06/15/17 1:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THERE’S MORE MONEY IN HISTORY “First of all, this really doesn’t make much difference, as the original art moderne lines of this center were destroyed several years ago with the addition of gun turrets on the corners of the buildings. What I do find interesting is that Weingarten talks about the alterations as being financially responsible decisions to their shareholders. Yet this is the 3rd oldest intact shopping center in the US, and the only two that predate it, AFAIK, are Highland Park Village in Dallas and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Both of those have owners that have restored them to essentially their original designs and have enjoyed much increased property values. In the case of Highland Park Village, Henry S Miller (a Dallas developer) bought HP Village in the later ’70’s as it was very run down and dumpy, and had the foresight to restore its original Spanish Colonial design and garner a better tenant mix. Though his company no longer owns it, HP Village commands far higher square foot rents than River Oaks Shopping Center. All this is to say that if Weingarten had invested money in restoring their property 10-15 years ago, they probably would have a more valuable asset today.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on The Other River Oaks Shopping Center Knockdown Hearing Scheduled for This Week] Rendering of proposed alterations to River Oaks Shopping Center, 1997 West Gray St.: Aria Group Architects for Weingarten Realty Investors

06/09/17 11:30am

A segment of the Heights Waterworks properties at 20th and Nicholson St. should be making its way into the hands of Braun Enterprises later this year, Katherine Feser reports this morning in the Chronicle. Building on Houston’s budding tradition of high profile redevelopment of decommissioned water storage tanks, the company will be turning the handful of pump station and reservoir structures on the block southeast of 20th and Nicholson into a handful of restaurants and bars, catty-corner from Alliance’s planned apartments.

One of the features called out in the city’s 2015 declaration of the property as a protected landmark was the “unusual grass roof” atop the reservoir itself; Tipps Architecture’s design for the structure’s redevelopment shows some grass in place on a rooftop patio, as well as a 3-story glassy extension protruding from the east face of the 2-story building. Other views of the complex show a lawn in between the building labeled Heights Tap & Bar above and the pumphouse to the south:

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Turning the Waterworks Back On
06/02/17 12:45pm


The partially ruined former Jefferson Davis Hospital nurses quarters at 1225 Elder St. — until very recently in the running for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places — was recommended for demolition at last week’s Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting following a public hearing the day before. The building, tucked west of the elevated freeway tangle where I-45 splits from I-10 near Downtown, would have joined the nextdoor former Jefferson Davis Hospital itself on the historic registry — instead, it looks like the structure will finally meet meet the ‘dozers after its long slow decline, accelerated by damage from a fire in 2013 that lead to last year’s semi-collapse.

Next door, the 4-story hospital structure (built in 1924, and replaced by 1938 with another Jefferson Davis Hospital where the Federal Reserve building now stands on Allen Pkwy.) cycled through various modes of use and disuse until its early 2000’s restoration into the Elder Street Artist Lofts, which serve as low-rent apartments and studios for artsy types. That redevelopment, of course, involved carefully digging around the dozens of unmarked graves turned up on the surrounding land, which beginning in 1840 had served as the second city cemetery (and as the final resting place for a hodgepodge likely including  Confederate soldiers, former slaves, victims of the 1860s yellow fever epidemics, people who died in duels, Masons, and a variety of others). The hospital’s name is still carved above the lofts’ entrance:

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First Ward Fire Damage by HFD
04/20/17 3:30pm

BART TRUXILLO, 1942-2017 Brewery Tap, 717 Franklin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002In 2006, the former brewery structure now hosting the Magnolia Ballroom was the first building in Houston to get protected landmark status — and was not the last, probably thanks in part to the life work of its restorer. Bart Truxillo bought the then-vacant building on the edge of Market Square in the late sixties, not too long before buying and restoring the crumbling Queen Anne Mansfield house in the Heights; both structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Truxillo later helped found what’s today known as Preservation Houston, and start the organization’s Good Brick Awards during the demolition-rich years of Houston’s first oil boom, as Lisa Gray notes today in the Chronicle; after years of work restoring historic buildings around town and serving a bunch of other history-minded groups, he died yesterday at age 74. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Magnolia Ballroom building on Franklin St.: Brewery Tap HTX

