02/10/16 10:30am

COMMENT OF THE DAY: UPPING THE VOLTAGE ON HOUSTON’S DOWNTOWN VIEWS Electric Blue Skyline” . . . I wonder, if the property management companies downtown would illuminate the Houston skyline with LED lighting, how cool it would look? With Houston’s strong artistic community, it would be great to see a curated lighting of the skyline that’s different when you drive in from every angle. As they stand in the dark every night, you can’t at all see the pyramid atop Heritage Plaza, the outlines of the “kissing” Pennzoil Place towers, or hardly see the three tiers and spikes of Bank of America. At night, the Energy Capital of the World’s skyline is hardly . . . yawn . . . energetic.” [Austin, commenting on Shining a Little More Light on the Williams Tower Beacon, Now Back in Action] Illustration: Lulu

02/01/16 5:00pm

Trumpet Flower Painting Event, Market Square, Downtown, Houston, 77002

Preston St. was closed down Saturday afternoon between Travis and Milam, as hundreds of people showed up to Market Square to paint the reclaimed strips of wood that will compose Patrick Renner’s upcoming Trumpet Flower installation.  The sculpture is designed to loom 60 feet above the space between One City Centre and its parking garage downtown (off Main St. Square and Fannin, between Lamar and McKinney).

Renner, of far-more-horizontal Funnel Tunnel fame, is slated to install the towering cone by the end of March, as part of the Art Blocks project planned to jazz up Main Street Square leading up to the 2017 Superbowl.  The tip of the structure will stretch down from the top of the garage and flare out into a furnished canopy shelter at street level. A tiny model of the installation was on display at a side table during the painting free-for-all:

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Sprouting Downtown
01/22/16 11:30am

CELEBRATING LAURA DAY, AND THE CON THAT MADE THE CITY Packet steamer LauraOn this day in 1837 — according to Houstorian, Houston’s “loudest preservation group” — the packet steamer Laura shoved its way up Buffalo Bayou through sand bars and tortuous snags to Allen’s Landing in what is now Downtown Houston. The trip proved publicly for the first time that such a voyage was actually possible, though the Allen Brothers had already been promising as much to investors for months in their “highly exaggerated” advertisements of the new town. Houstorian teamed up with the Bayou Preservation Association last night to celebrate the grand con’s success; the now-annual Laura Day event took place this year at Public Services Wine & Whisky, housed in the 1884 Cotton Exchange Building at the corner of Travis and Franklin — just a few blocks west of the Laura’s purported landing site at the foot of Main St. [Houstorian] Historic photo of the steamship Laura: Houstorian

01/20/16 4:00pm

First Church of Christ the Scientist, 1720 Main St., Downtown, Houston, TX 77002

First Church of Christ the Scientist, 1720 Main St., Downtown, Houston, TX 77002Now pending: the sale of the First Church of Christ the Scientist at 1720 Main St., north of Jefferson St. The 1961 structure, designed by Texas architect Milton Foy Martin, was listed for $2.25 million; the listing caught the attention of the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects, who had hoped to buy the building and move into it.

The organization made an offer, and even got Mayor Annise Parker to write a letter to the Church’s congregation in early December — Parker’s letter asked the Church to consider selling the building to AIA for the sake of historical preservation, citing fears that “any other purchaser would tear the building down.”

AIA was apparently outbid, however, by a cash buyer asking for no due diligence period. The sale is currently listed as pending on HAR. More detailed photos of the inside and out below, including that golden spire and turquoise tile:

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It’s Blue Inside
01/20/16 10:15am

Downtown Aquarium Ferris Wheel, 410 Bagby St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

As of rush hour yesterday, a reader tells Swamplot, the Downtown Aquarium’s Ferris wheel at 410 Bagby St. was missing something — namely, the whole wheel bit. Workers were observed dismantling the spokes earlier in the day at the freeway-side restaurant-tainment complex. According to the restaurant’s website, the wheel is out for winter maintenance and won’t be spinning again until March 1st.

From Memorial Dr. headed west under I-45, here’s an evening snapshot of the newly unemployed support posts:

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Bagby at Buffalo Bayou
01/19/16 4:30pm

Encampment removal at Louisiana St. and Congress Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The encampment under Louisiana St. (shown above) was dismantled earlier today; a reader sends both now-you-see-it and now-you-don’t shots. The camp was previously tucked above the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, about halfway between Sesquicentennial Park and Allen’s Landing.

The removal appears to have been carried out by workers for Houston First, responsible for maintenance of public venues such as Miller Outdoor Theater and the George R. Brown Convention Center, along with a list of downtown parks that includes Sesquicentennial and the Sabine Promenade. Houston First also works on marketing and branding for the venues (and more generally for “the Houston product”) in partnership with the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Here’s what the spot looked like after today’s clear-out:

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Gone Downtown
01/19/16 9:45am

A GLIMPSE OF THE HIDDEN PECAN AT 509 LOUISIANA ST., NOW THAT THE BUILDING IS OUT OF THE WAY Demolition of 509 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002While much of the 1906 structure that formerly stood at 509 Louisiana St. was still on site as of early afternoon yesterday, the pieces had mostly been rearranged. A couple of excavators can be seen picking them over in this shot sent in by a reader. The once-secret pecan tree is also hanging out in the open as it waits for the axe  — look for the branches peeking out around the corner of the Calpine Center parking garage entrance, on the left edge of the shot. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Jack Miller via Swamplot inbox

01/15/16 10:15am

2016 Houston Marathon Closures

For a few early hours this Sunday, the Southwest Freeway will be the only conduit into or out of the box of land framed by Kirby Dr., Montrose Blvd., Bissonnet St. and W. Gray St. (give or take a traffic peninsula leading up to Allen Pkwy., which will also be closed for much of the morning).

