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

06/06/17 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN THEY RAISED GREAT GRANNY’S “This house has some wonderful history. It was originally a one story that was raised up by cranes and the ground level story was built underneath. During WW One, they would roll up the rugs and host dances for the soldiers. It was the home of my great grandparents who lived there with their children when they moved from PA. My two spinster Great Aunts lived there all their lives. It broke the hearts of the family when it had to be sold but no one had the means to buy and restore it. I wanted to share for those of you that had posted the kind comments.” [Renee Lauckner, commenting on Corner Lot Hidden Away for Decades Beneath 1904 Heights House Could Join the Commercial Crowd] Photo: Swamplot inbox

06/05/17 12:30pm

WESLAYAN’S CRUEL TWIST SLAYS Reader Adam Goss, who identifies himself as a Houstonian — and a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut — writes that it “drives him insane” that “the street named after our alma mater is misspelled. All the surrounding streets are named after similar universities and colleges (Amherst, Oberlin, Georgetown), yet for some reason the largest of all, Weslayan, is spelled incorrectly. How would Rice grads like it if a major thoroughfare in Chicago was named after the famed Houston university, Rize Avenue. Or if Boston named a major street Longhornes, after a famed UT alum?” Photo of street sign at the corner of Weslayan and W. Alabama St.: Jeremy Hughes

03/10/17 3:15pm

HOUSTON’S FORGOTTEN FOUNDING ALLEN Allen brothers' Houston sales adThe third name in the trio of John, Augustus, and Charlotte Allen is typically dropped when discussing the founding of Houston via arguably questionable New York newspaper advertisement (touting an elevated, salubrious, and breezy paradise along the Texas coast).  But Charlotte likely bankrolled the whole operation, Maggie Gordon notes this week in the Chronicle: Charlotte’s inheritance money was used to make the purchase of the city’s original 8,500 acres of swampland in 1836. And of the 3, Charlotte was the only Allen to spend subsequent decades involved in the Houston real estate scene, including the donation of land for the first city hall on the site of today’s Market Square Park. John, on the other hand, died of what may have been mosquito-borne illness 2 years in to the venture, while Augustus took off back to New York in 1850, after he and Charlotte split up. [Houston Chronicle; previously on SwamplotImage of the Allen brothers’ advertisement: Houstorian

02/06/17 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: Y’ALL NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT DUCT TAPE SOLUTION HOUSTON CAME UP WITH TO FIX THAT PROBLEM WE HAD Apollo 13 Repair Assembly“‘Problem solved, crisis ended, astronauts saved,’ should be the answer the world should know. ‘Houston’ — actually JSC — solved the problem, saving the astronauts on Apollo 13.” [Blake, commenting on Taking on the ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ Problem] Photo of device installed in-flight on Apollo 13 using duct tape, maps, and other materials on hand: NASA

02/03/17 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEREFORE ART THOU, ALABAMA THEATER? Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet at the Alabama Theater, Upper Kirby, Houston“My elementary school class (can’t remember which grade) saw Romeo and Juliet there. The one with Olivia Hussey as Juliet. I remember the seats were velvet and rocked. If you kicked the seat in front of you really hard it sent the person’s popcorn flying for several rows.” [Tangyjoe, commenting on Former Alabama Theater’s Pastel Modernistic Forehead Browned Out]

08/30/16 11:15am

Allen brothers' Houston sales ad

It’s that time again — Houston’s birthday celebration, observed traditionally on the anniversary of the publication of the Allen brothers’ newspaper ads offering land for sale in the area in 1836. Among the more eyebrow-worthy claims put forward by the founders: that the “beautifully-elevated” area (depicted nestled amid a clutch of towering hills) was already the site of regular steamboat traffic (the Laura wouldn’t make the first steamboat run up the sandy twists of Buffalo Bayou to Allen’s Landing until the following year), and that the area “[enjoys] the sea breeze in all its freshness” and is “well-watered” (that part, at least, is likely undisputed).

The ad text also claims that “Nature appears to have designated this place for the future seat of Government,” though Lisa Gray suggests this morning that a few well-timed gifts to members of the newly-minted Texas Legislature may have been responsible as well. Gray writes that the city hosted the Texas government from 1837 until the legislators, tired of the heat and mosquitoes, voted to move elsewhere in 1839.

Here’s the ad in its entirety, as it appeared 180 years ago today in the Telegraph and Texas Register:

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And Many More
08/05/16 11:15am

Houston: A Story of Sprawl in 5 Coasters, by Data Design Co.

