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
12/15/15 10:00am

Deluxe Theater, 3303 Lyons Ave, Fifth Ward, 77020

No fewer than 11 pairs of scissors reached to cut the ribbon in front of Fifth Ward’s DeLuxe Theater at 3303 Lyons Ave. as it formally reopened yesterday. The 1941 movie-theater-briefly-turned-art-gallery, which has sat empty since 1973, will now host plays, classes, and other community and art events put on by Texas Southern University; TSU jazz students performed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The original facade and marquee have been restored and updated:

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Now Playing Off 59
12/08/15 9:45am

Oui Banh Mi, 1601 Richmond, Montrose, Houston, 77006

Lucky Burger, 1601 Richmond Ave. at Mandell St., Montrose, HoustonHere’s a photo of the new construction underway on the now-barrel-bereft lot at 1601 Richmond, future home of drive-thru Vietnamese sandwich shop Oui Banh Mi. The new structure, shown above from Mandell, is currently shrouded in housewrap. (The historical photo of Lucky Burger is taken from the Richmond side.)

The Lucky Burger barrel, which stood on the corner for more than 40 years, was demolished on Halloween under the cover of citywide flood warnings.

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Oui Banh Mi, No Barrel
12/03/15 10:45am

Tin Hall Dancehall, 14800 Tin Hall Rd, Cypress, 77429

Cypress may be losing a piece of its history: 126-year-old Tin Hall, Harris County’s oldest and largest country dancehall (and perennial first listing among area attractions on the Cypress community’s Wikipedia page). The venue is slated to close its doors on New Year’s Day.

The 24,000-sq.-ft. facility sports a 4,400-sq.-ft. dance floor on the second story, and sits on 40 ac. of wooded land surrounded by suburbs on two sides and the Longwood Golf Club on another. The property was sold last December to an entity that shares a Woodway address with McGuyer Homebuilders.

A New Year’s Eve bash is billed as Tin Hall’s last public gathering — at least in its current locale. A spokesperson for the dancehall said on Facebook that they hope the hall can be moved in pieces and rebuilt:

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Dancehall Blues
12/03/15 9:15am

Leon's Lounge, 1006 McGowen St., Midtown, Houston

Leon’s Lounge is back in business: following an abrupt January shutdown and months of rustling behind closed doors, the undisputed reigning oldest bar in Houston (comma, sorta-continuously-operating-under-the-sameish-name, comma, that-was-not-a-restaurant-or-ice-house-first) is once again serving drinks beneath those signature chandeliers. Leon’s closed in January with the colorful severance of the leasing relationship between building owner Scarlett Yarborough (daughter of Leon himself) and then-operator Pete Mitchell (proprietor of Under The Volcano on Richmond Bissonnet), including the swift dismantling of the outdoor patio.

A new patio is now in place, and service resumed following the bar’s soft opening in the weeks before Halloween. An official Grand Reopening under new operators Duane Bradley and Jim DeFoyd (joint owners of The Davenport, purveyor of “quality lounging” on Richmond just off Shepherd) took place last Saturday. While many of Leon’s familiar features remain intact following this round of renovations, the updated interior may no longer qualify the longtime Midtown dive for full dive status.

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Back To Lounging Around
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:

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Welcome to the neighborhood
06/26/15 12:00pm

WESTBURY SQUARE HEADED FOR SALE, EXILE OF REMAINING TENANTS The Company OnStage Theater, 536 Westbury Square, Westbury Square, Westbury, HoustonA sales contract is pending on the remaining portions of faded pedestrian shopping district Westbury Square, a note posted to the home page of The Company OnStage and sent to the group’s subscribers announces. The note does not address rumored plans to divide the purchased site near the intersection of West Bellfort and Chimney Rock into more than 100 townhome lots, but does indicate that completion of the sale will likely bring an end to the company’s 33-year residency at 536 Westbury Square (pictured here). The theater group is postponing the announcement of its upcoming season, and says it is looking to relocate. Two buildings in the complex were torn down early last year. [The Company OnStage; previously on Swamplot] Photo: The Company OnStage  

04/29/15 5:00pm

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The asking price for the Heights Theater on bustling 19th St. in Houston Heights in today’s live-or-work listing is $1.9 million. The owners last toe-tested the reel deal in 2008, at $1.3 million. In the interim, surrounding neighborhoods have tipped even more hip. Though the future of the historic (but not protected) property is up for grabs, its past scrolls like an old film roll, with scenes of early prosperity, seedy decline, suspected arson, and restoration.

