Most Notable Recycling Effort: The Official 2011 Ballot

We are now ready to announce the official nominees for the 4th category in this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. This year, what was the Houston area’s Most Notable Recycling Effort?

Let your votes in this category be heard — yes, all 4 of them! You’re allowed to vote once in a comment at the bottom of this post, once in an email to our super-top-secret email address, once through Twitter, and once on the wall of Swamplot’s Facebook fan page. (You can read more about our crazy voting rules here.) If you want to swing the voting toward your favorite candidate, go ahead: Start an email or social-networking campaign. The polls for this and all categories in the 2011 Swampies will close at 5 pm on Tuesday, December 27th.

The official nominees for 2011 Most Notable Recycling Effort are . . .


1. Houston Permitting Center, 1002 Washington Ave, Downtown. “Studio RED’s rehab of an 86-year-old former rice warehouse gave the city a chance to try out many of the strategies and materials touted by its own Green Building Resource Center. Mini recycling projects are sprinkled throughout: A former freight elevator shaft reused as a stairwell; a nearby freeway overpass commandeered for shaded parking; a green roof watered by AC condensate. There’s Hurricane Ike-tossed wood on the elevator floor, and art installations on every level. Oh, and you can get building permits there, too.”


2. El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, 1201 Westheimer, Montrose. “Kept and restored not only the building and facade of the former Tower Theatre (much improved from the building’s previous video-store makeover) but also worked the theme of the old movie theater into the restaurant. Plus, the owners reused chairs and other items from the El Real’s godfather down the street, Felix Mexican Restaurant. Nice to see a neighborhood building recycled and repurposed.


3. Arts Complex in Former JCPenney, West Oaks Mall, Westheimer Rd. at Hwy. 6, Alief. “If it takes off, L.A. artist Sharsten Plenge’s plan to transform a long-vacant mall department store into a multi-use arts complex could help pull Houston’s arts scene into the western suburbs. Even if it doesn’t, it’ll still be fun to see what a few courageous artists or arts groups cook up for the massive, eerie, and mostly windowless space.”


4. Julia Ideson Library, 500 McKinney St., Downtown. “The just-completed $32 million redo gives the city back its grand original 1926 central library, rescuing it from a 35-year stint as the Metropolitan Research Center. The city’s archives are now stored in a new wing; the building’s main reading room, children’s room, murals, and almost all of the original furniture are back and good as new.


5. Friends of Houston Public Library, 6510 W. Little York Rd., East Little York (warehouse). “The city’s best-kept recycling secret accepts more than 150,000 donated and discarded books from library and personal collections each year. Volunteers sort or skim through them all, then sell high-dollar volumes online. Those proceeds, along with the receipts from 2 annual bargain book sales at the George R. Brown, raise as much as $80,000 a year for the library system. Books left over from the sales that aren’t donated to schools and shelters are recycled: 10,000 lbs. of books every 2-to-3 weeks!”


6. Punks who steal copper wiring from under trailer homes and off the sides of businesses, various locations around town. “Also, pilferers of brass water supply and sprinkler valves. The entrepreneurial spirit this country was founded upon! And living proof that recycling can happen organically.


7. City of Houston ReUse Warehouse, 9003 N. Main St., Independence Heights. “Drop off used building materials (doors, lumber, tile, windows, fencing, etc.); the city makes them available for free to nonprofit organizations. We got paint, wallpaper, picket fencing, and garden stakes for our staging of Oklahoma! — and dropped off tile and landscape timbers left over from a recent project. Warehouse personnel couldn’t be nicer. It’s a great way to keep a lot of stuff out of landfills.


8. CompuCycle, 7700 Kempwood Dr., Kempwood Industrial Park. “Refurbishes and resells — or demanufactures and recycles — almost any electronic device you wouldn’t know what to do with otherwise. And your computers and phones won’t end up in overseas landfills, because all the downstream recycling centers it sends parts to are audited. It’s now an official City of Houston recycling location too. The city’s most successful and effective actual green business.