Have you seen this video (at top) from the city’s planning and development department? It’s silent, several years old, and not the flashiest portrait of Houston available on YouTube. But in a compelling series of images, it shows how mightily the city’s official boundaries have grown — simply by tracking Houston’s annexation history, decade by decade.

But now there’s a more active way to appreciate Houston’s historically bulging waistline — one that could even help increase your own in the process (depending on your choice of beverages). Each of the 5 laser-cut acrylic coasters in Data Design Co.‘s limited-edition set (shown in the photo above) is etched with an outline of this ever-expanding city at some point in its history. Designers Brian Barr and Matthew Wettergreen had the sets manufactured in Houston by Post-Studio, and are now offering them for sale for $60. Buy a set, and try one beverage on each over the course of an evening of thirst-quenching, and you’ll allow yourself to drink in a progressive view of this city’s expansive growth.

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Pushing Boundaries
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

03/08/16 2:30pm

Renovation of Sunset Coffee Building at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

A shiny new cistern is now in place at the former Sunset Coffee building at Allen’s Landing, which Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Houston First have been redeveloping into an office-topped boat-and-bike-rental spot.  The 1910 coffee roasting facility has once again donned walls after moving past a Summer 2014 minimalist phase, and is currently decked out in a muted Café du Monde orange.

The no-longer-see-through structure is back to limiting the view from the Harris County Jail across the bayou (visible on the far right, above). A set of stairs are in place alongside the new cistern, along with railings around what appears to be the planned rooftop terrace.

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Nearing Launch at Allen’s Landing
03/08/16 10:00am

TREE PROFESSIONALS: PECAN AT 509 LOUISIANA ST. WOULD HAVE JUST DIED ANYWAY Pecan Tree formerly at 509 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The pecan tree formerly behind the former Longhorn Cafe on Louisiana St. is down at last, following the 100-plus-year-old buildings at 509 and 517 Louisiana into that Great Big Preservation District in the Sky. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Chronicle reports that 2 arborists were called in to examine the tree, and pronounced it dead-or-close-enough: Lauren Lusk Willis, a member of the family that owns the next-door Lancaster Hotel, told the Chronicle that a lightning strike had damaged the tree, and that its core was rotting. Willis said that the pecan “would not likely have survived the leveling of the lot for any construction,” and that “ultimately, it wouldn’t have survived regardless.” The tree, haunted by a both-Sam-and-city-of Houston ghost story, was long visible only to those who entered 509 Louisiana’s hidden courtyard, until the pecan’s 2001 outing by the demo of the Rice Rittenhouse parking garage; it went back into hiding by the end of 2003 with the help of 33-story Calpine Center. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of the pecan tree, following demolition of 509 Louisiana St.: KineticD

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
01/22/16 11:30am

CELEBRATING LAURA DAY, AND THE CON THAT MADE THE CITY Packet steamer LauraOn this day in 1837 — according to Houstorian, Houston’s “loudest preservation group” — the packet steamer Laura shoved its way up Buffalo Bayou through sand bars and tortuous snags to Allen’s Landing in what is now Downtown Houston. The trip proved publicly for the first time that such a voyage was actually possible, though the Allen Brothers had already been promising as much to investors for months in their “highly exaggerated” advertisements of the new town. Houstorian teamed up with the Bayou Preservation Association last night to celebrate the grand con’s success; the now-annual Laura Day event took place this year at Public Services Wine & Whisky, housed in the 1884 Cotton Exchange Building at the corner of Travis and Franklin — just a few blocks west of the Laura’s purported landing site at the foot of Main St. [Houstorian] Historic photo of the steamship Laura: Houstorian

01/19/16 12:30pm

UT Houston Campus Site, Buffalo Lakes, Houston

The deal is sealed on the University of Texas’s purchase of a 100-acre hunk of land south of South Main St. as of last Friday. The sale marks the first concrete move toward UT’s planned Houston campus, though closings on the parcel patchwork comprising the rest of the 300-ish ac. likely won’t wrap up until early 2017, according to a press release from the school’s Office of Public Affairs.

The sold land is a forested tract northwest of the wiggly intersection of Willowbend Dr. and Buffalo Spdwy.; the property is split along a northwest-southeast diagonal by a linear drainage feature which makes an appearance in those preliminary campus designs (shown from the north in the image above).

That land was owned previously by Buffalo Lakes Ltd., an entity associated with UT grad John Kirksey of Kirksey Architecture. A plan for a Buffalo Lakes master-planned community (see below) was drawn up more than 4 years ago by Kirksey for the same space:

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South Main Master Plans
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:

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Coming Down in Downtown