The exterior’s revamp earned the current owners a Good Brick Award 20-ish years ago. The interior, a shell space since its near destruction by fire in 1969, has been used for live theater, retail, events, and galleries. In the former lobby’s crossroads sits an original projector (top), a sculpture standing as both a testament and witness to passing eras.

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Film House for Sale
01/29/15 1:15pm

Former Home of Flower Man Cleveland Turner, 2305 Francis St., Third Ward, Houston

Where else but Houston will you ever come across a day-long urban celebration that brings together demolition, visionary art, inventive gardening, a stirring memorial, water infiltration, and toxic mold? These core elements of the city’s essential funkytown identity and more will be highlighted in the Third Ward on February 7, when Project Row Houses, the owner of the last of 3 homes the late Cleveland Turner serially transformed into environments festooned with yard art and brightly painted junk, ceremonially rips apart the rotting property at 2305 Francis St. on account of they discovered a month or 2 ago that it (along with many of the works stuffed inside) was contaminated “beyond any chance of salvation” with varying dark hues of dangerous and smelly mold spores.

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It’s a Houston Thing
12/04/14 11:15am

harmony-wedding-chapel-gulf-freeway-bestert-molina

The Harmony Wedding Chapel at 8120 Gulf Freeway has been one of Houston’s most familiar freeway-side landmarks for 50 years, a little slice of backstreet Las Vegas that has now provided 5 generations with cheap, often hastily-arranged weddings. (Even today a bare-bones ceremony with no guests is a mere $50.)

But as the site of the first gay marriage in Texas, it is a landmark in American LGBT history too. There on the banks of Sims Bayou, on October 6, 1972, Brownsville-bred former high school football player Antonio Molina married William “Billie” Ert, a female impersonator who performed in local nightclubs as “Mr. Vicki Carr,” in tribute to the El Paso-bred singer. (One such spot was Ursula’s, a lesbian-friendly bar at 1512 W. Alabama, the future home of a succession of failed restaurants and now the home of the Skin Renewal Center.)

Handing over a wedding certificate Ert obtained by appearing in front of court clerks in very convincing drag, the couple exchanged vows before an activist chaplain they had brought in, and sealed them with a kiss. A firestorm awaited them outside the chapel’s Gulf Freeway feeder road-facing doors. 

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Highwayside History
11/19/14 1:00pm

THE NEXT BIG EVENT PLANNED FOR THE ASTRODOME WILL BE A WASH Pressure Washers from Green Team Services, HoustonWhen was the last time anyone bothered to clean the exterior of the Astrodome? Long enough ago to merit media coverage for word that the Dome’s caretakers have now decided to do something about the building’s growing exterior grunge. The Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, having presided for 15 years over the former sports stadium’s steady decay, is about to embark on its first notable Dome maintenance operation since firefighters used fans to blow smoke out of the building in the aftermath of a 2011 transformer fire in the vacant facility. With approval from the Texas Historical Commission, reports Fox 26’s Mark Berman, the agency will award local building restoration and pressure-washing practitioners Green Team Services $63,800 to clean the outside of the structure. [My Fox Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Green Team Services

08/25/14 3:45pm

JUDGE EMMETT SAYS HE’LL REVEAL A ‘MAJOR’ PROPOSAL FOR REUSING THE ASTRODOME TOMORROW Astrodome Interior, HoustonFor a good while now, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has been dropping hints about a new proposal to renovate the Astrodome. He’s set to reveal a few details about it tomorrow afternoon, after he holds a press conference set up in a “special little section” of the Astrodome made safe for media attendees. “Emmett has been in discussions with a series of elected officials, stakeholders and interested parties in recent weeks, laying out the general concept for an innovative reuse of the world’s first domed stadium,” a press release from the judge’s office declares. “All [the judge’s spokesperson] could tell me is that it’s ‘public use,’ tweets the Chronicle‘s Kiah Collier. [County Judge Ed Emmett; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Joe Stinebaker

