10/05/17 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE LAST MESSAGE OF DOWNTOWN’S ENTOMBED WESTERN UNION BUILDING “. . . Soon after I moved to Houston, I had money wired to me at this Western Union building (this would have been November of ’81). Didn’t make much of an impression on me. I think the façade had been stripped off, and the office itself was shabby. I started work at HL&P in February of ’82, and our offices looked directly across the street to the construction site. The ‘big pour’ for the concrete foundation slab was quite an event. Starting very early on a Sunday morning, a seemingly endless parade of mixer trucks crept down Louisiana Street. Obviously, most of the block had been excavated, and the lot where Western Union sat (well, sits) was supported by a series of diagonal beams. After seeing the engineering required to save that lot, the lower ‘banking hall’ design for that side of the building makes sense. While construction continued, the south side of the WU was given a fresh coat of paint with a large graphic proclaiming ‘A Gerald R. Hines Project‘ (or some such thing), which doubtlessly is still there, virtually unseen for 35 years.” [BigTex, commenting on Comment of the Day: Inside the Western Union Building Buried Inside the Bank of America Center Downtown] Photo of banking hall interior, looking toward the Western Union building’s south wall: Bank of America Center

10/04/17 2:30pm

Update, 6 pm: At the request of Lovett Commercial, the company’s renderings of this project originally included in this story have been removed.

Hadn’t heard that Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture have been designing the massive redo planned for the 16-acre campus around Houston’s shuttered Barbara Jordan Post Office at 401 Franklin St. Downtown? Or that the project’s owner and developer, Lovett Commercial, is boasting that the 530,000-sq.-ft. redevelopment, on a site along Buffalo Bayou, will include the world’s largest urban rooftop farming operation, supplying a 40,000-sq.-ft. festival food market below? Maybe that’s because none of this has been officially announced yet.

There’s more to the plans being waved about: apartments, live-work studios, coworking and maker spaces, parks, events venues, a combined 100,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor markets and even a digital library honoring Barbara Jordan. More than just that library is being named after the former post office facility, however: As of last year, the entire venue has been dubbed Post Houston (or Post HTX for sorta-short.) Also, because it’s what comes next for the city — get it?

“Post Houston aims to be a world class creative campus for technology, the arts, culture, and dining,” announces a Lovett Commercial leasing brochure. Here’s a walkthrough of some of the ambitious project’s proposed main features, using images that appear to date from earlier this year:

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Post HTX
10/03/17 10:30am

ALLEY THEATRE FLOODING DRAMA CAME FROM AN ALLEY THIS TIME, NOT THE TUNNEL Harvey flooding caused an estimated $15 million of damage to the Alley Theatre’s basement-level stage, lobby, and dressing rooms, but for the most part spared its recently renovated box-office entrance, main stage, and upper-level lobbies. The good news, relayed by theater managing director Dean Gladden in an email to members: Submarine doors in the tunnel prevented water flowing from the Theater District’s underground parking garage from entering the theater as it had during Tropical Storm Allison. But this time there was another way in: a fresh-air intake vent in the Alley’s drive-thru Alleyway driveway fronting Jones Plaza on Texas Ave. (pictured at left in the above photo): “Harvey’s waters crested so high that this in-take vent provided an opening that enabled the flood waters to enter the building unimpeded. The water was so powerful it knocked through a cement block wall and blew open locked doors. When the cement block wall collapsed, it broke a 2-foot fire line that started spewing water out at 150 gallons a minute. About 900,000 gallons of water would come from this source before it was turned off. The flood water from the bayou would account for 2.8 million gallons of water. The water would reach 10-feet high in the Neuhaus Theatre and lobby and 15-feet high in the basement level. The Alley Theatre below ground was completely flooded.” [Alley Theatre] Photo: Jason Hrncir  

09/27/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: INSIDE THE WESTERN UNION BUILDING BURIED INSIDE THE BANK OF AMERICA CENTER DOWNTOWN “The Western Union building is only 2 stories. It is completely intact, tar and gravel roof included. The 3rd floor Mezzanine of the BOA building was built clear span over the top of the old WU building. The windows you see on the outside are for the mezzanine. As for the ‘gap’ between the buildings, you can walk/crawl around most of it. Some areas between the buildings are big enough that you could set a desk in there, some are tight enough to induce panic. There is basically nothing left from WU in there, but there were still some curious old artifacts last time I was in there. I worked for the building for a while, and led a few of the tours of architects/designers when this project was in the concept phase.” [ProFixer, commenting on For Its Next Trick, Bank of America Center Will Completely Digest the Secret Building It Swallowed 35 Years Ago] Photo: Mary Ann Sullivan

09/26/17 1:15pm

Something you might not have noticed about Houston’s iconic Bank of America Center (top) at 700 Louisiana St. Downtown: There’s an entire unused building hidden inside. The thrice-renamed spiky Dutch-ish PoMo tower complex, designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1982, sits across the street from his other famous Downtown Houston office building, Pennzoil Place. It’s not obvious from the exterior or interior, but the 2-story former Western Union building on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets (pictured above in a photo from 1957) takes up almost a quarter of the block Bank of America Center sits on. This was Western Union’s longtime regional switching center; Johnson was asked to design his building around it because the cable and electrical connections maintained within it were deemed cost-prohibitive to relocate.

