11/05/18 11:30am

Chevron made some strikingly real 3D changes to the fake 3D facade of the old Houston Press building last week, bringing it closer to total collapse. The photos above — shot over the weekend from the YMCA catty corner to the scene — show Suzanne E. Sellers’ 1994 trompe-l’œil additions to the building’s east face no longer fooling anyone, though a few sections of her work on that side and off Leeland St. remain intact.

Nothing’s crumbled yet on the unpainted, Pease-St. side:

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Illusions Shattered
10/26/18 5:15pm

 

Note: This story has been updated to indicate that City Council’s October 23 vote approved funding for previous work that was already completed on the plaza, not for future renovations.

This week Houston City Council voted to cut a check to workers that finished the first round of renovations on the plaza. The results of their work  — including new fencing, gates, and a terrace — clear the way for the second chapter of redos to begin. The video at top winds it way through round 2 of changes, showing off the new children’s reading area, stage, and outdoor seating bound for the 0.75-acre space between the Jesse H. Jones Building (AKA Central Library) and the Julia Ideson building directly east of it.

While 25-year naming rights are already locked down on the Phillips 66 Jumbo Video Screen (on the right in the rendering abvoe) and Janice and Robert C. McNair Performance Stage (left), the puppet theater depicted below is still in need of a namesake:

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Downtown Redo
10/26/18 10:30am

THE CASE AGAINST THE HOUSTON FORENSIC SCIENCE CENTER’S SHARED OFFICE SETUP Last month, leaders of the Center told Houston City Council their 200-plus person staff just isn’t fitting in at HPD’s downtown offices in 1200 Travis, pictured above. For one thing: “Technicians test guns by firing live ammunition on the 24th floor,” which neighbors offices above and below, reports the Chronicle‘s Zach Despart. They also “transport evidence upstairs in public elevators.Although “shortcomings in the Houston Police Department’s own crime lab” were what prompted the city to found the Center as an independent body in 2014, the agencies’ ongoing closeness tends to raise eyebrows: “You walk into HPD’s headquarters on the way to the laboratory,” says Center president Peter Stout. The good news: their proximity is only temporary. Earlier this month, City Council approved a new 30-year lease for the Center at 500 Jefferson — a privately-owned building 9 blocks away — where it’ll get 83,000 sq.-ft. for “toxicology, DNA testing, fingerprint analysis and narcotics storage,” as well as a 25-ft. firing range in the basement, reports Jasper Scherer. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 1200 Travis St.: WhisperToMe

10/25/18 3:30pm

With the former Shelor Motor Company building at 1621 Milam St. all but doomed to meet the wrecking ball, historian Stephen Fox digs through some old Chronicle clips to remind us that there’s still a few other old car dealerships lurking down south in Midtown. Sure, they may not be as pedigreed as the ill-fated building to the north, but get this: One of them still sells cars! It’s Midtown Cadillac at the corner of Main and McGowen streets, shown at top. Architect Harvin C. Moore — the brains behind more than 84 homes in River Oaks, as well as Rice University’s chapel — designed it for Sam White Oldsmobile (pictured above), which opened inside in the early 1950s, according to Fox. Sam White and its successor Rice-Menger occupied the building until 1985. It’s been a Cadillac dealership since Don Massey took it over in 1999, followed by Stewart and then Central in 2012.

Catty corner to it, Midtown seafood spot REEF was originally a dealership, too. Built in 1952, the building opened as Smith Chevrolet Co.:

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Inner-Loop Auto Lore
10/22/18 2:45pm

A SATURDAY NIGHT SWAN SONG AT SPRUCE GOOSE: SOCIAL FLYERS CLUB This past weekend was the last one ever for the concert venue known as Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club on the second floor of 809 Congress, across from Market Square Park and directly above Henke and Pillot. The 100- to 300-person club only opened up earlier this year, but managed to stay booked through the summer and all the way up until its finale on Saturday, which featured — among others — self-described “Punkish?” band Branagan, shown sending things off in the photo above. [Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club] Photo: Branagan

10/19/18 10:00am

“Houston must have looked huge to Lyndon Johnson as he drove toward it across the flat Gulf plains in his battered little car,” writes Robert Caro in his biography of the former president. Johnson’s destination: Sam Houston High School (shown at top), which opened in 1921 in place of the even-older Central High School on the block bounded by Austin, Rusk, Caroline, and Capitol — the same spot where the new Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is now “90 percent complete,according to Paper City’s Annie Gallay.

