01/13/17 12:30pm

CITY-WIDE DRAINAGE SWAT TEAM POSSIBLY BANKROLLED BY HEIGHTS WATERWORKS SALE Draft SWAT project mapMayor Turner announced plans for a dramatically monikered Storm Water Action Team at this week’s council meeting, along with 22 projects at the top the program’s initial list, based on metrics of urgency like frequency of 311 calls. The goal of the program is to deal with non-bayou-centric flooding issues like collapsed culverts and junk-clogged drainage ditches; flood czar Steve Costello said after the council meeting that the city wants to resolve the fixable issues at each site within 90 days of a site visit and initial drainage triage. Meagan Flynn writes this week that the $10 million currently budgeted for the program comes mostly from a one-time sale of city land; that land might well be the Heights Waterworks properties at W. 20th and Nicholson streets, which were sold to apartmenteer Alliance in mid-December for a reported $15.2 million. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Draft map of 22 SWAT project locations: City of Houston SWAT program materials

12/02/16 1:45pm

CITY WANTS TO CREATE HISTORIC DISTRICT TO PROTECT WHAT’S LEFT OF FREEDMEN’S TOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT Following last month’s sudden brick relocation incident, Mayor Turner has announced a plan to make a plan to create a “cultural district in Freedmen’s Town — one that would preserve historic churches, schools, and homes,” as Andrew Schneider describes it this week. A section of the Fourth Ward roughly bounded by W. Gray, W. Dallas, Genessee, and Arthur streets has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1985 as the Freedmen’s Town Historic District — but that national designation didn’t provide much local protection to the area’s architecture, and many of the buildings listed in the district’s nomination form to the register have since been demolished. Archi-historian Stephen Fox told Claudia Feldman back in February that a city of Houston historic district designation, however, would be different; Fox noted that “it might require gerrymandering to pick up the proper concentration of historic buildings. But it could be done.” [Houston Public Media and Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Freedmen’s Town Historic District sign: Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition

07/15/16 3:30pm

Montrose at Main, ca. 1925 from Preservation Houston archives

Mecom Fountain in front of Hotel ZaZa, Main and Montrose, Houston

The elliptical roundabout where Main and Montrose come together has gotten a bit taller since the scene showed in the photo above (which the archivist activists at Preservation Houston dug out of their files this week). The photo shows the sunken garden that once occupied the space at the acute intersection; the Museum of Fine Arts building can be seen lurking behind a few trees in the background, flanked to the left by the long-gone Montrose Apartments. A trail of mid-1920s automobiles can be seen caravaning northeast alongside Main St.’s spacious esplanades toward a sparsely-towered Downtown.

The fountain (which was recently granted protected historic landmark status after its crowdfunded de-restoration) replaced the gardens in the 1960s when John Mecom built redid the Warwick Hotel nearby (shown in the second photo above in its more recent but still storied reincarnation as Hotel ZaZa). Below is a look straight up now-well-treed Montrose Blvd. from southeast of the fountains, along Hermann Park’s rail-sliced Grand Gateway corridor — that’s the 5000 Montrose condo tower on the left, and the Museum Tower on the right:


Growing Up at Montrose at Main
06/29/16 3:45pm

Mecom Fountain from COH
2120 Sabine St., First Ward, Houston, 77007This morning the city announced that it’s giving protected historic landmark status to the Mecom Fountain, in the wake of this year’s partial tuscanization of the 1960s mod landmark (and subsequent crowdfunded reversal thereof). All that bright blue primer has been cocooned over, and full de-restoration was scheduled to be finished by the end of last month.

Also getting the same protective status bump today: the 1883 house at 2120 Sabine St., formerly the First Ward home of state representative August von Haxthausen, who in the late 1800s ran Houston’s German language newspaper the Texas Deutsche Zeitung. That house got its own (more permanently) colorful restoration in 2015 — below are some close-up photos of the newly-technicolor wraparound porch from a previous listing of the property on HAR:


Colorful Histories
06/27/16 12:15pm

COUNTY WANTS TO FILL IN THE ASTRODOME’S FLOOD LEVELS WITH PARKING AstrodomeThere are still no set plans for what will eventually happen to the Astrodome, but the county is already gearing up to work on the parking situation. Tomorrow the county commissioners court will look over an engineering report on plans to raise the main floor of the structure (which currently sits some 30 feet below the surrounding grade) and stick a 2-story 1,400-space parking garage beneath it. The meeting’s agenda indicates that approvals on specifics for the roughly $105 million plan won’t be put to a vote until September; a spokesman for county judge Ed Emmett also tells Mihir Zaveri that no construction would start until after the Super Bowl, regardless of approval. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

