08/21/17 11:15am

Events that took place overnight at the University of Texas in Austin may have repercussions for Houston: Workers under cover of darkness removed 2 statues of Confederate generals and one of a Confederate government official from prominent display on campus. University president Gregory Fenves announced that the bronze statues would be relocated to the university’s Briscoe Center for American History — after events in Charlottesville last weekend made it “clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.

The statues depicted Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate postmaster John H. Reagan. A fourth statue, of former Texas governor “Big Jim” Hogg — also known as dad to the developers of River Oaks and to Houston matriarch Ima Hogg — was also taken down, according to a university spokesperson only because it was part of the set (2 years ago, a likeness of former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson that was symmetrical with another statue moved to the Briscoe Center, that of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, was taken from the main mall and put in storage.) According to reports, the sole remaining statue on either the UT main or south mall depicts George Washington.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Down in Austin
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

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.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Acts as an Air Filter, Too
07/27/17 3:45pm

COMMENTS OF THE DAY: WHEN HOUSTON JEWELRY WRAPPED A SHINY BAND AROUND A COUPLE OF DOWNTOWN BUILDINGS AT 720 RUSK “We bought this building from Star Furniture in 1966 and operated in it until 1983 when we were offered a very generous price at the top of the market. After we left the building stayed empty until the Subway opened. . . . This is how the building looked when it was remodeled by architect Arnold Hendler in 1966.” [Rex Solomon, commenting on Downtown Houston Is Now Down To A Single Street-Level Subway] Photo: Houston Jewelry

07/26/17 4:30pm

SWEET MESQUITE REBIRTHING IN RAGIN’ CAJUN’S ABANDONED UNDERGROUND LAIR BELOW MAIN A sign advertising a new Sweet Mesquite Grill has appeared in the tunnel-facing storefront under the McKinney Place Garage where Ragin’ Cajun shut down a few months ago. The spot below 930 Main St. Downtown is scheduled to open in a month as a Sweet Mesquite do-over. The restaurant in the shopping center at 1570 S. Dairy Ashford near Briar Forest Dr. was a Sweet Mesquite Grill before it became Mesquite Cottage; the new tunnel location henceforth will be the only Sweet Mesquite Grill in town, but is expected to be a bit of a reboot from the original. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

07/10/17 3:30pm

There appears to be some uh . . . work being done to a few of the (long-time-since-they’ve-been-rented) rooms at the former Downtown Days Inn building at 801 St. Joseph Pkwy., also known as Houston’s last remaining (for now) abandoned skyscraper. Look at the lowest level of windows above the parking garage in the top photo. See how the windows appear to be busted out —in a way that’s maybe somewhat different from how many of the other windows are busted out? A somewhat systematic regime of glass removal appears to be working its way up the building’s southern façade, according to a quick comparison of the shot at top, taken today, and this one, from a slightly different angle, taken almost exactly a month earlier:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Windows Ate
06/26/17 12:00pm

What wonders wait in the secret rooftop garden that appears to be peeking over the edge of the highrise at 801 Saint Joseph Pkwy.? Reader and city sleuth Rachel Dvoretzky spotted a handful of leafy protrusions from the former hotel, Vedic school, and ambiguous combination thereof, most recently converted to a Days Inn prior to its slide into further dilapidation. The ever-changing graffiti veneer presented to passing Pierce Elevated drivers has seen some changes since April, too:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Between Heaven and Heaven on Earth
06/20/17 2:00pm

Here’s a shot from a recent hard-hat tour of the Hotel Alessandra, under construction on a corner of the GreenStreet don’t-call-it-a-mall Downtown. The view hints at what a poolside scene might look like when the hotel opens in October, though not exactly: Marlowe, the 20-story Randall Davis Company condo seen rising in the left background (in front of the Hilton Americas), should look a bit less stubbly stubby by then.

Next, a few pics from the Alessandra lobby, highlighting the swervy ceiling:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

And Other Sneak Peeks
06/16/17 11:30am

If you’re just coming up to speed on the whole food hall thing, remember this: It’s not a food court, it’s a food hall. And in the case of Bravery Chef Hall, planned for a 9,000-sq.-ft. space in the ground floor of the Aris Market Square tower Hines is completing at the corner of Preston and Travis Downtown, it’s not just a food hall but “the world’s first chef hall.” Or, as the founders explain, “a curated food hall where all vendors are operated and owned by chefs, employing only cooks, and where a large percentage of the seats are chef counter seating.” So maybe think of it as a huddle of 5 independently operated chef’s tables, each surrounding an open kitchen, in one streetfront retail space. (Plus additional adjacent seating — and outside, a patio garden and sidewalk café dining space totaling 3,000 sq. ft.)

