GHPA to Weingarten: We’ll Fix That Trader Joe’s Terrazzo Problem for You

At a city historic commission hearing 2 weeks ago, a representative of Weingarten Realty noted that the swirly patterned terrazzo flooring at the front entrance of the former Alabama Theater was sloped a half-percent too steep to meet current accessibility standards, and therefore will have to be removed to allow Trader Joe’s to move into the space. Not a problem for the noted preservationists at Weingarten, the building’s owner — the company plans to rip out the decorative design and replace it with a brand new concrete surface for its new tenants.

Too bad for fans of the original front vestibule design of the 1939 Art Deco theater at 2922 S. Shepherd, which is listed as a protected landmark: The commission approved Weingarten’s plans. But the helpful folks at the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance decided to do a little homework for the building’s owners anyway.


Acting on its own, the GHPA contacted the Texas Historical Commission about the issue. The state agency decided that the theater is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and could therefore qualify for a variance that would keep the terrazzo intact and meet both ADA and Texas accessibility standards.

From a GHPA release this morning: “At GHPA’s request, the agency has provided this information directly to the developer, Houston’s Weingarten Realty, and the project architect in Dallas. THC also offered to consult with project planners and assist the developer in applying for the variance.” Too kind, really.

Photos: David Bush (terrazzo) and Jim Parsons (front)

35 Comment

  • I’ll be honest: I am a little unsure what this story is say. It’s got something of a snarkishness (yes, I made that up). Is Swamplot against what GHPA has done? Seems like a win/win to me. Preserve ALL the things! ;-)

  • awesome, hope it survives!

  • tcv:

    Read on…..or read back.

    You’ll get the idea.

    There’s always a reason for Swamplot’s comments.

  • Please preserve all Art Deco in Houston!

  • I believe I was the one who first suggested in Swamplot comments that it seemed reasonable to seek a variance. And, no, I don’t work for the GHPA.

  • Weingarten is the butt of this post, not the GHPA. Read between the lines. We all know Weingarten has little to no interest in anything but the bottom line. Yes, they are a business but they are also custodians of a slice of what makes us Houston. I doubt they will give it a second thought but ever hopeful they will!

  • Maybe I am thinking about this too much, but I have to admit something…

    My first reaction to this is plain. I am for what GHPA is doing and am glad that the theater will retain at least some of its original construction.

    Later, I got to thinking about this .5% grade. It’s not a lot … at least I _think_ it’s not a lot. It’s easy for me to say it isn’t considering that I am not in a wheelchair, nor do I have difficulty walking or standing upright. (Most of the time.)

    I also don’t know anyone who has such issues.

    It’s also easy to scream “BIG GUMMINT” and “SOSHULIZMS” and claim the .5% is example of government out of control.

    But what if it is a lot? Why was the number set there? Why was it changed?

    Can anyone speak to this aspect of what’s happening?

  • Historical preservation will never work in an atmosphere of hate!

  • Considering most people will enter from the larger parking lot through the back doors, which I assume are ADA compliant (or can be made so without destroying any landmarks) I can’t see why its a big deal.

    But I wonder, will Weingartens actually pursue the variance, or just go ahead and cement over the thing?

    Can we/should we let Trader Joes know that the residents of Houston would appreciate it, if they insist that Weingartens apply for this variance?

  • “Historical preservation will never work in an atmosphere of” STUPIDITY.

  • I think the thing to remember, like anon pointed out, is that the back entrance (the one facing the parking lot) is, at least as far as I know, totally accessible. And if it’s not, there isn’t anything historic there to mess up if it had to be made compliant.

    Whether Weingarten and Trader Joe’s will decide to look at all the possible solutions, though … that’s another matter.

  • The back entrance has a ramp if I recall correctly.
    To tcv: The ADA statute is more than just about ramps. It has been around 20+ years and is full of small, almost mind-boggling rules. No detail seems to be overlooked. For instance, your handicapped toilet must have no less than 30″ free clearance from the nearest other toilet or wall. If it’s 29.5″ you will be red-tagged. The regulation of the incline of an entrance does not surprise me in the least.

  • Isn’t it just a bunch of little tiles? Why can’t they be pulled up, the slope fixed and then put back?

  • @shadyheightster : Yes, I am aware that the ADA regulations are more than ramps. I was interested to know what that .5% meant to someone that wanted into the building. I had forgotten about the back entrance.

  • ChristopherK, terrazzo is poured-in-place aggregate, so it’s not that easy to pull it up and re-lay it.

  • Nice to see GHPA play the game. That organization has been too passive for too long. I watch almost daily as Weingarten destroys the River Oaks shopping center in their quest to Katyfy the inner loop.

  • Worst case I’d guess that the rear will be used as an alternative access. According to
    the Federal Govt’s ADA rules;
    “When a business has two public entrances, in most cases, only one must be accessible.”

  • DanaX: “Worst case I’d guess that the rear will be used as an alternative access.”
    Given the Montrose location, I could think of a few funny replies :)

  • Wouldn’t it largely depend on where the ADA parking spots would be? I mean, if the handicap parking spaces are all in the back, then problem solved.

