09/28/16 1:00pm

Buffalo Bayou drainage outlet at Woodway Dr., Memorial Park, Houston, 77024

The folks at Save Buffalo Bayou send over some before-and-after photos of the Memorial Park boat launch and companion drainage structure just east of where the stream crosses beneath Woodway Dr. The group says the canoe and kayak put-in spot, on a 30-acre section of the park once used as an archery range, had been slowly greened back up by native river plants following the area’s multi-year closure and workover by the Uptown TIRZ, which involved some de-treeing work and the planting of some contractor-friendly non-native grasses on the newly reshaped slope.

Memorial Park director Jay Daniels told the group that the mowing was not planned, as park groups are currently trying to promote native plant growth in the park. Daniels said that he talked to a work group clearing some bayou access paths this weekend about removing some invasive Johnsongrass at the site; the conversation apparently led to some confusion, which led to mowing, which led to many folks being given a stern talking to.

Here’s a post-op look from July 2014 at the drainage setup (also intended to control bank erosion), partially covered in what appears to be eroding dirt and deposited sediment:


Trimming the Johnsongrass
09/06/16 12:00pm

STOP TRYING TO FIX BUFFALO BAYOU, SAYS SAVE BUFFALO BAYOU Buffalo Bayou Bank Shift The waterway enthusiasts at Save Buffalo Bayou just issued their report on their recent tours of the waterway, with an eye toward how the scene has changed in the wake of the Tax Day flooding and the extended high flows from the try-not-to-make-things-worse paced drainage of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. The photo above, taken during the organization’s scouting, shows an area of the bayou where the river channel dug through a curve and moved over, such that some landmarks previously on the north bank are now on the south side. The authors take issue with a number of current and proposed plans to keep the bayou’s banks in place, and suggest that the best way to end up with a relatively stable channel is to step back and let geology do the job: “When the bayou’s banks slump or collapse, the brush and fallen trees left in place collect sediment during subsequent high waters, gradually rebuilding naturally reinforced banks. These new nature-built banks are better able to withstand subsequent floods as well as the more powerful flows being released from the dams . . . The bayou itself then reseeds these and other sandy areas with the proper succession of plants that first colonize then stabilize the sediment, turning sand into soil, preparing the way for seedlings of trees. It’s part of the natural function of riverine flooding that we rarely have opportunity to observe, especially in the middle of a city where we have dug up and covered in concrete most of our bayous and streams.” [Save Buffalo Bayou; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Save Buffalo Bayou

08/30/16 11:15am

Allen brothers' Houston sales ad

It’s that time again — Houston’s birthday celebration, observed traditionally on the anniversary of the publication of the Allen brothers’ newspaper ads offering land for sale in the area in 1836. Among the more eyebrow-worthy claims put forward by the founders: that the “beautifully-elevated” area (depicted nestled amid a clutch of towering hills) was already the site of regular steamboat traffic (the Laura wouldn’t make the first steamboat run up the sandy twists of Buffalo Bayou to Allen’s Landing until the following year), and that the area “[enjoys] the sea breeze in all its freshness” and is “well-watered” (that part, at least, is likely undisputed).

The ad text also claims that “Nature appears to have designated this place for the future seat of Government,” though Lisa Gray suggests this morning that a few well-timed gifts to members of the newly-minted Texas Legislature may have been responsible as well. Gray writes that the city hosted the Texas government from 1837 until the legislators, tired of the heat and mosquitoes, voted to move elsewhere in 1839.

Here’s the ad in its entirety, as it appeared 180 years ago today in the Telegraph and Texas Register:


And Many More
08/23/16 12:30pm

36 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 7701936 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 77019

The air-conditioned 2-story playhouse at 36 Tiel Way is on the market as of last Friday, along with its 5-bedroom mansion mate. The playhouse, featured as yesterday’s Home Listing Photo of the Day, was built back in 2011 by Kristi Schiller (the radio personality turned police-dog philanthropist formerly known as Lucy Lipps) and her husband. The playhouse includes running water, window planters, and a minifridge; the just-under-1-acre property backs up to Buffalo Bayou and also plays host to an outdoor kitchen and a saltwater pool.