06/13/16 3:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO CLOTHE INDECENT EXPOSURE OF HOUSTON’S CONFEDERATE TIES Spirit of the Confederacy Statue, 1000 Bagby St., Downtown, Houston, TX 77002“Build a museum around it. Stop erasing our shameful past and start putting it in context.” [Memebag, commenting on Downtown’s Naked Confederate Birdman Unflapped By Renamings] Photo of the Spirit of the Confederacy statue in Sam Houston Park: Gabrielle Banks

06/10/16 11:00am

Spirit of the Confederacy Statue, 1000 Bagby St., Downtown, Houston, TX 77002

Spirit of the Confederacy Statue, 1000 Bagby St., Downtown, Houston, TX 77002Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks snaps a fresh photo of the Spirit of the Confederacy, the well-labeled century-old statue standing around by the lake on the west side of Sam Houston Park (near the split of Allen Pkwy. into Lamar and Walker streets downtown).  The statue’s placement was funded in 1908 by Houston’s still-active Robert E. Lee chapter of the national United Daughters of the Confederacy and is inscribed to “all heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states rights.” Despite the statue’s unambiguous Confederate sympathies and nearness to City Hall, the bronze statue has largely flown beneath the radar of the past year’s scrutiny of Houston school and street names.


Sam Houston Park
05/19/16 10:30am

Mecom Fountain de-restoration, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

The blue all over the Mecom Fountain on Monday signaled the start of the now-fully-funded work to undo the damage to the 1960s monument caused by the quickly-backtracked application of limestone panels to its exterior earlier this spring. Also on the docket, as the panel damage gets fully repaired: another restoration, this one using architect Eugene Werlin’s original plans (which the fundraising group Friends of the Fountain says it found in a Houston parks department office).

The group says workers are using historically appropriate materials, including Cocoon brand liquid polymer coating (to be layered over the blue primer on the exterior) and Moon Dust plaster (to line the insides of the basins). Here’s a look at parts of the 1964 architectural drawings, which call for Cocoon in the notes:


Drained on Main
04/29/16 5:00pm

Yale St. Bridge bricks being removed, Yale St. at I-10, Heights, Houston, 77007

An indiegogo page has just been launched to crowdfund the removal and reuse of an unexpectedly large group of well-preserved 1930s bricks from the now-under-deconstruction Yale St. bridge over White Oak Bayou. The group calling itself Friends of Houston’s Yale Bridge Bricks says the funds will be used to preserve the bricks for reuse both around the bridge and elsewhere around the city.

The fundraising effort shares some organizers with Friends of the Fountain, which launched the late-February campaign to crowdfund the de-restoration and subsequent repair of the Mecom Fountain following its short-lived experiment with limestone couture. That effort raised more than $50,000 toward a $60k goal in one month; Bill Baldwin (of both Friends groups) says it the fountain’s fundraiser received over $100k in total, including offline donations. This latest round of online crowdfunding the preservation of National Register of Historic Places structures is starting the bar higher, with a goal of $100,000 shown on the fundraising page.

Photo of work on Yale St. Bridge and Memorial Park Mattress Firm: Friends of Houston’s Yale Bridge Bricks

Follow the Yale Brick Road
04/12/16 5:15pm

Proposed street work, Fourth Ward, Houston, 77006

The presentation slides from last week’s meeting about the street and infrastructure work planned for Fourth Ward between W. Gray and Welch streets are now online — you have until May 6th to email the city about it, if you feel like doing so. The green lines show areas where 50-ft.-plus cross-sections are planned, with anywhere from 7 to 22 ft. of pedestrian space (mostly running 12-to-17 ft., in the not-to-scale drawings). Streets marked in light blue would range from 33 to 36 ft. wide, including only 1 sidewalk and a 2-ft. easement on the opposite side; areas marked in dark purple would also get 1 sidewalk, but both vehicle and pedestrian lanes would be several feet narrower (27 to 30 ft. in total).

The work skirts the southern edge of the not-quite-rectangular Freedmen’s Town National Historic District, which runs north-to-south roughly from W. Gray to W. Dallas St., and east-to-west from Gennessee St. as far west as Arthur St. in some places. Planned street and infrastructure work in that area is currently on hold due to the ongoing court case over preserving the remnants of brick roadways in the district, along parts of Wilson and Andrews streets. 


