PENNZOIL PLACE’S STICKY DAMAGE CONTROL PLAN Chronicle real-estate reporter Nancy Sarnoff has answers to a couple of questions Pennzoil Place tenants, visitors, and passers-by might be asking right about now: 1) Why is this iconic double-towered downtown office building at 711 Louisiana St. downtown now covered with small, round yellow stickers? and 2) If the building gets scuffed up during the implosion of the remaining hulk of the Houston Club Building across the street, how will property managers be able to distinguish new nicks and scrapes from all the old ones? [Prime Property; previously on Swamplot] Photos: Nancy Sarnoff
WITH ACTORS AND COMPANY GONE, THE ALLEY THEATRE CATCHES FIRE Fire broke out late this morning at the Alley Theatre at 615 Texas Ave. fronting Jones Plaza downtown. The acting ensemble is performing at UH this season, to allow workers to complete a $46.5 million renovation of the brutalist concrete building and its parking-lot-tower appendages. Fire department officials are reporting that construction workers spotted smoke streaming from the building’s duct work, apparently from an electrical fire. Shortly before the fire started, construction photos of the roof being opened up above the main theater space were posted to the organization’s Facebook page [Click2Houston; Alley Theatre] Photo: Emma Q
COMMENT OF THE DAY: MORE THAN READY FOR THE NEXT BIG BOOM DOWNTOWN “I cannot wait until they implode the Houston Club Building. Everyone who works in Pennzoil Place is currently on the verge of losing their minds because of the constant jackhammering on the building to prepare it for demolition. We’re happy the end appears to be in sight, but another six weeks of this is going to be tough to handle. I hope the construction workers are well-protected from the noise and dust this project is creating. If we’re going nuts, then I can’t imagine how they must feel.” [Courtney, commenting on Blowing Up the Houston Club; Dismantling a Radioactive Barge in Galveston] Illustration: Lulu
Will all the gawkable dark mystery disappear from Downtown once the last few long-abandoned towers standing get cleaned up or knocked down? Maybe, but in the meantime we have these latest events to consider, around and about the former Heaven on Earth Plaza Inn at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. (at Travis), which was operated by an organization affiliated with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for most of the nineties (before the city shut it down, in 1998).
A couple of readers have reported seeing some recent activity in and around the 31-story building, which was built as a Holiday Inn in 1971 and later converted to a Days Inn — before taking a different spiritual path:
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Falling to Earth from Heaven on Earth
Update, 8/26: The headline has been corrected.
If you’re wondering what the late-night traffic holdup is in and around Main St. and Texas Ave. over the weekend, here’s your explainer: 180 mixing trucks are going to be lining up to pour a continuous stream of concrete onto this site surrounded by Main, Texas, Fannin, and Capitol streets downtown, where D.E. Harvey builders is putting together a little office building — now slated to rise 48 stories — for the Hines CalPERS Green development fund. The action starts at 7 pm on Saturday and should finish up around 3 in the afternoon the next day.
In all, about 14,000 cubic yards of concrete will go into the mat foundation of the 609 Main St. building during those 17 hours. The Texas Tower, formerly known as the Sterling Building, was dismantled on a portion of the site earlier this year.
Photo: Hines. Rendering: Pickard Chilton
“Never would a game of strip Twister be so badly regretted,” writes Lucrece Borrego in announcing the sudden closure of her innovative Downtown food-business incubator turned brewery-incubator business on the ground floor of the Bayou Lofts building at 907 Franklin St. An eviction notice the two-time startup-startup starter was handed by an attorney representing her landlord as Borrego was cooking for a steak-night “bottle share” event last Friday cited several reasons for the termination of her lease, most of them focusing on items encountered in a common-area hallway outside the business: empty beer kegs and boxes (Borrego says they were left after deliveries), “personal items” (likely including a motorcycle, a source tells Swamplot) — and a live game of naked Twister.
“Indeed,” Borrego writes, “I had agreed to host a naked game night: a completely private event that takes place at bars all over Houston regularly. We covered all the windows and had someone working the door. Only one thing went wrong.”