Here’s the playhouse’s living room and upstairs, followed by a tour of the rest of the digs:


07/25/16 5:15pm

FREE PRESS HOUSTON TO SHIP DAY FOR NIGHT TO THE FORMER DOWNTOWN POST OFFICE Barbara Jordan Post Office, 401 Franklin St., Downtown Houston The former Barbara Jordan Post Office at 401 Franklin St. will be the new host of Free Press Houston’s Day for Night music festival, Matthew Ramirez reports today. The 16-acre campus (including anything left of its train station ruins) sits on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou (across from Sesquicentennial Park and east of the University of Houston Downtown). The property was bought last year by an entity connected to Lovett Commercial; by mid-December the site will have to be ready to hold 3 music stages and the festival’s associated experimental art installations. [PaperCity; previously on Swamplot] Photo of former post office at 401 Franklin: CRBE

07/07/16 2:30pm

MIDWAY: GIANT FIFTH WARD KBR SITE WON’T BE CALLED NORTHBANK BUFFALO BAYOU, BUT SOMETHING ELSE MIGHT Former KBR Campus, 4100 Clinton Dr., Fifth Ward, HoustonA representative from Midway tells Swamplot that, while the company has been working on a trademark for the name Northbank Buffalo Bayou, it won’t be used for whatever the company is planning for the 136-acre former KBR site in Fifth Ward (which was recently bought by a Midway affiliate). The name is actually connected to another project floating around on the company’s drawing board — no confirmation yet as to exactly where that development might be located, if it comes to be, but the north bank of Buffalo Bayou seems like a reasonable guess. Wherever the moniker is applied, the US Patent and Trademark Office lists the name as intended for use related to both commercial and residential real estate marketing and construction. Also on the list of things the brand could be used for: wine and food tastings, and presenting live musical performances. [Previously on Swamplot] Listing photo of KBR site: LoopNet

07/06/16 11:30am

Guadalupe Park Plaza Redo, 2311 Runnels St., Second Ward, Houston, 77003

The forest of columns behind the newly planted trees above are most of what’s left of the original central plaza structure in Second Ward’s Guadalupe Plaza Park, which the Greater East End Management District says will reopen on July 30th as several years of de- and re-construction work are wrapped up. The 1980s park now caps the western end of the previously redone Navigation Blvd. esplanade, and a landscaped sidewalk now connects the park to Buffalo Bayou at the crossing of Jensen Rd. (right across from the 136-acre KBR campus recently purchased by mixed-use developer Midway).

Here’s the view looking south along the walkway toward the main square from alongside cultural center Talento Bilingue, which the management district says won’t be knocked down until funding is in place to rebuild it: 


Plaza Placement
05/13/16 10:15am

This week’s video release from hometown country singer Robert Ellis takes viewers on a forlorn wandering tour of Houston’s downtown and surrounding thoroughfares, sans all of those pesky people and cars. Iconic cameos include the AIA’s future headquarters on the corner of Franklin and Commerce streets, the WALD warehouse sign at Live Oak and Rusk streets, and Bad News Bar on Main St.; the video also includes a hike down a dead-empty I-45 and associated entrance ramps, several frantic light-rail stops, and a dramatic reunion on the pedestrian bridge over Memorial Dr. at Sabine St. 

Video: Robert Ellis

Musical Background
05/06/16 3:30pm

Spring Branch tributary after Laverne St. Fire

The ditches ran red in the Spring Branch area yesterday as the billowing 4-alarm fire near Laverne St. at Spring Branch Dr. triggered evacuations and shelter-in-place orders across the surrounding areas. The blaze reportedly started in a home-slash-auto-shop on Laverne and spread next door to the A-1 Custom Packaging warehouse (which transfers large quantities of various industrial liquids into smaller bottles for distribution). Some of those stored chemicals (including the bright red petroleum additive visible in the shot above) made their way into drainage ditches and culverts flowing into Spring Branch itself.

The red additive is non-water-soluble and has been getting pushed around by contract clean-up crews downstream to stop the spread. But contractors cannot, the city says, catch the pesticide that also made its way into the same drainage channels, as it dissolves in water. It’s still unclear how much of the 500 gallons or so thought to have been stored at the site made it all the way into Spring Branch (which flows into Buffalo Bayou south of I-10), but some water quality test results are due back later today.


River Running Red
04/20/16 3:45pm

Sims Metal Management Proler Southwest Scrap Recycling Facility, 90 Hirsch Rd, Galena Park, Houston, 77052

Bryan Parras snagged some after-shots of Buffalo Bayou’s up-and-down number near Tony Marron Park just east of Hirsch Rd. this week, as the rain let up on Monday afternoon and again yesterday morning. Across the channel on the north bank is the Sims Metal Management’s Proler Southwest recycling facility, whose scrap piles shown above were still soaking their toes beneath the freshly-elevated water line at the time of the Monday photos.

Below is a view of both the park’s trails and the Sims facility, looking east from the Hirsch bridge across the bayou’s confluence with somewhat-redecorated Japhet Creek from the north:


Piled High in Fifth Ward
03/24/16 4:00pm

Rendering of Buffalo Bayou Cistern Converted to Bathhouse
Rendering of Buffalo Bayou Cistern Converted to BathhouseAs Buffalo Bayou Partnership continues to seek out tour guides for the cavernous 1927 city water reservoir and maybe-future-art-space buried in Buffalo Bayou Park, University of Houston architecture grad Sheridan Staats sends over her design for turning the structure into a split-level public bath house, complete with pools, saunas, gardens, a bike trail connection, and a cafe. Renderings and schematics are showcased in Staats’s undergraduate thesis, which also dives into global bath house and infrastructure history and the case for reusing the site in a way that nods to its utilitarian aquatic past.

