08/10/17 4:30pm

Forget all the crazy rumors and stories you’ve heard about the Galveston Kettle House. The actual most likely true story of how the unusual Galveston West Beach-area landmark known as the Kettle House came to be — and what’s about to happen to it — has at long last been revealed by the builder’s daughter (and current owner), Mary Etheridge-Rachels, to Dallas-area writer Linda Armstrong.

Among the shocking revelations — well, okay, interesting facts — included in Armstrong’s account of the steel bowl’s history, pieced together from her interviews with Etheridge-Rachels:


Legends in Steel
12/17/15 11:30am

FUTURE GAS STATION COFFEE SHOP TOPS THE CITY’S LIST OF NEW HISTORIC LANDMARKS former Gulf Oil Filling Station, 3709 La Branch, Midtown, Houston, 77004Among the structures designated as historic landmarks by the City yesterday: an abandoned gas station at 3709 La Branch St. in Midtown. The interior of the 1925 Gulf Oil filling station has been unemployed for the past 30 years, though the exterior has occasionally taken gigs as a canvas for grafitti artists. The structure, which is now under protection in perpetuity, will become Retrospect Coffee Bar in coming months, as part of the larger Almeda Yards development planned for the area. The shop will offer local coffee and sweets, and will attempt to preserve the structure’s original feel. [Paper City] Photo: City of Houston

04/29/15 2:45pm

American Brakeshoe Company Building, 3315 W. 12th St., Inner Loop Northwest, Houston

A lowslung brick 1965 building in the warehouse district in the northwest quadrant of the Inner Loop west of Timbergrove Manor and Lazybrook scored landmark status from the city today, marking the first such designation for an industrial, Modern, and suburban (well, at least used-to-be suburban) structure. NuSmile, a company that manufactures pediatric dental crowns, bought the former American Brakeshoe Company building in 2011 and then renovated it, adding a taller 6,140-sq.-ft. metal-wrapped extension to the back of the 8,584-sq.-ft. structure in 2013 and winning a Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston in the process. A report the company submitted with the application notes that “no records of an architect, contractor, or developer have been found” for the original building. Among the former tenants of the property at 3315 W. 12th St.: Smith Industries, TelTex, and TD Rowe Amusements.

Photo: SWCA

NuSmile on Building
12/04/14 11:15am


The Harmony Wedding Chapel at 8120 Gulf Freeway has been one of Houston’s most familiar freeway-side landmarks for 50 years, a little slice of backstreet Las Vegas that has now provided 5 generations with cheap, often hastily-arranged weddings. (Even today a bare-bones ceremony with no guests is a mere $50.)

But as the site of the first gay marriage in Texas, it is a landmark in American LGBT history too. There on the banks of Sims Bayou, on October 6, 1972, Brownsville-bred former high school football player Antonio Molina married William “Billie” Ert, a female impersonator who performed in local nightclubs as “Mr. Vicki Carr,” in tribute to the El Paso-bred singer. (One such spot was Ursula’s, a lesbian-friendly bar at 1512 W. Alabama, the future home of a succession of failed restaurants and now the home of the Skin Renewal Center.)

Handing over a wedding certificate Ert obtained by appearing in front of court clerks in very convincing drag, the couple exchanged vows before an activist chaplain they had brought in, and sealed them with a kiss. A firestorm awaited them outside the chapel’s Gulf Freeway feeder road-facing doors. 


Highwayside History
05/05/11 12:23pm

COVERING HOUSTON’S INSIDE STORIES Stick ’Em Up! filmmaker Alex Luster tells the Houston Press’s John Nova Lomax a few of the things he learned from mentor and former KTRK reporter Carlos Aguilar in the mid-1990s, when they both worked at Spanish-language news station Noticiero 48: “‘He said, “Most of your news stories are gonna be in the Inner Loop.” I asked why and he told me it was easier for a TV station to get [those stories], and also the ones in Southwest Houston. Most of the stations didn’t want to waste the gas or time to cover things outside the loop,’ Luster remembers. ‘And he taught me how not to get lost without reading a map or pulling over to get your bearings — to just head for the buildings. He said to learn downtown and then everything else I could figure out from there. That’s another reason I’ve come to love the Inner Loop — the buildings signified home and safety.'” [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot]

07/01/08 9:08am

Downtown YMCA, Houston

The 10-story brick YMCA on Louisiana St., which has been taking up valuable space Downtown for more than 65 years, will at last be torn down, reports Nancy Sarnoff in today’s Chronicle. The Y will move to a new glass-and-brick building now being designed by Kirksey — apparently intended for the nearby block bounded by Travis, Milam, Pease, and Jefferson.