Thirty-five years later, it’s the building’s anchor tenant that’s relocating: Bank of America, which now occupies 165,000 sq. ft., will move to Skanska’s Capitol Tower in a couple years. As part of a new set of renovations to the structure the bank is leaving behind, owner M-M Properties plans to completely dismantle what remains of the Western Union building, recapturing 35,000 sq. ft. of space without expanding the building’s footprint. Among the plans for the resulting space: A “reconfiguration” of the lobby and the addition of a “white tablecloth restaurant.”

The secret Western Union void is well disguised. It isn’t in the lobby of the 56-story tower but in the 12-story adjacent bank-lobby building fronting Louisiana St., more formally known as the the Banking Hall when the building first opened in 1983 as RepublicBank Center. It takes up the entire northern half of that structure: It’s beyond the colonnaded-but-blank wall on your right as you enter the lobby from Louisiana (on the left in this photo):

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Tales from the Vault
09/22/17 5:00pm

Unless there’s been some sort of re-inflation and relaunching regime in place in the meantime, it’s now been at least 4 days that an inflatable swan has been floating around the seasonal pond currently filling the excavated future construction site at 3300 Main St. in Midtown. Houston’s code enforcement building previously stood here; the site was later purchased by PMRG for the construction of a 336-unit highrise apartment tower. For now, though, it’s the domain of a twirling floatie: “It’s quite relaxing watching the wind blow it around and around and around,” reports the reader who snapped this shot of it this afternoon.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

The Pond at 3300 Main
09/15/17 12:30pm

Residents of the 79 apartments in the Hogg Palace Lofts are expecting air conditioning in their units to be restored sometime today — for the first time since power went out early on the morning of August 27th. At a meeting earlier this week, attorneys for and representatives of the Randall Davis Company told tenants of the 8-story building at 401 Louisiana St. that they were aiming for Friday for the AC to be turned on, though could not guarantee it — but that work would continue over the weekend if it couldn’t.

A somewhat parallel sequence of events played out after the promised trailer-mounted Aggreko 1 MW generator pictured above was parked along Preston St. in front of the building last Friday; difficulties in connecting it to the electrical system — including a hunt for the unknown owner of a white BMW parked in a tenant spot in the parking garage that stood in the way of a hook-up — delayed the restoration of electrical power until Monday.

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Power to the People
09/08/17 11:15am

Today’s the day a 48-ft.-long trailer-mounted 1MW Aggreko generator is expected to park on the Louisiana St. side of the Hogg Palace Lofts, a Randall Davis Companies rep tells residents. The goal: Power restored in all 79 units by the end of the day. But generator power won’t be going to elevators, corridors, or the building’s retail tenants (which include the Pad Thai restaurant on Louisiana). Those areas will have to wait until replacement electrical equipment arrives and is installed to restore permanent power in the building. References to a series of so-far-unsuccessful efforts to repair existing equipment are included in a series of emails sent to residents by the building’s management over the last 2 weeks.

The 8-story building at the corner of Louisiana and Preston has been without power since around 8 am on August 27th. “What we as tenants have been able to piece together is sub-level parking levels of the Lyric Center and the new Lyric Center garage became flooded as the bayou took a short cut down Prairie and took a left on Louisiana,” a tenant tells Swamplot. Water coursed into those parking garages down entrance ramps, then “made it under the street through vaults or conduits or whatever into the basement of the Hogg where it shorted out the electrical equipment.”

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Harvey Outages
09/01/17 6:30pm

The ground floor of the former SEARCH Homeless Services building at 2505 Fannin St. in Midtown (above), spared from flooding damage, has been pressed into active emergency food service over the past week: New occupants tell Swamplot that in the kitchen that served SEARCH’s homeless clientele until the organization moved Downtown last year, former Feast and Hunky Dory chef Richard Knight and Carrie Knight have been leading a team preparing meals for first responders and other emergency workers; in the connected adjacent space, former Mark’s and El Meson sommelier Cat Nguyen now runs a food storehouse; she’s working with a team that moved in yesterday to share the space as well — one set up to match groups that can donate large quantities of food with groups that need them.

Offers of food and requests for food come to this team through a website it launched on Thursday as well, appropriately called I Have Food I Need Food. Led by a group including Amy Kavalewitz, Jonathan Beitler, Matthew Wettergreen, and Claudia Solis, the operation takes in donations of prepared or unprepared food from commercial kitchens, food supply companies, and licensed caterers, and sends it out to shelters or other service groups that need to serve hundreds of portions.

