2:30pm

Has any former Wendy’s drive-thru — or really, any fast-food joint anywhere — ever had such an illustrious culinary afterlife as the one that once stood at 2300 Westheimer, halfway between Kirby and Shepherd? The standalone burger stand never left us — it just went upscale, time and time again: To Torcello’s. To Armando’s. To Dish. To Two Chefs Bistro. To Beso. To Palazzo’s Trattoria. To 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. (Did we miss any?) To the Harwood Grill.

Then there was the time last year when it was supposed to go Berryhill. But that was not to be.

Instead, this extremely mutable property is now on its way to becoming a champagne-themed restaurant called a’Bouzy (pronounced as you’d expect).

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Cheers to A’Bouzy
06/08/17 10:15am

The structure now being finalized at the once-on-Cleburne-St. Cleburne Cafeteria’s space at 3606 Bissonnet St. is notably bigger than the single-story building it’s replacing — a 2-story steel frame went up around the beginning of February, and the restaurant is shooting to open in its newest home by the end of the summer. (The view included here of the old building shows it just shy of the restaurant’s 75th anniversary, last spring; the shot up top shows progress on the new building just shy of the fire’s 1-year anniversary in late April.) Other reasons why this round of recovery has taken longer than the 3-month closure that followed the restaurant’s 1990 fire at the same address: Owner George Mickelis tells Katherine Feser this week that (relatively) new regulations and inspection requirements have drawn out the process, too.

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From the Ashes Near West U
05/30/17 5:00pm

NICE PARK IF YOU CAN GET TO IT, AND OTHER HOUSTON ENCAPSULATIONS George Ristow’s take for OffCite on the recently unveiled public-private redo of Levy Park? It’s become “one of Houston’s best outdoor public spaces” — as long as you can get yourself there: “The park is tucked away from view, dwarfed by the Kirby Grove building, which undermines its connection [to] Richmond Ave. (bringing visitors from Upper Kirby). Although there are sidewalks immediately surrounding the park, no sidewalk exists on either side of Eastside St. between the park and Richmond. Just one block south of the park, the Southwest Freeway, with a right-of-way as wide as the park itself, walls off West University’s upper reaches as if it were an international border crossing. Consider the Olive Garden restaurant, surrounded by a typical suburban parking lot, built within the same time period as the Levy Park facelift just on the other side of the freeway. Here we have Houston in a nutshell: a state-of-the-art destination public park next to a 19-lane freeway next to a chain restaurant, with no way to walk between them.” [OffCite; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Levy Park Conservancy

05/22/17 12:30pm

The pointy glass Gardens of Bammel Lane conservatory isn’t the only structure on the block southeast of Bammel Ln. and Earl St. getting picked up and hauled elsewhere as part of the block’s cleanout for the 26-story Villa Borghese condo highrise. A handful of Cherry House Moving trailers were spotted on the site this weekend, hanging around and under several of the bungalows on the block (which date between 1900 and 1950 per the county’s records, and were used most recently as commercial spaces). As of Saturday, the conservatory structure (shown above in wedding attire) had already departed the site (presumably headed for its new home at the Madeley Gardens events space in Conroe).

Some of the bungalows have already been shuffled around on the block. The former law office at 2714 Sackett St. was spotted stripped of its hedge and address markers, with a moving trailer poking out from beneath the front porch:

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Upper Kirby Shuffle
04/19/17 4:30pm

2241 Richmond Ave., Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098

Pothole in Parking Lot for Hobbit Cafe, Blue Fish House, and Yelapa Playa Mexicana, 2241 Richmond Ave., Upper Kirby, HoustonThe folks at Rim Tanon (the Thai place that recently replaced the former Blue Fish House sushi spot on Richmond) send word that the hole-spangled brick, asphalt, and rubble parking lot at the center of the Portsmouth Square restaurant clump has been freshly paved over. The spot, which won top honors on a 2011 list of Houston’s worst restaurant parking lots, was resurfaced from Richmond to Portsmouth St. just in time for Tax Day. Above and below are a couple of damp shots of the lot circa some 2010 gawking:

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Flattening the Competition
04/12/17 5:15pm

Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware, 3600 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston, 77005

Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware, 3600 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston, 77005Michael Morrow (that’d be the -morrow in kinneymorrow architecture) sends along this update from his latest visit to Westheimer Plumbing & Hardware’s showroom at 3600 Kirby Dr., which turned out to be still closed in the wake the February incident that shut it down temporarily. (You know — the one where a driver hit the wrong pedal and fell off the 7th story of the nextdoor River Oaks Tower’s parking garage, landing on and through the roof of the strip mall.) A somewhat incredulous but friendly note on the door from the hardware store’s owner says that, though the 17-year-old driving luckily sustained surprisingly little injury, the showroom has been pretty roughed up, including severed water, sprinkler, and electrical lines (not to mention the hole). The note says that the business is currently operating out of its warehouse on E. T.C. Jester Blvd., and will be back in its spot on Kirby as soon as possible. (Neighboring sugar pusher Dessert Gallery, however, reopened just a few days after the accident in early March.)

The damage to the parking garage itself is still visible from ground level:

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Upper Kirby Progress Report
03/23/17 12:00pm

Former Exxon Upstream Facility, 3102-3120 Buffalo Spdwy., Greenway/Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098Former Exxon Upstream Facility, 3102-3120 Buffalo Spdwy., Greenway/Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098

More angles on the ongoing obliteration of structures at the freshly former Exxon Upstream Research facility on Buffalo Spdwy. at W. Alabama St. come this week from one of reader MontroseResident’s more elevated perches. The most prominently visible act of deconstruction has been the shattering breakup of the parking garage in the campus’s northwest corner, due south of the now-mostly-reskinned River Oaks Luxury Apartments midrise on Westheimer (which was stripped down to the slabs in the last 2 years for retooling as The River Oaks condo tower, visible below on the far left):

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Crushing on Buffalo Spdwy.
03/23/17 10:30am

2241 Richmond Ave., Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098

2241 Richmond Ave., Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098

One of the low-slung spots fringing Portsmouth Square (the gravelly picket-fenced space between Portsmouth St. and Richmond Ave. which a reader refers to as “arguably Houston’s worst parking lot”) has been getting worked over for an identity swapout planned to take effect later this month. The former Blue Fish House sushi restaurant, just north of vegetarian- and Lord-of-the-Rings-geek-friendly Hobbit Cafe and facing off with Capone’s Oven and Bar, is now decked out in signage for Rim Tanon, billed by its Richmond-facing banner as a Thai street food joint.

Some of the Blue Fish’s old signage was still visible on the back side of the building as of earlier this week (as seen above), though the space’s hanging placard sign has already been replaced. And the building’s trees-in-the-holes front patio area has been getting a little bit of retooling:

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Tradeoff on Richmond Ave
03/17/17 5:30pm

Corporate Plaza site, Kirby at Norfolk, Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098

A sky-high reader (and self-proclaimed messenger of love) sends this shot of the lonesome-heart-shaped puddle sequestered away these days behind the wooden wall around the former site of Corporate Plaza and its Swamplot Award-winning parking garage. The increasingly grassy land doesn’t appear to have gotten much action since the erection of the heavier-duty fencing last Octoberno plans to change that any time soon seem to have been announced yet by the lands new owners, California-based developer Triyar.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

Hopes Up on Upper Kirby
03/15/17 11:15am

Former Exxon Upstream Facility, 3102-3120 Buffalo Spdwy., Greenway/Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098

Former Exxon Upstream Facility, 3102-3120 Buffalo Spdwy., Greenway/Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098Permissions started to trickle in earlier this month for the  knockout of various buildings on the newly former Exxon Upstream research facility at the corner of Buffalo Spdwy. and W. Alabama St. California-based Spear Street Capital and Transwestern admitted to buying the property last week but stayed mum on plans for the site. A reader took a wandering tour around the edge of the 1950s lab complex yesterday afternoon, noting the parking garage teardown shown above, and the various signs of deliberately accelerated wear-and-tear around the rest of the structures:

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Upstream Going Down