Hitting the Streets
03/08/16 10:00am

TREE PROFESSIONALS: PECAN AT 509 LOUISIANA ST. WOULD HAVE JUST DIED ANYWAY Pecan Tree formerly at 509 Louisiana St., Downtown, Houston, 77002The pecan tree formerly behind the former Longhorn Cafe on Louisiana St. is down at last, following the 100-plus-year-old buildings at 509 and 517 Louisiana into that Great Big Preservation District in the Sky. Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Chronicle reports that 2 arborists were called in to examine the tree, and pronounced it dead-or-close-enough: Lauren Lusk Willis, a member of the family that owns the next-door Lancaster Hotel, told the Chronicle that a lightning strike had damaged the tree, and that its core was rotting. Willis said that the pecan “would not likely have survived the leveling of the lot for any construction,” and that “ultimately, it wouldn’t have survived regardless.” The tree, haunted by a both-Sam-and-city-of Houston ghost story, was long visible only to those who entered 509 Louisiana’s hidden courtyard, until the pecan’s 2001 outing by the demo of the Rice Rittenhouse parking garage; it went back into hiding by the end of 2003 with the help of 33-story Calpine Center. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of the pecan tree, following demolition of 509 Louisiana St.: KineticD

02/26/16 10:15am

Mecom Fountain, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

A group called Friends of the Fountain has started an online campaign to raise $60,000 for reversing the recently-halted-after-all changes to the Mecom Fountain, at the roundabout confluence of Main St. and Montrose Blvd. near the entrance to Hermann Park. The group’s crowdfunding page says the money will be used to remove the limestone panels recently screwed around the concrete wall of the 1964 modernist fountain’s elliptical main basin, as well as to repair the concrete and to repaint. A member of Mayor Turner’s transition committee involved with the project also tells Swamplot this morning that around $25,000 of those funds will replace the grant money spent to add the panels in the first place.


In Reverse at the Roundabout
02/11/16 10:30am

Mecom Fountain with Limestone Paneling, Main at Montrose, Museum District, Houston, 77006

Here’s a late-afternoon look at the limestone slabs that have been working their way around the concrete oval basin of the Mecom Fountain in the last week, which the Texas Historical Commission is hoping that TXDoT and the city will stop applying for the moment, according to the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray. Commissioner Linda Henderson told Gray that the organization approved work to redo the north entrance to Hermann Park without realizing that the updates included work on the fountain itself (which is currently being looked at for potential inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and for city protected landmark status).

Meanwhile, the city planning department has been receiving complaints about the work that include phrases like “suburban mall,” Margaret Wallace tells the Chronicle. As of yesterday evening, the panels had already marched around both ends of the ellipse, with a gap remaining on the southwest side:


Getting Stoned at Main and Montrose
02/02/16 1:30pm

JUDGE EMMETT HAS AT LEAST 6 THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THE ASTRODOME Landscaping at the Astrodome, Reliant Park, Houston, 77054It’s time again this Groundhog Day afternoon for the County Judge’s annual State of the County address. Judge Emmett’s speech was slated to include 6 points about the State of the Astrodome (which, as Astros historian Mike Acosta notes, is now fence-free and getting some new landscaping, as pictured above). The points, as summarized by the Houston Chronicle: 1. The Dome is iconic and revered by ‘a large majority’ in the county. 2. The Dome belongs to Harris County and is fully paid for. Upkeep costs are minimal. 3. The Dome is structurally sound, but a major repurposing will cost hundreds of millions. 4. Anything done to alter the Dome must be approved by the Texas Historical Commission. 5. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Houston Texans have contractual rights at NRG Park, and the county must keep its end of that bargain with maintenance. 6. No private interest has come up with the money to save the Dome.” The latest plans being batted around for the Dome: bring the first floor up to ground level to create parking or storage space underneath, then start talking about a public-private-retail-indoor-park space. [Houston Chronicle, previously on Swamplot] Photo: Mike Acosta

01/28/16 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO CONSOLIDATE PRESERVATION EFFORTS FOR 2 OF HOUSTON’S LARGEST AILING HISTORICAL STRUCTURES Battleship-in-a-Bottle“Move the Battleship Texas in pieces to be dry-docked inside the ‘Dome and create the World’s Biggest Ship in a Bottle. This is Texas, damnit!” [J, commenting on The Future Is Now in Houston; Yet Another New Heights Project from Treadsack; previously on Swamplot] Illustration: Lulu