04/14/17 11:15am

UNTIL WE FORGET THE ALAMO WASN’T ALWAYS JUST A TEX-MEX CHAIN Mural by Wiley Robertson, 3301 Cline St., Fifth Ward, Houston“Once you start erasing history, who knows where it ends?” writes Cort McMurray in today’s Chronicle, scripting out a taste of potential dystopian franchise future for Houston and Texas’s most prominent landmarks should that bill that would gut preservation rules across the state make it through the legislature this session. The problem with the bill, he argues, is that it “makes forgetting easy” — and “in a place with no patience for memories, no place is sacred.” Before launching into a scene depicting how the Alamo might come to be repurposed into imaginary family-friendly megachain Casey Dilla’s, McMurray writes that “using a broad, vaguely worded standard — just what does ‘widely known’ mean? — to address the question of what’s historically significant to a community is a little like rewriting Hamlet entirely in emojis: a lot of really important stuff is going to be lost. And we will be left with a state that’s little more than the affable hell of FM 518 at Highway 288, traffic and pavement and an endless supply of family-friendly chain restaurants, serving an awful pastiche of Tex-Mex.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Mural commemorating Peacock Records, the former home of which was demolished last month: Spectrum Audio

04/11/17 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CAN WE LAY TO REST THAT POSITIVE VIEW OF HISTORY? Gravestone and Ravine, Olivewood Cemetery, First and Sixth Wards, Houston“If one of the Georges (or let’s say King George to round things out a little) happened to have been responsible for the destruction of some place — notable or otherwise, regarded as new or old at that particular moment in time — is that not an event deserving the adjective historical? Why must history be construed to reflect the addition to some facet of our tangible world, and never a subtraction from it? Is a repository of construction waste not historic simply because it lacks gingerbread affectations? If cemeteries can be historic, then why not a dump? . . . As a society, I think that we must acknowledge that the physical manifestation of our civilization is an ongoing work in progress. We should not mortgage our future to honor the past in this way.” [TheNiche, commenting on Comment of the Day: History is in the Eye of the Deedholder; previously on Swamplot] Photo of eroded grave in Olivewood Cemetery, ca. 2010:  J.R. Gonzales

04/10/17 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HISTORY IS IN THE EYE OF THE DEEDHOLDER Historic and Gone“Demolish your great aunt’s soup tureen! Every person wants to preserve her or his family history, yet is bonkers to bulldoze the neighbor’s. BS. All of it is Houston’s history — whether, or not, George Washington or George Bush slept there.” [movocelot, commenting on Texas May Demolish Your Local Preservation LawsIllustration of demolished historic structure: Lulu

04/07/17 1:45pm

TEXAS MAY DEMOLISH YOUR LOCAL PRESERVATION LAWS 2120 Sabine St., First Ward, Houston, 77007Ever worry that Houston’s historical preservation rules are just too darn strict? Tired of having to wait a whole 90 days to go ahead and do whatever you were going to do anyway to that non-protected city landmark? A public hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday in Austin on a state bill that would gut and restructure local historic preservation procedures across Texas. The bill, as Preservation Houston Texas put it to VBX‘s Adolfo Pesquera last month, “clumsily attempts to impose a woefully old-fashioned ‘George Washington slept here’ standard of historical significance:” The measure appears to limit new historical designations to either 1) structures lived in by a famous person or 2) places where something “widely recognized as a historic event” happened. (Under that standard, the Astrodome might make the cut for Evel Knieval’s 13-car motorcycle jump.) Houston’s own District 135 rep Gary Elkins is the only sponsor of the measure, which would also require that any movements to designate areas of “historical, cultural, or architectural significance” get support from 3 quarters of the city council or the local planning commission. The measure also may put the final say on any proposed changes to a protected structure in the hands of a single “municipal official,” who will have 30 days to give a yea or nay. [Virtual Builder’s Exchange; bill here; previously on Swamplot] Photo of protected former home of August von Haxthausen at 2120 Sabine St.: HAR

12/19/16 3:15pm

THE GRAVESITE BREAKUP MYSTERY NEAR ALDINE MIDDLE SCHOOL Aldine Cemetery, Aldine Meadows Rd., Aldine, 77032Who, exactly, ordered the unannounced, interrupted, and apparently haphazard plant and gravestone removal at the unmarked Aldine Cemetery near Aldine Middle School last week? As of Friday, Mike Snyder writes, the local sheriffs  were still trying to figure that out — as were some of the (living) family members of the buried, and unofficial Aldine historian Elizabeth Battle, who had been working to get the cemetery its own historical marker. Battle tells Snyder she’d been under the impression that “people . . . barreling in and destroying graves without contacting the descendants” wasn’t something that was likely to happen; University of Houston professor and periodic gravesite construction advisor Ken Brown notes that any disturbance of the 30-ish headstones, even by the property’s owner, should have required a court order. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of semi-cleared Aldine Cemetery on Aldine Meadows Rd: State rep. Armando Walle

