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:


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


Coming Down in Downtown
12/04/15 9:15am

Wildcat Golf Club, 12000 Almeda Rd., Pierce Junction, Houston

Looking for an overview of the new site of UT’s recently-announced Houston campus? Your best bet may be to stop in at the Wildcat Golf Club, located directly across Holmes Rd. from the site of UT’s planned purchase. Native Houstonians may experience a touch of vertigo trekking up the club’s grassy peaks to catch the view of NRG Park and downtown (see above) — hills on the site reach more than 115 feet above sea level in places. (Downtown, for comparison, stands at roughly 50 feet, and the big hill at Miller Outdoor Theater tops out around 65.)

The golf club’s topography is a byproduct of its original gig as a major municipal landfill, operating for nearly two decades until 1989; clay and topsoil were imported to sculpt the waste heaps into today’s smoothly rolling hills and water features:


Houston Hill Country
12/01/15 10:00am

UT Houston Campus Site, Buffalo Lakes, Houston

Some zoomy conceptual renderings of the University of Texas’s coming Houston campus, centered on the largely undeveloped intersection of Buffalo Spdwy. and Willowbend Blvd., made their debut at last month’s Board of Regents meeting, where the intended purchase of land for the project was announced. Buffalo Spdwy. gently winds through the drawings of the new campus to a track and several baseball diamonds along Holmes Rd. (which runs horizontally across the top of the image above).

Although the images are only “concepts”, the pictures do provide a sense of how the campus might unfold: For example, that linear water feature shown at the center of the campus aligns with an existing drainage ditch on the property, and the 3 long, low structures in the foreground are good candidates for parking garages, which will be needed regardless of the new institution’s yet-to-be-decided purpose.

Existing residential communities and industrial parks are here rendered as sparsely-treed fields — the boundary of the land slated for purchase by UT currently houses several apartment complexes on the north side and the Orkin Industrial Surplus facility to the south.

But another conceptual rendering (this one looking northwest across Holmes Rd. towards the distant Williams Tower) shows the campus in place amongst some of its eclectic neighbors:


Welcome to the neighborhood
07/15/15 4:30pm

Memorial City, Houston

From high atop its I-10-side rooftop robo-pineapple, the powers-that-be at MetroNational have heard of your desires to see a timelapse video illustrating the monstrous growth of Memorial City, just as it prepares to spill north across the mighty 30-lane Katy Fwy. Well, the company’s marketing department has, at least. And has bestowed upon Swamplot readers the next-best thing: the tetraptych pictured above, featuring aerial shots dating back almost 50 years and extending to . . . 4 years ago.

But what’s happened since? Edge City gotta keep up with the times! It now stands out above the expanse of west Houston sprawl in blazing color:


Big, Bigger, Biggiest Yet
07/13/15 1:15pm

PRESERVING HOUSTON’S UNSENTIMENTALISM Barbara Jordan Post Office, 401 Franklin St., Downtown HoustonWhat Houston should be preserving for future generations, Scott Vogel ultimately argues in his editor’s note for the latest issue of Houstonia, is its glorious legacy of demolishing its own past. But first, there are a few annoying bastions of sentimentalism to, uh, tweak: “To me, any one of these adorable recollections seemed reason enough to save a building from the wrecking ball, or rather the explosive charges that ultimately reduced Macy’s née Foley’s to rubble over a few seconds last September. After all, why shouldn’t our descendants be able to see where Barbara, a member of the commentariat, had purchased a ‘going-away outfit’ for her wedding in 1972? Wouldn’t their lives be somehow diminished for not beholding, as John C. did, the ‘tight corkscrew ramps leading up and out’ of the Foley’s parking garage? Would they ever forgive our insanity for demolishing the place where Cody ‘actually bought our living room furniture’? The last two plaintive cries were uttered over at that other Bayou City Book of the Dead, Swamplot.com, where there is an inverse relationship, science tells us, between an agitator’s outrage over a proposed bulldozing and the number of times he has actually visited/shopped at the spot during the last decade. A club open to only the most radical, militantly preservationist of internet do-nothings, Swamplot is a place where the closing of the Barbara Jordan Post Office downtown occasions the tearing of hair and rending of garments. (“We got our passports renewed there one Saturday—no line, in and out in 15 minutes!” “I’ve been going there every year for decades to send off my Christmas cards!”) Amid all the hand-wringing, I found myself growing nostalgic too, for the negligent, squandering, unsentimental, destructive Houston of old.” [Houstonia] Photo of Barbara Jordan Post Office: CBRE

06/17/15 3:45pm

SHAKING AT THE TOP OF A HOUSTON SKYSCRAPER IN THE MIDDLE OF A HURRICANE Wells Fargo Plaza, Downtown HoustonHoustonians who were around for Hurricane Alicia in 1983 might remember that the Wells Fargo Plaza tower downtown — then known as the brand-new Allied Bank Plaza — ended up losing more than 3,000 glass panels in the storm. But did you know that the building that night became the site of one of the few live wiggling-skyscrapers-in-a-storm experiments ever conducted? Engineers Robert Halvorson and Michael Fletcher spent the night of the hurricane in the 71-story tower’s unfinished top floor, just to see how much the building would sway; more than 30 years later, they described their experiences to Washington Post reporter Emily Badger. The peak acceleration of 43 milli-g’s they recorded — enough back-and-forth and twisting to make it impossible for them to walk upright — turned out to be “give or take, exactly the same thing that had been predicted by the wind tunnel” before the structure was built. [Gizmodo] Photo of Wells Fargo Plaza: Jackson Myers

06/03/15 11:45am

Blue Tile Curb Street Signs, Houston

Downtowner Joey Sanchez has begun a project to photograph and document what he refers to as Houston’s first form of “street art”: the old school tile street signs that still stand guard by the curbs of a number of older city intersections. Already posted to the website he set up for the Blue Tile Project: an interactive map to confirmed locations — and links to Facebook and Instagram accounts, where photos of the signs, in various states of disrepair and dislocation, are posted. Sanchez reports he’s already found more than 160 of the signs, which he claims date from the 1920s.


The Blue Tile Project