Hired to teach public speaking and coach the debate team, Johnson — writes Caro — promised his new principal he’d win the state championship. He didn’t, coming in second at the tournament in Austin. Still, Johnson had succeeded in making a name for himself among staff — who gave him a $100 raise and a contract for the next school year — and among the school’s 1,800 students — who jockeyed for enrollment in “Mr. Johnson’s speech class” during the following school year. By the end of LBJ’s first full year at Sam Houston, reports Caro, enrollment had increased from 60 to 110 new students.

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Sam Houston High to HSPVA
10/16/18 11:15am

CHASE BANK CLOSING IN THE TOWER THAT BEARS ITS NAME December 13 is the last business day at Chase’s Chase Tower branch. The bank — which a portion of the lobby shown beyond Joan Miró’s Personage and Birds sculpture in the photo above — is following in the footsteps of the upstairs Chase employees who left in 2006 when the corporation moved its offices out of the building and lost the naming rights to it, reports the Chronicle’s John C. Roper. The nearest branch: in the former Gulf Building at 712 Main St., on the block catty-corner southeast of the Chase Tower. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: 42 Floors

10/10/18 4:00pm

Nancy Sarnoff has a few more details today on what the Downtown Redevelopment Authority will be paying the private owner of the area shown shaded at top — which wouldn’t give up its one-acre parcel there for a new park but will grant the Authority a 30-year lease for: “$355,992 in annual rent,” during the first 5 years, a spokeswoman says, with a 10 percent hike every 5 years thereafter. With that agreement in place — and the Goodyear Auto Service Center that currently occupies the block’s Fannin-St.-side slated for demo next April — the Authority is now seeking plans from landscape architects that’d be responsible for designing the space, though it notes that whatever the chosen firm comes up with “will have a potentially short life, between 30 and 50 years, per the lease agreement currently in place and options to extend.” (The parking lot shown without shading belongs to the South Texas College of Law and is there to stay.)

But that hasn’t stopped those involved from dreaming big while they can. A conceptual map of the park drawn up Project for Public Spaces — a New York planning firm hired to brainstormed some preliminary ideas for the Authority — shows it divvied up among a pair of buildings and a variety of different green spaces including a dog park:

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Block 333
10/03/18 5:00pm

WHO PUSHED THE BUTTON THAT BLEW UP THE DOWNTOWN MACY’S According to the Vice President of Demolition at Cherry Companies, which oversaw the demo: “the person who bought the building had his son do it.” His push triggered 1,500 pounds of explosives — the demo exec estimates on the Chronicle’s latest episode of LoopedInobliterating the structure and clearing the way for the 23-floor Hilcorp Energy Tower his dad would later commission Hines to build in its place at Dallas and Main St. Although technically a partnership connected to Doug Kelly, president of Hilcorp Ventures, “bought” the building around the time of the teardown in 2013, it was more of a shuffling-around than a hand-off. Hilcorp had already owned the former Foley’s since 2010; the later transaction just transferred it over to different entity under the same umbrella of corporate oversight. [Previously on Swamplot]

10/03/18 10:30am

Crews have begun tearing into the building 4 blocks north of the Pierce Elevated formally known as U-Haul Moving and Storage of Midtown at San Jacinto in order to replace it with a new storage building nearly 8 times larger. About half the existing structure is down now thanks to the excavator that foregrounds the SkyHouse Main apartment building in the photo at top. Still standing: the entrance ramp to U-Haul’s rooftop parking lot — from which a fleet of orange trucks took off sometime before construction fencing surrounded the 28,376-sq.-ft. building late last month.

The new, 220,160-sq.-ft. facility could extend partly into the adjacent surface parking lot along Leeland St. according to plans the developer filed with the county earlier this year. Whether or not it does, most of the extra space will show up vertically in the form of something much taller than the 2-story that’s now crumbling at 1617 San Jacinto.

