04/25/17 4:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE THAT DAYS INN TOWER FALLS ON THE HOUSTON ABANDONED HOTEL SPECTRUM Former Holiday Inn, Days Inn, and Heaven on Earth Plaza Hotel, 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. at Travis St., Downtown Houston“As much as I would prefer to see a building like this having some kind of economic use or value in its function, as long as it is not inviting of crime or danger, I don’t have issue with a building just sitting there — that is the owner’s prerogative. (Remember the Sheraton-Lincoln hotel? It sat vacant for years, graffiti-less and fully windowed; no one would have given it a second thought driving by.) In the past few months, the graffiti has exploded, and more and more windows are being broken out. I don’t know what happens when you smash a window 300 feet in the air, but I’m pretty sure those pieces come raining down near and around the building and onto the street. The owners need to do their part to keep the building secured to prevent the criminal activity, and prosecute the trespassers and vandals. Otherwise they are no better than the owners of the Southwest Inn.” [tmr, commenting on Downtown’s Preeminent Dilapidated Hotel Tower Now Outfitted To Greet I-45ers with New Nametags, Fewer Window Panes] Photo: Bob Russell

04/24/17 11:00am

Demolition of Houston Chronicle Building 801 Texas Ave., Downtown Houston

That’s pretty much it for the surface-dwelling sections of the Houston Chronicle‘s former bundle of headquarters structures at 801 Texas Ave. — a reader captured the minor dustup above on Friday, and activity on the site is now mostly at or below ground level. Work to shore up the section of basement the district court ordered Hines’s Block 58 to leave behind (for tunnel use by Linbeck-controlled neighbor and plaintiff Theater Square) was mostly wrapped up last fall, according to some December court filings.

Other documents filed as part of the case show that the legal compromise set up last summer (which allowed the demo of the Chronicle building to go forward after all) has hit a few bumps since then: Theater Square filed a motion to find Block 58 in contempt of court late last year, and a trial appears to be scheduled for June.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Texas Ave. Tunnel Tussle
04/21/17 2:00pm

Former Holiday Inn, Days Inn, and Heaven on Earth Plaza Hotel, 801 St. Joseph Pkwy. at Travis St., Downtown Houston

Artist and regular neck craner Bob Russell took a moment this week to capture the various works currently on display to Pierce Elevated drivers on the south side of the 30-story highrise at 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy. (former host of a variety of hotels and Vedic teaching initiatives before the building entered its more recent era of abandonment and creeping decrepitude). The uptick in broken windows in the last few months doesn’t appear to have much of a connection to the most recent plans for the stripping and remodeling of the building back into some flavor of hotel, as proposed this time around by SFK Development. As far as other signs of change, the name scrawled across the facade’s central panels has been edited since another tipster’s drive-by back in February:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

04/20/17 3:30pm

BART TRUXILLO, 1942-2017 Brewery Tap, 717 Franklin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002In 2006, the former brewery structure now hosting the Magnolia Ballroom was the first building in Houston to get protected landmark status — and was not the last, probably thanks in part to the life work of its restorer. Bart Truxillo bought the then-vacant building on the edge of Market Square in the late sixties, not too long before buying and restoring the crumbling Queen Anne Mansfield house in the Heights; both structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Truxillo later helped found what’s today known as Preservation Houston, and start the organization’s Good Brick Awards during the demolition-rich years of Houston’s first oil boom, as Lisa Gray notes today in the Chronicle; after years of work restoring historic buildings around town and serving a bunch of other history-minded groups, he died yesterday at age 74. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Magnolia Ballroom building on Franklin St.: Brewery Tap HTX

04/18/17 11:30am

Demo of Elysian St. Viaduct, Near Northside/Downtown, Houston, 77002

The rapidly disappearing elevated segment of Elysian St. pointing north out of Downtown is the latest aging roadway structure to be crumbled apart, though it won’t be the last. But death is a natural part of the Houston roadway cycle! And a healthier, brawnier replacement viaduct is planned to take its place along roughly the same right-of-way — this one with broad shoulders and a sidewalk. TxDOT spokesman Danny Perez told Houston Public Media‘s Gail DeLaughter last month that work on the new structure, which connects Downtown to Near Northside by funneling drivers over Buffalo Bayou and I-10, should start before the demo of the mile-and-a-half-long original wraps up.