How real is this thing? Well, it’s coming from the team behind the Conservatory, Downtown’s only other currently operating food hall (as well as Prohibition Supperclub and its accompanying Oyster Bar) — and yesterday the Downtown Management District approved a $140,000 “catalytic retail grant” towards the estimated $1.8 million buildout.

Here’s a peek at the construction currently going on in the space:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Bravery Chef Hall
06/08/17 11:30am

THE PIERCE ELEVATED SKYPARK PLAN ISN’T DEAD YET “You can’t just wait until the day that TxDOT asks you what to do with it,” Tami Merrick tells Stephen Paulsen in the Houston Press this morning, in reference to her involvement with the small group working toward publishing an economic study some time next year of those speculative plans to turn the Pierce Elevated into the Pierce Skypark. The segment of I-45 may ultimately be torn down so the right-of-way can be sold, once the planned spaghetti-riffic Downtown freeway reroute wraps up in a decade or so. But Paulsen writes that the planning group is nonetheless optimistic about getting a foot in the door when the moment is right: “At some point, the Pierce Elevated will stop serving cars. And when it does, the group argues, why wouldn’t the city want an innovative, prearranged plan for the abandoned stretch of freeway?” [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of Pierce Elevated as a park: Page/Marcus Martinez via Pierce Skypark

05/19/17 5:15pm

 
It’s not clear yet whether there’s much more planned in the way of cosmetic changes for the Travis- and Commerce-facing sides of the new parking garage being wrapped up now at the corner of Franklin and Milam streets. (That’d be the 2 sides, shown above, that didn’t get the skirt of fake windows and storefronts along the sidewalk level, meant to help the building “blend in” with its surrounding Main Street Market Square Historical District companions.)  A reader checking up on the structure from a nook in the nearby Bayou Lofts building tells Swamplot that the crane used to construct the garage was removed in the last few weeks; the photo up top was snapped before that happened.

Okay — so the 2 flat concrete sides may blow the garage’s cover for building sleuths peering over from Main St. or Buffalo Bayou. But the lack of disguise does leave very little standing in the way of some kind of later jazzing up, whether that’s commissioned or not.

Images: Michael Partney (photo); Powers & Brown (rendering)

Straight Up Downtown
05/19/17 10:30am

ELYSIAN VIADUCT WORK UNEARTHS HISTORIC HOUSTON HERITAGE TRASH PILE The real value of the long-buried dump uncovered by the ongoing replacement of the Elysian St. bridge over I-10 and Buffalo Bayou, write Doug Boyd and Jason Barrett this week in the Chronicle, is in the opportunity it provides “to document the often-unwritten parts of our industrial heritage.” The dump, apparently built up over the early half of the 1900s in a former gully, serves as a springboard for the authors to talk trashHouston, they write, was one of the first cities to adopt widespread municipal garbage incineration, and lagged decades behind as most cities chose to stop doing it out of concern for public healthSpots like the one under Elysian St., they add, help fill in the gaps of knowledge of what happened to all the other trash that didn’t end up in a city incinerator or landfill — and who tended to live nearby. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot]  Photos: Adam J Williams

05/15/17 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: LAY OFF THOSE FLOODED UNDERGROUND FREEWAYS, THEY’RE JUST DOING THEIR JOB “Trenched roads include sumps that are capable of keeping the roadways from flooding from ordinary rain events, but are designed to become flooded in an emergency, acting as additional stormwater detention. Every cubic foot of stormwater that goes in there is a cubic foot that isn’t at the same elevation as city streets, businesses, and houses. It is a feature, not a bug.” [TheNiche, commenting on Watch as Unfunded Parks Appear on Top of Houston Freeways Before Your Very Eyes!]

05/15/17 10:15am

DOWNTOWN TO GET A SECOND FOOD HALL, THIS TIME ABOVE GROUND The former Gulf Oil building at 712 Main St. (now the JPMorgan Chase bulding, currently getting made over along with its nextdoor companion-in-rebranding as The Jones on Main) will get a new food hall, a rep from Lionstone announced last week. Greg Morago reports in the Chronicle that Midway and Lionstone are still seeking vendors for the space (and that the current name, The Food Hall on Main, will probably change). The hall will take up about 20,000 sq. ft. of the Chase building’s lobby, making it about 3 times larger than the leafy Conservatory that opened last spring some 2 blocks away — one of the few parts of Downtown’s underground food scene open after daytime business hours. The revamp to the pair of buildings will also include an art deco cocktail lounge. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 712 Main St.: elnina via Swamplot Flickr pool