Photos: Eric Ramon (demolition); U-Haul (building)

Be Right Back
09/13/18 1:00pm

A FINAL FAREWELL TO THE FORMER HOUSTON PRESS BUILDING The former alternative newspaper HQ at 1621 Milam St. that’s also done stints as an auto dealership will be demolished, reports the Chronicle’s Craig Hlavaty.  Back when the Houston Press moved into it 15 years ago, the structure’s parking-lot sides were unadorned; artist Suzanne E. Sellers slapped her trompe-l’œil mural onto the north and east facades in 1994. Along Milam, however, things haven’t changed as much since the building’s first tenant Shelor Motor Company opened up in the ’20s — according to former Press staffer Abrahán Garza. Even its original 1920s glass windows — he reported — stayed put on the second and third floors through 2010. Now construction barriers are up around the whole block, and the property owner Chevron tells Hlavaty that a demolition permit is under review by the city. The oil company bought the 38,000-sq.-ft. structure in 2013, the same year Houston Press staff left it for a new spot on the corner of La Branch and McGowen. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Capital Realty  

08/24/18 1:45pm

The brick Western Union building shown in black and white on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets vanished from the downtown landscape in 1983 — although it didn’t go anywhere. Because the longtime regional switching center was too expensive to move, architect Philip Johnson simply designed his much larger landmark — then-called RepublicBank Center Center — around it, sealing the telecom structure off from public view. Inside the skyscraper’s lobby, the dead building takes up nearly a quarter of the floor space, with its west corner wedged into the Bank of America Center’s own, catty-corner to Jones Hall.

Last year, renovations were announced to add a new restaurant and cafe in the doorless and windowless portion of the Bank of America Center’s ground floor where the building is entombed. Crews began stripping away portions of the office building’s exterior earlier this year in order to make room for new openings to access the eateries. They’ve now busted all the way through the red granite, revealing the decades-older facade that lies behind it.

It’s still mostly obscured by the scaffolding that looms over the Capitol St. sidewalk :

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Seeing the Light
08/20/18 2:30pm

The title of artist Joan Dodd’s new composition 88 Keys undersells it — it’s actually 275 keys, more than 3 times the amount found on a piano. Installation artists laid them down along the rounded east west side of Jones Hall over the weekend. Constructed from 900 pounds worth of temporary marking tape  — the kind commonly used on highways — they now span the entire block of Louisiana between Texas Ave. and Capitol St.

That material choice means they can really take a pounding from anyone who feels like stomping out a silent melody with their feet while heading south to check out the Bank of America Center’s ongoing renovations. Or those lured in by the glow of the Lyric Center parking garage’s new lighting, pictured off in the distance below:

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Sidewalk Chromaticism
08/15/18 10:15am

A CURTAIN CALL FOR THE HIDDEN WESTERN UNION BUILDING BEFORE BANK OF AMERICA CENTER DIGESTS IT? With workers now punching holes in the facade where the Bank of America Center wraps the dead Western Union building it swallowed in 1983, city planner David Welch asks the question: “Will we be able to see the hidden building during construction?” It should be hard to miss; according to one Swamplot reader: “It is completely intact, tar and gravel roof included.” Size-wise, it takes up nearly a quarter of the B of A building’s ground floor, its northeast corner wrapped by the skyscraper’s own at Lousiana and Capitol streets — where the new openings are taking shape now. But its emergence may be brief: Once the planned new restaurant and cafe get situated inside it, the structure’s time-capsule mystique will be gone. And after new interior entrances open its innards to the tower’s own central lobby corridor, the telegram building will be completely metabolized. [David Welch; previously on Swamplot] Photo: David Welch

08/14/18 10:00am

Crews are now coating the garage on the corner of Travis and Rusk with strips of glass curtain wall similar to those seen on its much taller neighbor to the north, the Capitol Tower. While the 35-story office building got its exterior finish soon after topping out in April, the garage — built 2 years earlier — was left naked. It took over from the former Houston Club garage Skanska expanded and then demolished on the block in 2015.

Even after construction wrapped up, the new parking structure viewed below from Milam still looked mostly like this:

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