hunched excavator was spotted helping to bring the aging bridge down from above:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Traffic Cycles in Near Northside
04/06/17 3:15pm

THE TUNNEL BENEATH THE DEAD CHRONICLE BUILDING IS NOW OPEN AGAIN Capitol Tower Tunnel MapManagement for 717 Texas (or Calpine Center, if you’re less of a fan of numerically-forward tower vernacular) just sent out word that the tunnel from that building to Chase Tower at 600 Travis St. is now open again. The route takes a turn beneath the pretty-much-done demo of the newly former Houston Chronicle headquarters, evidently still slated by Hines for surface-lotdom for now — plus whatever work the folks next door have planned below ground to tie their own development into the tunnel network. Meanwhile, another block southwest down the same tunnel system (as visible in the 90-degrees-or-so rotated schematic above), Skanska has just signaled the go-ahead on the above-ground section of its Capitol Tower; no word yet on whether that construction will have another round of tunnel closure associated with it. [Previously on Swamplot] Map of Downtown tunnel connections: Skanska

04/04/17 2:30pm

Ragin' Cajun tunnel location beneath 930 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Ragin' Cajun tunnel location beneath 930 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002Ragin’ Cajun, likely Downtown’s most subterranean crawfish vendor, is packing up and crawling out of the tunnels beneath the McKinney Place Garage at 930 Main St., a reader notes this week. (That’ll leave its French-Quarter-evocative retail space open for more underground restaurant turnover; the garage most recently saw the swapout of a Prince’s Hamburgers branch for Time for Thai, amid other nearby culinary tunnel shuffles). The shop’s other locations are still open, per signage left behind at the scene.

Photos: Dave

Crawfish Digout
03/30/17 9:45am

Demolition of Houston Chronicle Building 801 Texas Ave., Downtown Houston

With this latest photo dispatch from the southeast corner of Milam and Prairie, Swamplot reader Brie Kelman adds the latest chapter to her ongoing chronicle of the disappearance of the former Houston Chronicle headquarters complex from Downtown. In the month since her last report, 4 or more stories have been taken down from the structure facing Prairie St.; there’s now just a single story left. Not even a complete story, even. Just a few scenes:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Time for the Kicker
03/29/17 4:30pm

BIG I-45 DOWNTOWN REROUTING, GRAND PARKWAY EXPANSION GET GO-AHEADS Proposed Changes to I-45, I-10, and I-69, HoustonYesterday was a big day for Houston freeway expansion and reconfiguration: On Tuesday, the Texas Transportation Commission gave the go-ahead for construction to begin in late 2020 on the first of 7 separate projects that will move I-45 from the west and south sides of Downtown to its east side, paralleling U.S. 59 behind the George R. Brown, reports Chron transportation writer Dug Begley. Separately, the commission also selected design and construction crews for the next segment of the Grand Parkway, from I-69 near New Caney to I-10 east of Baytown. How grand that section of the Grand Parkway actually ends up being may depend on your perspective: This segment of the Houston area’s fourth ring road is expected to cost $1.25 billion and open in 2022 — but the tollway will have only a single lane in each direction. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Diagram of I-45 rerouting: TxDOT  

03/27/17 1:00pm

Centerfield, Minute Maid Park, Houston

Astros historian Mike Acosta, among others, has posted pics of the new Tacolandia beyond the newly reshaped centerfield wall of Minute Maid Park. Tal’s Hill, the former outfield bump that ramped up the wall, has been gone for months now, but reconstruction of other areas around the wall appears to be still ongoing. Serving burgers and tacos on the pictured mezzanine level in homerunville will be a new Shake Shack and Torchy’s, respectively. The wall, 2 additional food-service options, 3 more bars, and a new Astros-memorabilia store in the rehabbed outfield are expected to be ready for opening day next Monday.

