The new owner of Pasadena’s tallest empty building has 2 items on its agenda for the 1962 structure: air it out and tear it down. For nearly 2 decades, the 12-story office tower at 1002 Southmore Ave. — originally known as the First Pasadena State Bank building — has managed to get by untouched by those who want it gone. (It came this close to vanishing in 2005 when the city issued a demolition permit for it, but a new owner scooped it up before anything went down.) In June, the city filed a lawsuit demanding that the property owner demolish the tower or reimburse the city for taking matters into its own hands. The defendant did neither, and instead passed the building off in October to the Pasadena Economic Development Corporation — which, having secured financial help from Pasadena’s city council shortly after the sale closed — now plans to go through with the teardown.
It’ll cost about $2.5 million to get rid of structure, the private development group estimates, after having negotiated the terms of its demise with various demolition and asbestos abatement contractors. According to the PEDC’s meeting minutes following the purchase: “the roof leaks so badly that water has gone through the whole building.”
When Houston architectural firm MacKie & Kamrath designed it for what was to become the commercial center of Pasadena in the early ’60s, the challenge was to make something “that signalled the former Strawberry Capital of the World‘s transition into the era of manned spaceflight,” according to the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray. It became an icon in town — showing up on school report cards and in the logo for the city’s chamber of commerce — and beyond, as a notable waypoint between downtown Houston and NASA’s then-new manned spaceflight facility further south off I-45.
Looking from closer up, you can see the corner holes in the building’s cantilevered roof overhang:
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Breaking the Bank Building
PASADENA’S TALLEST ABANDONED BUILDING COULD SOON COME CRASHING DOWN
“A fitting symbol of Space Age industry and finance” — that’s how highly one First Pasadena State Bank brochure spoke of the firm’s new 12-story headquarters on Southmore Ave. after its construction in 1962. (Other local institutions agreed: for a while, its likeness showed up on Pasadena school report cards, reported Lisa Gray) Now, with the bank and all subsequent tenants long gone, the City of Pasadena is insisting in a lawsuit that the building’s owner tear the place down, or reimburse the city for doing so itself, reports the Chronicle. More than 10 year’s worth of code violations testify to the MacKie & Kamrath–designed structure’s unsoundness, claims the city. And a pile of citations issued over a slightly shorter period adds up to more than $65,000 (which officials seek to supplement with $1,000 per day as long as the building’s still standing in its current state). Inside the 2-story lobby, a fountain surrounded by curved glass walls has run dry. But on the outside, it’s still the tallest vacant building in town. [Houston Chronicle; more info] Photo of 1001 East Southmore Ave.: Patrick Feller [license]
The pointy partially built retail shell spotted last August— empty, glassless, and seemingly left to fallow in the field at 4061 Spencer Hwy. — has since been covered over with the usual Krispy Kreme trappings, Lauren Meyers notes. Construction accessories were still parked on-site as recently as last week, and the grass growing freely beyond the Comerica Bank hedge was fully scraped away some time early this spring, presumably as part of the parking lot growth process. The site has yet to be added back to the company’s list of planned grand openings, however. And that other partially-baked location, just inside the South Loop west of Main St., was still wrapped in little more than its summer Tyvek as of Easter.