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Downtown Brewery Startup Space Evicted
ACTING ON HER OWN, MAYOR WILL ALLOW FOOD TRUCKS DOWNTOWN Note: Story updated below. Hopes there wouldn’t be much opposition this time to changing the city’s fire and health codes to allow food trucks a few niceties such as the ability to park near seating for their customers (if not actually provide it) may have been dashed by objections aired by restaurant owners and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association at yesterday’s city council committee meeting, but Mayor Parker said she plans to go ahead and let propane-fueled mobile food units operate downtown anyway, by acting on her own — an administrative change that doesn’t require council approval: “Parker said she has received an opinion from the fire marshal’s office deeming propane tanks of up to 60 pounds safe for mobile food units in the downtown area. It was not clear Wednesday when that rule change would go into effect, though it is likely to be coupled with smaller, more technical regulatory changes to the food truck policy that the City Council could vote on as soon as this fall.” Update, 1:30 pm: A spokesperson for Mayor Parker tells Swamplot the fire department expects to implement the propane rule change, which would allow trucks in the Texas Medical Center as well as Downtown, sometime in September. Changing the rules to allow a food truck to park closer than 60 ft. to another food truck — another administrative change not requiring a vote from city council — “isn’t likely to be considered until the end of the year or early next year when other changes to the fire code are proposed.” [Houston Chronicle; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coreanos food truck
WHEN HOUSTON HAD A PLAN, AND FUNDING, FOR A DOWNTOWN PEOPLE MOVER Digging into 40-some-year-old documents resting comfortably in the Houston Metropolitan Research Center at the Julia Ideson Library, Christopher Andrews pieces together the story behind the Downtown People Mover once planned for Houston. Houston was approved to receive $33 million in federal funding for the project in the mid-seventies, along with 4 other cities, but withdrew its application shortly after Harris County voters approved the creation of Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1978. After Houston dropped out (along with Cleveland and St. Paul), actual downtown people movers ended up getting built in Detroit and Miami. “The City of Houston’s 1976 proposal to the UMTA,” writes Andrews, “called for a 1.09 mile system, composed of 2.25 lane miles of track bisecting the ‘heart of the downtown core,’ stretching from the Cullen Center to the Harris County complex. It was intended to be fully owned, operated, planned and financed by the City of Houston, and was said to garner ‘strong and wide local support.’” A later report commissioned by the city showed alternatives to that north-south route along Milam St., including an elevated line running down Main St. past (and into) the (recently demolished) Foley’s building. [Not of It] Renderings: Sperry Systems Management/Houston Metropolitan Research Center
COMMENT OF THE DAY: RAILROADED “Southern Pacific (not Union Pacific, as one writer claimed), demolished this station in 1959. Critics may blame Houstonians for failing to rally and save the building, but the fact is that the modern architectural preservation movement didn’t start until the early 1970s, and even my architecturally hip home town of Chicago let some classic beauties like Louis Sullivan’s Stock Exchange slip away before public sentiment for preservation began to build. The first downtown railroad-station preservation-restoration project did not take place until 1973, when the Southern Railway’s vacant Terminal Station in Chattanooga was transformed into a restaurant and hotel complex.
If anybody has any photos of the interior of the SP station in Houston I would like to examine them for a book I’m writing about what happened to each of the big downtown stations in North America. SP’s Houston Station was designed by Texas’s most celebrated architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick, who also designed the Shamrock Hotel, the T&P station in Fort Worth, and dozens of admired hotels, factories and commercial buildings. Photos of his T&P station are all over the Internet but SP demolished his Houston station before anyone had a chance to make any good photos.” [F.K. Plous, commenting on The Secret Train Station Hidden Downtown] Illustration: Lulu
Earlier this month, Houston First showed off renderings of the office building it’s planning to build for itself and 3 other Houston-boosting organizations (top), headlined by the Greater Houston Partnership, one block north of and linking to the George R. Brown Convention Center. (A massive attached 1,900-car parking garage would share the skybridge to the George R. Brown and fit between the building and the Hwy. 59 overpass.) Yesterday, the operator of the city’s performing arts and convention facilities pulled out an additional pic (above), highlighting another aspect of its plan, and showing how the same building would look with a 15-story add-on perched on top of it. The rendering of the tower portion by WHR Architects, the same firm that’s designing the office building and parking garage, is meant to be “conceptual”; Houston First announced it will begin taking proposals for the hotel from developers, who might choose a different design team.
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The space at 913 Franklin St. downtown (pictured to the left of the red awning in the photo above), which has been vacant since the Franklin Street Coffee House shut down there in the late aughts, is due to open again later this year as a bar named the Drawing Room. The 2-story “saloon-style” space between Travis and Main St. will have seating areas on the second floor that overlook the bar and the first floor. The lobby of the Bayou Lofts is next door; before its incarnation as a coffee shop, the space was used as a jewelry store.
Photo: The Drawing Room
The Drawing Room
The 10-story office building announced earlier this week for a site across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center won’t just house the Greater Houston Partnership, for which the project is being named; it’ll also be home to a swell crowd of quasi-governmental city-boosting organizations, whose members will gladly walk you out onto the 2-story 2,000-sq.-ft. upper terrace at the corner of Rusk and Avenida de las Americas, slap you on the back, and point out all the new buildings and visitors and conventions swarming around Discovery Green.
If it isn’t too late in the afternoon (the deck faces west), a city scout needing a little convincing or glad-handling will have an eye-opening view of Houston to behold: A slice of Houston’s central, quasi-public park with its suggestively undeveloped surface parking lots and the rest of downtown beyond, bookended by the city’s 2 remaining non-acronymed sports facilities, Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center. Kinda stepping in front of the center portion of that view will be the new Marriott Marquis currently under construction along the combined Walker and McKinney streets on Discovery Green’s eastern flank, but the hotel’s tower portion will be shifted a bit to leave room for a park overlook. In a nod to the marketing world’s recent fashion of mildly gritty cité-vérité, the new office building’s deck won’t be air-conditioned, but the nearby towers should generate a fair amount of breeze, and its height should put it safely above Houston’s 8-story mosquito line.
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Someday Near the Park and the George
No, no one’s expecting Metro’s 2 new light-rail lines to open any sooner than late December (as Swamplot reported last week), but some progress toward that goal is now visible on portions of the East End and Southeast lines: “Live wire” or powered testing of the downtown tracks began this week. The photo at right, sent in by a reader, shows a Metro train moving unescorted along the tracks on Capitol St. for the first time.
Photo: Nathan Juett
Swamplot reader Marc Longoria has pics of some of the greenery added recently to the revamped interior of the former Houston Pavilions mall downtown, now known as GreenStreet. The rebranding of the mixed-use complex, which extends 3 blocks east from the Main St. rail line in a Discovery Green-ish direction, signifies more than just the infusion of cash from the new owners who are rescuing the project from bankruptcy, the Midway Companies (the folks behind CityCentre) and Magic Johnson’s Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds: There’s the notable addition of striped-green roofs over the escalators (above), for one thing. And more new plant-ish color has been added nearby:
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Artificial Turf, Salads, and More