Photo: Matthew Wettergreen

Have Food Need Food
08/29/17 4:15pm

Just days before Harvey hit Houston, the newest corner restaurant at 1302 Nance St. in Downtown’s old warehouse district looked ready to debut. The photos here, taken by Swamplot reader Will Breaux shortly before the rains came and the waters swelled, show the spot formerly occupied by Oxheart sporting a new exterior paint job and window nameplate.

Inside, renovations had been taking place for months. Proprietor Justin Yu had plans to open Theodore Rex later in August. But the restaurant flooded. Now, he writes, “it might take a little more time to open.”

Photos: Will Breaux

 

To Redo Again
08/24/17 1:00pm

The City of Houston website may still describe Jones Plaza as a “fully renovated” public square that forms the centerpiece of the city’s Theater District downtown, but Houston First appears ready to fully renovate it again. The quasi-public agency says it will select 5 teams from among any “experienced urban design firms, landscape architects or architects capable of creating an inspired, iconic, accessible and welcoming design” that apply before September 5 to create preliminary designs for a redo. Among the possibly familiar items listed for inclusion on the redesign menu: a water element, a “green oasis with seasonal plantings,” a performance space, an art installation, and a 4,000-sq.-ft. fast-casual restaurant.

Jones Plaza’s current design, which features similar items, dates from a 2001 rebuild led by Bricker+Cannady Architects; that renovation lowered and canted the previously raised plaza surface so that all steps could be removed from the Louisiana St. side facing Jones Hall:

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Do-Overs
08/22/17 12:45pm

Interested in a bit of booty plundered from the the birthplace of Bootylicious? The former Rice Mansion at 1505 Hadley St. in Midtown most recently served as the headquarters of Mathew Knowles’ Music World Entertainment and moonlighted as a wedding and event venue. According to Architectural Digest, Destiny’s Child recorded Bootylicious, as well as several other of its hit songs, inside this building. But Knowles sold the entire block bounded by Hadley, Crawford, Webster, and LaBranch streets late last year, and its new owner — Group 1 Automotive, the parent company of the neighboring Midtown Advantage BMW car dealership — has begun demolishing the structures sitting on it one by one.

For now, the Rice Mansion — minus a bunch of salvaged parts and furnishings, which were yanked out recently — is still standing. But some of its parts have already been spotted by a Swamplot reader on an internet auction site. Though the building is more than a century old, the offered materials are clearly of far more recent vintage. Behold:

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Recent Vintage
08/17/17 4:45pm

HOW THE NEW ARCHITECTURE CENTER HOUSTON WILL BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES WHEN HIGH WATER COMES What’s going to happen to the new exhibition, meeting, and office spaces at the Architecture Center Houston — set to reopen next month in its new location in the ground floor and former boiler room of the 1906 B.A. Riesner Building at 900 Commerce St., next to the Bayou Lofts and across from the Spaghetti Warehouse Downtown — in the very likely event that floodwaters rise from nearby Buffalo Bayou? Kyle Humphries of Murphy Mears Architects, the firm chosen to lead the reconfiguration of the space after a competition last year, tells the Architect’s Newspaper’s Jason Sayer that the designers imagined the interior as a bathtub, and accordingly wrapped a quarter-inch-thick plate made of aluminum around the interior on 2 sides: “’Our storefront system that faces Commerce Street is sealed and uses structural steel panels up to 3.5 feet long all along that facade,’ described Humphries. Furthermore, custom fills and seals on the doors (the profiles of which were manufactured in Switzerland) were prescribed with a custom-designed drop-in flood panel that can be operated by one person standing outside.” [The Architect’s Newspaper] Video walkthrough: Murphy Mears Architects

08/04/17 1:00pm

Architectural details, building materials, windows, and flooring are now being picked from the the Midtown building at 1505 Hadley St. known as the Rice Mansion, a reader suggests. The photo sent above from this morning appears to show someone pulling boards from the threshold at the front door. The triple window fronting the building’s attic has already been yanked out.

Also removed from the property: a large amount of Destiny’s Child memorabilia — but that was last year, when the band’s former manager, Mathew Knowles, sold the entire block to the parent company of the neighboring Midtown Advantage BMW car dealership. The Rice Mansion served as the headquarters of Knowles’s Music World Entertainment for 15 years, and was considered the birthplace of the careers of his daughters, Beyoncé and Solange Knowles.

Another building on the property with a Destiny’s Child connection and a later stint as a wedding and event venue — the House of Deréon Media Center at 2204 Crawford St. — was torn down last month.

 

Photo: Swamplot inbox

Killing Time
07/28/17 2:45pm

Workers who began removing windows earlier this month from rooms in the long-vacant 30-story abandoned hotel tower at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. haunting the southern reaches of Downtown have reached a critical height. Photos sent to Swamplot show that the systematic effort to yank off the fenestration of every room of the former Heaven on Earth Plaza Hotel (it also spent time as a Days Inn, a Holiday Inn, and a Vedic school) have now reached the 13th floor above the structure’s parking garage. This now affords viewers above a certain height — from a neighboring office building, say, or driving along the Pierce Elevated — actual views through the building.

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Acts as an Air Filter, Too