Preserving Houston’s Ben Milam Hotel in 13 Backpacks

The latest creation of Julia Gabriel, Houston’s favorite doomed-building-backpack artist, focuses on the long-vacant Ben Milam Hotel at the corner of Crawford and Texas downtown, left alone as a long-foul-ball target outside Minute Maid Park since — well, at least since the days of Enron Field. Before then, Gabriel notes, it was Houston’s first-ever fully air-conditioned hotel, the first in the city to have a TeeVee in every room, and the first to feature a rooftop swimming pool.

The artist’s rendition of a now-vanished Westheimer duplex-turned-antique store (featured on Swamplot last month) required just a single bag with straps. But to capture the ghostly spirit of the Ben Milam at 1717 Texas Ave., she needed 13 separate packs, bags, totes, and purses. Pinned to a wall, they follow the contours of a photo Gabriel snapped of the structure’s north face back in March (at top). Attached to the backs of you and your dozen-closest friends, though, who could figure out that secret history? Here’s a video of Gabriel foreshadowing the inevitable demolition of architect Joseph Finger’s 1928 creation, by showing how her own assemblage comes apart, bag by bag:


Gabriel’s Ben Milam artwork, which took her 2 months to design and sew, was featured at a Winter Street Gallery show earlier this month. She knows how to pick ’em: Shortly after the show, developer Marvy Finger announced plans to demolish the 10-story hotel and use the site as part of a 2-block apartment complex peering over Crawford St. into the stadium. Gabriel’s one-of-kind assemblage is now available for sale on Etsy, but in true Houston fashion, she’s selling off the pieces individually. (Or you could buy up the whole lot — for a fraction of the price developer Marvy Finger paid for his.)

Photos, artwork, and video: Julia Gabriel

One Comment

  • I once had a backpack that I liked, but I decided it was too small. Rather than sell it or use it for a different purpose, I decided to destroy it, right where it hung on my rack, and replace the mutilated remains with a different backpack. I might be a tad wasteful, but no one can say I’m living in the past!