Photos: Lauren Meyers
Spencer Hwy. Dressup
HARRIS COUNTY GETTING IN ON THE PASADENA REFINERY AIR POLLUTION LAWSUIT ACTION In the wake of the lawsuit the Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed last week alleging that the century-old Pasadena Refining System plant has violated the federal Clean Air Act some thousands of times, Harris County attorney Vince Ryan has filed another suit against the plant. This one’s to do with the facility allegedly breaking state level environmental laws, Diana Wray writes in this week’s Houston Press; incidents of particular note include last summer’s major sulfur dioxide leak, which briefly shut down both the nearby Washburn Tunnel and the rest of the Ship Channel (while sending Galena Park into duck-and-cover mode). Wray writes that both lawsuits seem mostly geared toward getting the plant to clean up its act; each suit also has the potential to require that some kind of compliance watchdog or overseer be assigned to plant to ensure that it’s doing so. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation (license)
UNIDENTIFIED CHEMICAL STENCH, HAZE DRIFTING ACROSS TOWN OFFICIALLY NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN Suggested and mandatory restrictions on hanging around outside were issued by the Memorial Village area’s fire department and by Katy ISD respectively for a while this morning, in response to the acrid odor and haze blowing in some 40 miles across the city from somewhere near the Ship Channel. The Houston emergency response folks say that their monitoring has turned up no air quality red flags, but that anyone who can avoid the stink should probably do so just in case. The particular origin and composition of the odor also still seems to still be up for debate this afternoon: The Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd. (shown above) called into the CAER hotline this morning to report that they might be releasing natural gas odorizer throughout the day as their gas facilities got worked on, and LyondellBasell’s Sheldon Rd. facility also sent a message to the CAER line that they would be conducting flaring today in response to a “unit upset,” but no official suspects have been named by the city. The extent of the odor’s inland spread is notably broader than last month’s quickie Valero tank overfill stench incident in Manchester: KHOU reports that some of its viewers on the southeast side of town started calling in about the smell around 10 am, and that “by 11 a.m. the smell and an apparent haze covered most of downtown Houston and the west side, with some reports from as far north as Bush Airport.” [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Albemarle facility at 13000 Bay Park Rd.: April R.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE PASADENA REFINERY THAT RELEASED 3 MORE TONS OF AIR POLLUTION ON THURSDAY? “We worry about this plant more than we worry about the others,” Air Alliance Houston director Adrian Shelley tells Dylan Baddour after last week’s release of a 6,000-pound cocktail of toxic air contaminants from the Pasadena Refinery System complex, south of Buffalo Bayou just east of the Washburn Tunnel. The release occurred in the wake of a 7-hour power outage at the Petrobras-owned refinery (which played a role in the massive Brazilian corruption scandal that came to light last year); Baddour says this is the 8th contaminant release the company has reported so far this year (and the 65th since 2005). Shelley notes that the plant has a reputation for “large particulate matter (soot) release events that you really don’t see at other Houston refineries,” including the 2 tons of soot released on Thursday with sulfur dioxide gas and other contaminants; Shelley also notes that one of the plant’s key federal permits expired last year, resulting in a $7000 fine from the TCEQ. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pasadena Refinery Systems, Inc. plant at 111 Red Bluff Rd.: Center for Land Use Interpretation (license)
A field of rippling grass between the Denny’s and the Comerica Bank branch on Spencer Hwy. currently holds the half-finished form of one of the Krispy Kreme donut shops planned as part of the chain’s post-lawsuit re-emergence into the Houston market. The chain still has the location on its list of upcoming grand opening donut-campouts (labeled as down-the-street 4601 Spencer Hwy., though both Eater Houston and a look at neighboring addresses put the property number at or around 4061), but arch-ive-ist and daily demo reporter Lauren Meyers notes the overgrown site is pretty light on signs of active work.
Some of Fisher Elementary’s T-buildings can be seen loitering to the rightt, with the stadium lights of the McGuire baseball field and track facility rising distantly in the background on the right; on the west side of the building is a would-be drive-thru window:
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Cold Now on Spencer Hwy.
Yesterday’s entry in Houston’s recurring game of what’s-that-mysterious-black-cloud was brought to you by LyondellBasell’s Pasadena refinery at 12000 Lawndale St. (the same one that caught fire back in early April). The shot above was taken from an overpass near the junction of Loop 610 with Hwy. 225, though for parts of the afternoon the trail was visible from at least 7 miles away at the Hilton Americas building downtown. A LyondellBasell spokesperson tells Swamplot that flaring was triggered just before noon after a Calpine facility sending steam to the refinery lost power, reportedly due to a lightning strike. The company sent a message to the East Harris County Manufacturer’s Association’s emergency response info hotline stating that observers “may notice a bright orange flame, black smoke or a rumbling noise,” but that it was no big deal, and no one in nextdoor Manchester or Deer Park needed to do anything like leave or tape their windows shut this time.
Photo: Michael Muguerza via t.e.j.a.s.
Pasadena Smoke Signals
Some of the shadows in Pasadena’s Shadowlawn Terrace neighborhood fall within a property fitted with a cavernous structure soaring over the pool and terrace (top). The 1978 custom contemporary was designed by Richard Ainslie (“with input from O’Neil Ford,” the listing says — the San Antonio architect was a family friend of the owners). Well-tended by its original (and only) owners, the climate-controlling property splashed onto the market last week bearing a $250K price tag. It’s located east of S. Richey St. between W. Harris and W. Southmore avenues. Let’s take a peek at the teak within . . .
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