The best part of the story? The Y is being very polite about the whole thing. Having determined that its own building is not worth the $25 million a report determined would be necessary for repairs, the organization will go out of its way to demolish the structure itself, so no future buyer will have to be burdened with similar defensive and wasteful studies — or cleanup. And that future buyer has already been determined: Chevron, which already owns the former Enron building next door, says it has no current plans for the new 85,000-sq.-ft. vacant lot it is purchasing.

At 100,000 square feet, the new YMCA building will be less than half the size of the current facility, but will come with 250 parking spaces. And it will be rated LEED-Silver, which means its construction and operation will conserve energy and resources, unlike the wasteful current building, which was designed by architect Kenneth Franzheim in 1941.

In addition to continuing its mentoring, educational and other life-skill programs, the new facility will include a teen center, child watch area and women’s wellness center, as well as racquetball courts, a basketball gym, swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, a chapel, meeting space and a food vendor.

Not included in the new structure: replacements for the 132 “short-term” residential units in the current building.

Below: A photo that illustrates the story!


05/21/08 2:50pm

Rendering of Proposed River Oaks Shopping Center Building at Shepherd and West Gray, Houston

And here it is: Weingarten’s two-story replacement for the northwesternmost River Oaks Shopping Center building at West Gray and Shepherd the company tore down last year.

One goal of this design seems pretty clear: Build a wedge building that helps forge a split between the two tiny groups that might otherwise join together to raise a stink about Weingarten’s larger redevelopment plans for that shopping center, the River Oaks Theater across the street, and the Alabama Theater Shopping Center further south on Shepherd. Preservation-preferring sentimentalists, ready to grumble that this isn’t the curve you expected or the black-and-white Art Deco-ish look you wanted, say hello to your design-elite friends, who are already breathing a sigh of relief that the new building at least isn’t going to be fakey retro. No, it’s not the cleanest Modern thing they’ve seen, but they know it’s the closest they’re likely to get from Heights Venture Architects. Look, Ma! No cornice!

There’s no sense catering to that second group too much though, because Weingarten will need them to be somewhat dispirited so the rest of the strategy can work. No, this wasn’t the wedge we expected, but hey, it’ll do! And it’s sure to draw attention away from the parking garage. Now remind us why we wanted to save that theater again?

After the jump: Close-ups! Site plans! Come back, Jamba Juice — all is forgiven!


05/21/08 2:31pm

Landscape Plan for River Oaks Shopping Center

In case it hadn’t already become obvious from watching the construction, that uh . . . “stealth” four-level parking garage in back is the real game-changer for the River Oaks Shopping Center.

Clearly, what’s unfolding is a strategy even more ingenious than anyone could have imagined. With a new monster garage looming behind the next targeted would-be landmark, Weingarten will soon have people begging it to rip down more of the north side of the center and build something taller, just to screen those four stories of cars from West Gray. Meanwhile, focusing attention on the complaints of a few pesky neighbors in back is a classic outrage-bait move. Throw in a little hush money to make sure those protests aren’t too loud, but then make sure news of the offer gets leaked, so the decoy works. Send in the demo crews, redevelop, and repeat!

The site plan above comes from a Weingarten variance request that will go before the Planning Commission on Thursday. The city’s landscape ordinance apparently requires the new development to switch out some of those existing sickly-but-iconic palm trees for live oaks. Naturally, Weingarten wants to save the palms!

River Oaks Shopping Center landscape plan: Heights Venture Architects, via Houston Planning Commission

04/26/07 12:28pm

River Oaks Theater

Disposing of older buildings used to be so simple. It’s tougher now, but it’s not impossible. You’ll just need to use some new techniques. If the buildings you want to demolish have a high enough profile, you’ll also need a good PR consultant who can help you with strategy.

For a while, it looked like Weingarten Realty might have some trouble tearing down its historic River Oaks Shopping Center, River Oaks Theater, and Alabama Bookstop (which used to be the Alabama Theater—back in the day when people watched movies instead of reading so much). When rumors first began to circulate, there was the big hullabaloo about the River Oaks Theater, and all those online petitions.

But since then, not so much. Weingarten clearly has its winning gameplan mapped out. How did they do it? How do you tear down an immensely popular older building in Houston today, and do it right?

The technique you need involves outrage bait. What’s that? Read on, after the jump!