    But then, not all folks with mobility issues drive so I suppose there would be some customers using public transportation who would enter from the front.

    Back to square one…..front door.

  • Ah yes, BigScott,let the one-liners begin..but this building would be more akin to a heterosexual hooker seeing that it’s got two public entrances…and at least this time Weingarten won’t likely get away with their standard daterape/mutilation.

  • Just another instance of the government regulations trying to get in the way of somebody actually doing business and hiring someone. Personally I don’t care about the design, but for a .5% grade problem the ADA ought to have to pay the building owners to fix it when it is already there….government regulations are forcing thousands of small businesses out of business b/c they cant afford to keep up with all the different regulations and BS. I dont support the GHPA but I say keep the artsy thing and tell the government to shove their 0.5% grade problem.

  • Of course you’ll bust your arse on all the broken sidewalks leading to TJs…for miles in all directions.

    Just an aside.

  • ChristopherK, terrazzo is different from mosaic. Mosaic is small pieces set in a mortar. With great care, an entire mosaic can be moved intact and placed elsewhere. Terrazzo, however, is a mix of decorative materials bound in a cement and poured in place over a concrete base. Moving it intact would be next to impossible. More definition:

  • I have a niece with form of MD who is confined to a wheel chair. The .5% grade, bathroom clearances and many of the other minutia of the ADA are the difference between a wheelchair bound person living a diginfied life (being able to go where everyone else can go and do what everyone else can do) and living as a second class citizen. Just try maneuvering a wheel chair around an ADA compliant bathroom or storefront. It is still a serious challenge. But if the door to a ADA stall is too close to the wall, it can be impossible. Poorly graded ramps can mean having to sit in the rain waiting for someone to give a push. And if you think the ADA requirements are an unfair burden that harms businesses, just try living with the burden of a disability. Anyone who wants to build a public building but doesn’t believe that they have a responsiblity to make the build accessible to everyone shoulnd’t be in the business.

  • @Old School:

    Focusing on the .5% grade, do you how much harder it would be for your niece?

  • Old School: Seems you will often have battles between those trying to preserve our old buildings/history (which were obviously not built with ADA requirements in mind) and those who want everything upgraded and updated so it’s accessible to everyone.
    Not sure who wins that battle. I assume ADA wins. It’s an interesting argument as if I want to grossly generalize, both sides are usually on the same team (that team, the cynic in me would say, is on the team that feels the government should tell private citizens what to do with their property)

  • Telling people how to use their property is like telling them how to spend their money. For most people, property is the largest asset composing their net worth. Changing property rights or rules directly affects that. Just ask Cleveland *.

  • @Old School – While I am sympathetic to your nieces problem, many times compliance with government regulations is the difference between profit and loss.

    Jobs, or no jobs. The number of jobs lost and buildings torn down in this country because of government regulations is astounding….

  • I have an antiques shop in the heights that’s quite old and I’ve almost gone out of business trying to keep up with various regulations. While I feel for those with disabilities what about those of us struggling to make a living in this economy?
    And no, I’m not an actualy medical doctor. I’m a former teacher and now small businessman.

  • If we were to take the ADA regulations on amount of permissible grade, then we would need to flatten every mountain and raise every valley. Absurd. Have medicare (my money) pay for a mortorized chair and allow me to enjoy the historical art-deco mosaic.

  • I am not a fan of the GHPA and think they are publicity seeking trouble makers if they raised a fuss about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1/2″ overage on the Alabama Theatre front slope just to protect that silly terrazzo.
    If the ADA is enforced, why does the Whole Foods on Wilcrest just off Westheimer have such a steep slope coming out the front door (and there is no back entrance for customers) that I have lost control of my shopping cart several times coming out of the store. And I can walk OK. But the steep slope at WF is so great it is dangerous.I have seen a full runaway cart hit by a car. The woman trying to stop it could have been hit. The Alabama Theatre building has a larger back entrance and that is were handicapped parking should be. So so GHPS has raised a fuss just to try to save those terrazzo tiles that no one but them care about. Just to make a fuss!

  • I think we should absolutely put our pursuit of profit ahead of our obligation to ensure that the less physically able can do all the same things we do. Give me a few minutes and I’m sure I can think of some more groups whose rights I think are less important than my bottom line too.

  • Quite a few comments in favor of preserving a piece of historic Houston, and that’s just on this blog. If no one but the GHPA(S?) cares, they have enough members to form a small country.

  • Aw man! What a time to be out of town.
    Here is my blog post on the subject along with a link to a Dimensional Tolerance Guide published by the Access-Board.
    The Access-Board is responsible for producing all of the technical guidelines for ADA compliance.

    In short, a 0.5% slope over the specified slope would generally be within acceptable tolerances. Additionally, there are other options that could be considered. But each condition is unique and I am not going on the record on this one.

    I could write volumes on this subject…oh wait, I have. I’m happy to answer any questions or criticisms about the ADA and the State Standards.

  • I have a lovely acquaintance who is 75 and confined to wheelchairs & power chairs. Her father was a projectionist for Houston Interstate Theatres in the 40’s & 50’s and health permitting, she would be happy to volunteer for a test run across the terrazzo.