08/06/14 12:30pm

A LONGTIME HOUSTONIAN’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE RECENT ONSLAUGHT OF NEW DEVELOPMENTS AND RESIDENTS Southland Hardware, 1822 Westheimer Rd., Montrose, HoustonShe throws in a few traffic tips for good measure (“never take Kirby to south side of 59 unless you have to, especially on a Friday, opt for Alabama vs. Richmond when driving towards town, and my new favorite: never go to the Galleria unless someone pays you”) but native-born Houstonian Sarah Lipscomb’s advice for herself and others who feel “like the city is closing in on me” includes a restatement of purpose: “to ensure that Houston, its people old and new, be reminded that there is still a culture here that hasn’t changed.” Which leads her to a quick but still traffic-filled driving tour of 5 longstanding Houston institutions that have somehow escaped demolition (so far), for reassurance. Her picks: Nielsen’s Delicatessen on Richmond (“same sandwiches, same service, same spread” for 60 years); Southland Hardware (pictured above) at 1822 Westheimer; Bellaire Broiler Burger on Bellaire Blvd.; the River Oaks Theater on West Gray (“same seats, same smell, same popcorn; don’t eat it though”); and M and M Vacuum on Kirby. [Slips Photo Blog; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Sarah Lipscomb

07/30/14 4:15pm

Capitan Theater, 1001 Shaw Ave., Pasadena, Texas

Capitan Theater, 1001 Shaw Ave., Pasadena, TexasThe city of Pasadena is likely to go ahead with the sale of the Corrigan Center at Shaw Ave. and Pasadena Blvd., which includes the once-grand Capitan Theater, to a New Jersey oil-industry inspection and lab-test company called Camin Cargo Control. Under the $4.6 million deal, already approved by city council once earlier this month in a 6-3 vote, the city would lease back the 31,982 sq. ft. of the property — the parts currently occupied by fire department administrative offices and the city’s municipal court. The lease-back wouldn’t include the long-vacant 1,500-seat art deco theater.

But a reader tells Swamplot that decorative pieces from the front of the 1949 theater — which after an exterior renovation looked pretty spiffy until recently (see photo at right from last year) — have already been removed. “The marquee boards, neon, and the whole vertical metal section that said “Pasadena” are gone, leaving just brick behind it,” Spence Gaskin writes. “The marquee stuff had been gone a few weeks at the least, but I just noticed the Pasadena sign removal.”

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Art Undecoed
07/17/14 1:00pm

UNMASKING THE CRAFTY NSA, NFL PLAN TO TAKE AWAY OUR PRECIOUS ASTRODOME AND MONITOR YOUR PHONE CALLS AN/FLR-9 Radio Direction Finder at United States Army Security Agency (USASA) Field Station AugsburgUsing techniques, he explains, from “The Consipiracy Theory Style Manual” (“I used as many facts as I could come up with, then I made up a few more”), Houston Chronicle penpal Dave Nagel notes the striking similarities between the reconstructed ring of drive-thru concrete pillars meant to be built as part of a memorial to the Astrodome in a proposal released last week by the Rodeo and the Houston Texans and the circular antenna array called the AN/FLR-9 built in several locations during the Cold War to support U.S. intelligence operations. And concludes: “[I]t’s obvious. The National Security Agency has plans to construct a listening post here in Houston. We know the Supreme Court says the police cannot grab cell phones without a warrant, but now the NSA will just grab all the signals emanating from Texas and will process them from the new intel center at Reliant/NRG. By the way, in military parlance, NRG is National Reconnaissance Group! I believe the NSA is planning to collect intelligence on all known and suspected Republicans here in Texas, and turn it over to the Administration. Every proper conspiracy theorist will say YES! Or, does the NSA plan to eavesdrop on all those nefarious and dangerous children pouring across the border from Honduras and Guatamala? If you have ever worked in a school, you know how dangerous children are, especially ones without parental supervision! Children carry cell phones. Cell phones transmit and receive signals. Do you understand now?” A chilling prospect! But what’s the upshot? Continues Nagel: “[I]f the NSA wants to run an intelligence gathering station at Reliant/NRG, then we won’t have to use local tax money to tear down the dome, we can let NSA do it with their classified budget!” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of AN/FLR-9 radio direction finder at United States Army Security Agency Field Station Augsburg: Wikimedia Commons/Chaddy [license]