9. Sundance Cinemas, 510 Texas Ave., Bayou Place, Downtown. “What a transformation: The former Angelika Film Center has been recycled as . . . a movie theater! But this time there’s a more Sundance-y feel, with lots of reclaimed wood inside, and you can have a meal or cocktail in your reserved seats. Only time will tell how many — and what sorts of — people will be repelled by the ~$13+ ticket prices. But the parking is still free!


So . . . which recycling effort wins it? Vote away!

Photos: Candace Garcia (Houston Permitting Center, Ideson Library, ReUse Warehouse, Sundance Cinemas), Flickr user jnavarro822 (El Real), Sharsten Plenge, Pacific Capital Retail Partners (JCPenney), Friends of Houston Public Library, Loyd Overcash/Montgomery County Police Reporter (Copper at Glenloch Country Club), CompuCycle

63 Comment

  • The City of Houston Permitting Center. Great use of a really cool old building beautifully rehabbed by Studio Red Architects. The small guvmint crowd should love it as it consolidates various city permitting offices and increases efficiency.

  • I am struggling between 1 and 6. I want to vote for 6 because the gumption of these people blows my mind. I thought San Francisco gangmemebrs stealing peoples’ cans put out for recycling was bad! But stealing the copper wiring and plumbing from people’s homes and from churches??? Come on! Anyway, I think #1 is the “best” of Houston recycling. So, #1 – the Houston permitting center!

  • “gang members,” apparently I have dyslexic fingers.

  • Glad to see soo many great option this year, but I am going with 4. This is great for future generations to enjoy. The building is one of the most beautiful in Houston. Especially at night.

  • 6 really infuriates me, but I’m going to go positive and vote for 1. MM Hansen did a fantastic job wrangling the art in this building, including work by Havel % Ruck and my old photography teacher, Geoff Winningham.

  • #5! Save those books and raise money at the same time! Awesome!

  • I took a brief, walk-through tour of the Ideson Library recently and was blown away. What a beautiful place! It’s got my vote.

  • I am torn between #1 & #4, but I think I will go with #4 for the reason that the Julia Ideson library building was not torn down or turned into yet another luxury chi-chi place. So nice to see a piece of Houston history lovingly restored and preserved. Even better when you consider that a bulk of the funds raised to do the work came from private fundraising, if my memory is correct.

  • #4. Always nice to see some pride and care taken in a greaet public service building.

  • Definitely #4. It was a huge undertaking that resulted in one of the most beautiful buildings in Houston. Nowhere better to study, read a great book, or just sit back and admire the exquisite interior.

  • #4 – the downtown library leaves you speechless when you see if with your own eyes.

  • I vote number 6.

  • #4, by a huge margin. The photos don’t do it justice!

  • The first 2 are excellent, but #4, the Julia Idelson Library wins for me. It was a charming place before, but now it is indeed glorious.

  • I have seen the build-up of the Houston Permitting Center from the start and it is the most amazing transformation I have ever witnessed first hand. I have video and photos that show how this building was gutted and rehabed. It is a wonder and example of how reuse is making a difference in the Houston landscape.

  • Can I vote for all of them? Well, maybe not the thieves… If I can only have one it’ll have to be Julia Ideson.

  • I’ll vote for #4 but I would have considered the Harris County Court House Bldg as a recycle. It hasn’t looked that good in a very long time.

  • My favorite is #2, need more of the inovative development in the neighborhood!

  • #1 How often do you see a whole building recycled and repurposed from a warehouse to a functioning office building? Not only the walls, columns and floors but the recycled art installations, the acoustical ceiling insulation, pavers, and signage, and the water that runs out of the mechanical system. Even the employees were moved and “recycled” from other city buildings to save costs for the City.

  • I’m kinda torn voting against other great city projects, but since I get to work at the fantastic Houston Permitting Center every day and hear constantly how cool this building is, I’m going for the HPC. It was something else since 1916 and truly recycled into a city office building.

  • The permitting center job is very cool recycling, but the restoration of the Julia Ideson Building returns a pearl to the city. #4 gets my vote.

  • #1. All are impressive! Voting for the Houston Permitting Center. If we could vote for 2, #4 would be my next choice. Beautiful creative work all the way around.

