Hoa Binh: The Lasting Legacy of the Original Strip Mall

Hoa Binh Center at 2830 Travis, Midtown, Houston

Wielding a copy of Stephen Fox’s Houston Architectural Guide, transit buff Christof Spieler writes in to report that the vacant and graffiti-laden Hoa Binh Center in Midtown — targeted by Camden Property Trust for a new apartment complex — has an important story behind it. He quotes from Fox’s writeup of the shopping center, which was built in 1923:

What distinguishes this building is that it was the prototype of the 20th century American suburban shopping center: it introduced the concept of off-street parking, toward which the grocery store itself was oriented.

Spieler adds:

In other words, Camden may be about to tear down the world’s first strip mall. Now that’s a historic building.

And it’s certainly worth at least a nice plaque somewhere on those new apartments going up on the site!

But before all you preservationist types get up in arms about the impending demolition of the mother of all strip malls, keep in mind that an equally important part of this structure’s history and legacy will almost certainly be preserved, cherished, and celebrated. Sure, the building will probably end up in a pile of rubble off Loop 610. But all those historic off-street parking spaces? They’ll be moved into a nice new garage at the Camden Travis, where residents of the new apartments and their guests will be able to enjoy them for generations to come.

After the jump: Spieler spills more Hoa Binh history!


More from the guide: the building was built as the Henke-Pillot South End Store in 1923 and expanded/remodeled in 1948. The oldest parts of the River Oaks center are from 1937. (The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, which is often called the oldest shopping center in the United States, is also from 1923). In 1923, Midtown was just beginning to transform from its first incarnation (a high-end residential neighborhood) to its second (a high-end shopping district).

Photo: Give Up