11/07/16 12:30pm

NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATIONISTS TO GATHER IN HOUSTON, GAWK AT ASTRODOME AstrodomeThe National Trust for Historic Preservation — that’d be the folks that coined the ‘orgy of irrational destruction’ line picked up by Save the Bungalows a few years back — is holding its annual conference in Houston for the first time, starting next Tuesday. Current president Stephanie Meeks cites the city’s “compelling preservation story,” amid a regional lack of preservation-minded rules and regulations, as a reason for picking the city. Planned field trip locales include the Astrodome (currently getting ready for that basement parking garage remodel), as well as Mission Control, the artsifying warehouses and industrial facilities around Washington Ave., and a handful of Galveston historic districts. Also on the docket: the debut of the organization’s Atlas of ReUrbanism (a digital collection of built environment data aimed public officials, reporters, and other city data scavengers), for which Houston is one of 5 starter cities. Would-be attendees can catch some conference sessions next Tuesday through Friday in the neighborhood of the newly-game-faced George R. Brown Convention Center; those who don’t want to make the trip downtown can watch some sessions at home. [Previously on SwamplotPhoto of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

08/05/16 4:30pm

3715 N. Main St., Norhill, Houston

3715 N. Main St., Norhill, Houston

Workers have begun attaching wire netting to the façade of the 4,344-sq.-ft. retail-turned-office building at 3715 N. Main, which county records indicate was built in 1940 and a nearby resident believes once served as a post office for the adjacent neighborhoods of Norhill and Brooke Smith. The netting is in advance, it appears, of a new stucco or stucco-like overcoat for the brick-front structure.

The Iglesia de Restauracion, an affiliate of El Salvador-based pentecostal ministry Mision Cristiana Elim Internacional, bought the building last fall; previously it served as the law offices of voting-rights attorney Frumencio Reyes. In stuccoing the structure, the neighborhood church will be following the pattern established earlier with the successive stuccovers of its own main sanctuary building, the former North Main Theater across the street at 3730 N. Main.

Here’s how that movie theater, which was built in 1936, once looked:

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Famous Beige Overcoat
08/03/16 4:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON HEIGHTS HISTORY IN THE MAKING Houston Heights Craftorian Home“. . . They probably looked around and saw hundreds of 3k-plus-sq.-ft. Faux Craftsman, Faux Victorian, Faux Colonial, Faux Historic, etc. ‘bungalows,’ that have replaced (or bastardized) most of the real Craftsman, Victorian, Colonial, historic bungalows and realized that the Heights ‘style’ is all fake anyway, so why bother replicating more Faux? They instead designed a building that represents its own era, 2016. . . . Don’t fret, in 100 years, this will be ‘historic’ too.” [John M, commenting on Once Bashful Heights Post Office Replacement Retail Now Willing To Step Up to the Street, Learn To Like Sidewalks] Illustration: Lulu

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
04/06/16 10:45am

Yale St. Bridge over White Oak Bayou, Houston Heights, Houston, 77007

Yale St. Bridge over White Oak Bayou, Houston Heights, Houston, 77007 An orange and black construction marquee is now advertising the upcoming closure of the Yale St. bridge over White Oak Bayou just south of I-10, starting the Monday after next and running until the New Year’s Eve after next. The 1931 bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is slated for replacement after years of asking crossers to please watch their weight (with 10,000 pounds per axle being the most recent upper limit). The per-axle limit was at 8,000 pounds prior to a 2012 drop to 3,000 (which disqualified some SUVs and minivans). The addition of carbon strips to the structure caused TxDOT’s weight limit to yo-yo back up to 10,000.

The plans for the new bridge floated by TxDOT in 2014 included wider outside vehicle lanes and slightly narrower sidewalks (down to 5 feet from 6). But summary and followup notes from the public meeting held at the end of July 2014 say the design has been updated to include 8-foot-wide shared bike and pedestrian pathways on either side of the bridge, in response to the public comments on the project.

The TxDOT meeting summary notes also documents the agency’s attempt to sell the bridge in the Houston Chronicle:

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Coming Back a New Bridge
03/10/16 10:45am

The Cistern, Buffalo Bayou Park near Sabine St. at Memorial Dr., Houston, 77007

Update, 3/24: BBP has updated the link to and language of the job posting; this story has been updated.

Wanted: Buffalo Bayou Partnership is seeking some college types folks to show people around the long-empty city drinking water reservoir near the intersection of Sabine St. and Memorial Dr., which the group also hopes to turn into a temporary art space some day. The “accidental cathedral” was only accessible by a set of hatches and 14-foot ladders back when BBP first examined it; a $1.2-million grant is being used to bring the 87,200-sq.-ft. underground space up to code for visitors.

The cistern, nicknamed after the 6th-century reservoir beneath Istanbul, lies just north of the Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park beneath what will become a raised outdoor lawn intended for concerts and events at Buffalo Bayou Park. The 1927 reservoir was drained and decommissioned decades ago after it started leaking uncontrollably; the structure was planned for demolition and fill-in by the city around the time the park’s planners took an interest in the space, initially imagining uses like parking and mulch storage.

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Work in the Underground