The kelley green box on the map above shows the cistern’s buried footprint on the north shore of Buffalo Bayou (in blue), just west of Sabine St. and south of Memorial Dr.; the darker green line passing through the southwest edge of the cistern shows a plan to run the bayou’s bike trail into the cistern and onto a suspended causeway:


Underwater Underground
03/10/16 10:45am

The Cistern, Buffalo Bayou Park near Sabine St. at Memorial Dr., Houston, 77007

Update, 3/24: BBP has updated the link to and language of the job posting; this story has been updated.

Wanted: Buffalo Bayou Partnership is seeking some college types folks to show people around the long-empty city drinking water reservoir near the intersection of Sabine St. and Memorial Dr., which the group also hopes to turn into a temporary art space some day. The “accidental cathedral” was only accessible by a set of hatches and 14-foot ladders back when BBP first examined it; a $1.2-million grant is being used to bring the 87,200-sq.-ft. underground space up to code for visitors.

The cistern, nicknamed after the 6th-century reservoir beneath Istanbul, lies just north of the Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park beneath what will become a raised outdoor lawn intended for concerts and events at Buffalo Bayou Park. The 1927 reservoir was drained and decommissioned decades ago after it started leaking uncontrollably; the structure was planned for demolition and fill-in by the city around the time the park’s planners took an interest in the space, initially imagining uses like parking and mulch storage.


Work in the Underground
03/09/16 4:00pm

Screen Capture of Addicks and Barker Dam Construction Updates Map

The Army Corps of Engineers is holding a public meeting amid this evening’s predicted thunderstorms to chat about the recently begun replacement work on the Addicks and Barker dams, which have each won the rare and highly distinguished label ‘extremely high risk’ through a combination of structural issues and close proximity to Houston. For those not planning to flood the Corps with questions and comments in person, there’s a somewhat-outdated online survey, as well as an online map of updates on the project’s progress. Work to replace the outlet structures of the dams began in February, and is expected to take about 4 years. 

The 2 reservoirs, spread out across 26,000 acres on either side of the Katy Fwy. near Highway 6, starred in the Sierra Club’s 2011 lawsuit over the construction of Segment E of the Grand Parkway through the reservoirs’ catchment area. The club claimed development spurred by the road could send major additional runoff to the reservoirs, increasing the chance of dam failure, which Dave Fehling of Houston Public Media reports “could do an estimated $60 billion dollars in damage to downtown Houston, to industries along the Houston Ship Channel, [and] even to the Texas Medical Center.” The judge didn’t stop construction of Segment E, but did order new studies on its potential flooding impacts.


Addicks and Barker Reservoirs
03/08/16 2:30pm

Renovation of Sunset Coffee Building at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

A shiny new cistern is now in place at the former Sunset Coffee building at Allen’s Landing, which Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Houston First have been redeveloping into an office-topped boat-and-bike-rental spot.  The 1910 coffee roasting facility has once again donned walls after moving past a Summer 2014 minimalist phase, and is currently decked out in a muted Café du Monde orange.

The no-longer-see-through structure is back to limiting the view from the Harris County Jail across the bayou (visible on the far right, above). A set of stairs are in place alongside the new cistern, along with railings around what appears to be the planned rooftop terrace.


Nearing Launch at Allen’s Landing
03/04/16 10:30am


Predicted Before and After Flood Map, 500 Year Flood Event

That’s Galveston Island going for a dip in the before-and-after captures above, from a set of interactive timelapse maps released by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica yesterday (along with several articles by authors Kiah Collier and Neena Satija). The new maps model flooding across the Houston region during Hurricane Ike — as well as what would have happened if Ike had actually hit just south of Houston, as meteorologists initially expected.

The maps are your chance to relive an old disaster, or to see how many of your neighbors you can take out with a hypothetical-but-not-unrealistic future storm: users can pick between Ike, south-er Ike, a storm 15% stronger than Ike (nicknamed Mighty Ike), and a modeled 500-year storm (which the article suggests may actually be a concern on the every-few-decades-or-so level; ‘500-year’ has always meant ‘a low probability in any year’, and climate change is shaking up old modeling assumptions). The graphics also include a few dramatic face-offs:  Mighty Ike and the 500-year storm VS. 2 of the miles-long multi-billion-dollar coastal protection projects being studied for the upper Texas coast.

You can even search for your home address in the map system to see what flood levels might look like in your own back yard. Here’s what the maps show happening to the Clear Lake, Seabrook, and League City areas at the peak of the 500-year storm model’s storm surge, which the article says is a “not if, but when” event:


Hell and High Water