Fans attending weigh-ins for the Geico Bassmaster Classic at the Astros’ stadium over the weekend got peeks at the final stages of construction; photos posted to Twitter this morning indicate progress overnight, as well as the new 409-ft. sign (discounted by 27 ft. from the former centerfield distance) and a plastic-ivy Astros insignia above it serving as a batter’s eye, in all its topiary-like glory:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Torchy’s, Shake Shack, Home Runs
03/24/17 10:45am

The Hamilton apartments, Downtown, Houston, 77002

Say, how’d those midrise apartments nestling delicately into the northernmost armpit of the 45-59 exchange turn out, anyway? An accessory to a Midtown drive-by past the scene sends a fresh shot of the finished product and its The Hamilton nametag, taken from the ramp that sends northbound 45-ers onto the potentially doomed Pierce Elevated. Construction started in 2014 and just wrapped in the fall as leasing started up.

Only the top 2 and a half of the complex’s 5 residential stories (never mind the parking podium levels below that) can peek over the railing of the freeway on the southern side of the structure, providing scenic views both to and of any loiterers on the building’s uppermost southern balconies. Spencer Moore of FancyHoustonApartments.com even took the time to share the experience of staring down drivers on the closest ramp:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Hamilton Now Showing
03/22/17 4:30pm

Crane at under-construction Capitol Tower, Capitol St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Another shot of that crane that took to the air this weekend by the economy-stalled stub of Skanska’s Capitol Tower comes from a reader peering over the site’s parking structure from Rusk St. yesterday. (That’s the neighboring Chase Tower looming over the scene in the background.) Bank of America was outed as being in talks with Skanska about leasing space in the tower (which might add the bank’s current home in Bank of America Center to the list of recent abandonments of Downtown office towers by their namesake tenants). The other sign of life on the site this year was the addition of a street-level mural to the parking garage’s corner, which was dry in time for the Super Bowl last month:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Sprouting Downtown
03/08/17 11:00am

Closed restaurants in 811 Louisiana tunnels, 811 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

Closed restaurants in 811 Louisiana tunnels, 811 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The latest report from Swamplot’s anonymous tunnel correspondent indicates that neighboring Asian fast casual and counter spots Thai Spice and Sidewalk Cafe appear to have both closed in the tunnel beneath 811 Louisiana (also previously and variously known as Two Shell Plaza or 777 Walker. Signage from the building’s management folks went up by the end of February, and the Thai Spice branch’s phone number is now out of service as well. An outdated leasing flier still up on the 811 Louisiana LoopNet page shows the layout of the spaces amid the rest of the tunnel stretch, between the Esperson building and the tower at 611 Walker:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Out and About Downtown
03/07/17 11:00am

Tree drama at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002Tree drama at Allen's Landing, Downtown, Houston, 77002

The ongoing saga of the Allen’s Landing trees coming down recently in bits and pieces — apparently the handiwork of an elusive Buffalo Bayou beaver or 2 — has come to a likely end with the non-rodent-assisted removal of the final stumps, Swamplot’s semi-regular Franklin St. correspondent and wildlife tipster notes. But life around the White Oak-Buffalo confluence goes on! Spring is here, which means the ducks have been out and about, while the cranes are busy pulling fledgling parking garage superstructures up into the air:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Didn’t Leave It To Beavers
02/27/17 5:00pm

TXDOT TO PIERCE ELEVATED: YOUR YEARS ARE NUMBERED, PROBABLY pierce-street-45-downtownPending a vote next month by the Texas Transportation Committee, some early-stage projects connected to TxDOT’s plan to reroute I-45 and the whole downtown freeway exchange system could be getting started a few years sooner than TxDOT officials initially thought they would, Dug Begley writes in the Chronicle. (Those early stages include the reworking of the bottleneck on northbound US-59 where Spur 527 now peels off 2 of the freeway’s lanes just before SH 288 merges into the mix.) The first few projects “are incremental compared to the overall plan,” writes Begley, but “officials say [the projects] are important and send the clear message: The I-45 freeway is relocating and the elevated portion along Pierce will be abandoned and maybe demolished within the next dozen years. . . .Work on revamping the freeway intersections is slated for late 2020 or early 2021.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pierce Elevated: Russell Hancock