  • I’ll take #4, please.

  • #4. The building was lovely to begin with (thankfully some people APPRECIATE older structures and FIGHT to keep them intact). It already had a “cool” factor , plus it is supposedly “inhabited” by Julia Idesons spirit ! She wants to make sure YOU have returned the materials aftet you’re finished with them.

  • Opps. Typo: after instead of aftet.

  • While recycling aluminum cans to make shiny new ones is noble and laudable, turning a derelict warehouse into the Houston Permitting Center is way cooler (like water bottles into fleece!), so, I’m voting for #1.

  • #4! I love, love, love this!

  • #1 is number one for me. The old building was nearing eyesore status and that end of Washington Avenue was home to derelicts and trash. Now it is a jewel of a public facility filled to the brim with government efficiencies AND innovative and exciting art. No oxymoron here. The facility is stunning! Definitely the Houston Permitting Center!!

  • #4. It’s nice to see a beautiful old building be allowed to stay that way. I die a little inside when I think of all the gorgeous buildings that have been torn down and replaced by absolute crap. (only semi-related, but if you are like me you will enjoy:

  • My vote goes to #1, the Houston Permitting Center. You really have to see it to believe how impressive it is. As much as I can appreciate the beauty of the Ideson Building, it wasn’t really recycled as much as it was remodeled. The Houston Permitting Center took an old derelict building and recycled it from one form and purpose and turned it into something completely different.

  • #5! What a great way to save and reuse books!

  • I vote #9, but the question remains.. What is next for this multi-recycled location???

  • El Real #2. It’s gaudy, it’s over-rated, it’s Houston at its most Houston.

  • Friends of Houston Public Library

  • Tough call! I vote for #1

  • Friends of the Houston Public Library gets my vote!! Our little campus doesn’t have a library, and I have gotten hundreds of books over the years. I used some for reference materials. Some I give to students. I love the books sales!!!

  • Definitely #1.

  • #5. All are worthy, but the Friends of HPL serves the entire library system by raising money, putting affordable books in the hands of those who most need them, and recycling books that can’t be sold (and that brings additional money). Our library and the great staff is working hard to continue the services our citizens expect and need, in spite of an 18% budget cut over the last two years. The Friends help fill in the budget gap.

  • #5 for recycling and reusing!

  • I want to vote for most of them as well, but have to go with #4. Since the word “preservation” seems to get so many scratching and hissing, maybe “recycling” or “refurbishing” will sound less progress-hostile.

  • #5 Friends of the Houston Public Library – the ultimate in recycling!

  • Voting for the Friends of Houston Public Library.

  • #5 – The Friends of the Houston Public Library!

    The annual Friends booksales are the perfect example of both downstream AND upstream recycling that everyone can participate in and benefit from. Book donors and public libraries make room for new books while “retired’ books from their collections find new homes at low cost to buyers. And the proceeds are turned back into funding for more Houston Public Library programs and new books that every Houston resident can make use of – for free! How perfect is that?

  • My second vote goes to the Houston Public Library Julia Ideson Building, which just reopened to the public earlier this month after a fabulous renovation and expansion. But Swamplot doesn’t have the story quite right. Far from “rescuing it from a 35-year stint as the Metropolitan Research Center” – the renovation has made this beautiful historic building a very much improved Metropolitan Research Center for the 21st century. The Central Library, still located next door, underwent a renovation of its own just a few years ago.

  • Great that so many books can find a new home.

  • The Ideson Bldg., #4.

  • No. 5 hands down


  • Hands Down Compucycle! The only Completely certified and safe way to re-cycle electronics in Houston.

  • I vote for #8!

  • compucycle! i always wondered what happened to old electronics.

  • #4 The Julia Ideson Library. Awesome save and beautify at the same time. History restored!

  • #9–recycled, but we didn’t lose the movie screens!!!

  • #1 gets my vote here…

  • #1 gets my vote – it is recycled in the best sense of the word. The Ideson building is beautiful, but it is a renovation, not recycled. No. 6 is an insult to the others, to give publicity and credibility to punks who should be arrested, and who have stolen from schools, churches, and many others.