The Houston Marathon will launch from 4 corrals leading to Congress Ave. at San Jacinto St., and loop through the city along the route outlined in black above. The Half Marathon route (outlined in yellow) will pant alongside until just before mile 8, when it will skive off north back toward the shared finish line at Discovery Green.

A larger version of the map is show in 2 parts below, complete with start and end times (in red and green respectively) of each mile marker’s street closure:

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The Runaround
01/13/16 4:58pm

509 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

517 Louisiana St. is down — the former haunt of the Longhorn Cafe (509 Louisiana, to the right of the hole in the above photo) was still standing as of 2 PM this afternoon, along with the pecan tree in its once-secret  courtyard. Both have permits lined up to follow 517 into the Great Beyond, to make room for surface parking on the block.

The hidden pecan tree is purported to harbor a ghost, rooted deep in some Republic of Texas history:

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Louisiana St. Demolitions
01/12/16 3:45pm

Demolition of 517 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Time to bid adieu to 2 more of downtown’s oldest buildings: readers sent both sky-high and excavator-side photos of yesterday’s teardown work at 517 Louisiana St., and 509 is permitted to follow). According to the building’s owners, the next-door Lancaster Hotel’s parking crunch is the reason the two 1906 Theater District neighbors to meet their flattened fates, along with a long-hidden pecan tree that shades a once-secret courtyard at 509. Taking their place: a surface lot for 50 cars — and, maybe, one day, an expansion to the hotel.

517’s transformation to empty space was complete by the end of the day yesterday:

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Coming Down in Downtown
01/12/16 1:15pm

AND NOW, WATCH THE RED LINE RUSH FROM BELL ST. TO BURNETT STATION AND BACK IN 49 SECONDS Take a break from the Downtown bustle, even if its just for a couple of seconds — frequent Swamplot photo contributor Jackson Myers captured this sped-up video of a light-rail ride from Bell St. up to Burnett Station, and even manages to hop in the conductor’s compartment for the return trip. Video: Jackson Myers via Swamplot inbox

01/11/16 10:45am

La Calle Tacos y Tortas, 909 Franklin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

La Calle Tacos y Tortas, 909 Franklin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002Some blue fists are clenched on the ground floor of the Bayou Lofts building, at the northeast corner of Travis and Franklin — La Calle Tacos y Tortas purports to be bringing Mexico City-style street fare to the space at 909 Franklin St. Owner Ramon Soriano Tomka anticipates a February opening, and is currently plugging the chance to win free tacos for a year via various social media platforms.

The storefront is the former home of dim sum spot Hong Kong Diner, and sits between the former homes of Franklin Street Coffee and Brewery Incubator, the kitchen-kickstarter-turned-brewery-fermenter that was evicted in 2014 following complaints about a late-night game of naked Twister.

A rendering posted to La Calle’s facebook page shows what the spot could look like after buildout is complete:

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Taco Solidarity on Franklin St.
01/07/16 1:30pm

Rustika Cafe and Bakery, 801 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, Tx 77002

Stuck downtown jonesing for a turnover, or a maybe a wedding reception? A satellite outpost of Rustika Café and Bakery has crept into the tunnel beneath 801 Louisiana St. in the spot previously occupied by Porch Swing Desserts. The cafe is now open for business with a taco-heavy mini-menu to kick off operations.

A tipster tells Swamplot that sweets fiends will be able both to order and to retrieve custom cakes from the new underground locale, though they will still be constructed at the cafe’s original strip mall location (at 3237 Southwest Freeway between Tokyohana and the Michaelyndon Salon & Day Spa). This first franchise of the Mexican-Jewish mashup will also offer catering.

A few fresh snaps of the newly-stocked pastry counters beneath Louisiana St.:

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Taking the Cake Down Below
12/23/15 10:00am

Hole in the side of 1010 Lamar, Downtown, Houston, 77002

Something is missing: Reader Jamie Guidry snapped this shot of overcast Downtown this morning, noting that “a big chunk of 1010 Lamar” appears to be absent. The breached facade is shown here from the south, from the circular GreenStreet pedestrian bridge over Fannin. (A permit was issued on December 9th for the remodel of an upper-story suite of the office building, but a representative from permittee R.L. Hart Construction confirms that it has nothing to do with the hole.)

1010 Lamar was one of the properties snapped up in 2007 by Texas office space tycoon Zaya Younan, along with the former Sakowitz department store building (currently a parking garage) across the street at 1111 Main.

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DIY Window Office
12/18/15 9:45am

dgn Factory, 1001 Fannin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Deep beneath First City Tower, something is lightly frying — Indian fast-casual joint DGN Factory, previously known by its less-coy former moniker The Dosa Factory, is now serving the no-longer-titular stuffed crepes and other South Indian vegetarian staples at its newly opened counter in the tunnel below 1001 Fannin St., 4 blocks west of Discovery Green.

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