COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHERE THE MODS ARE BETTER PRESERVED “It is disappointing that we lose so many interesting houses to the wrecking ball. Those of us who live in ‘crimeridden’ (*wink wink*) parts of town can take solace in the fact that at least our neighborhoods’ reputations keep the McMansions at bay. If you can cut through all the stories about crimes that happened ten or fifteen years ago, you can get a great, if dirty, Mod in Sharpstown, just waiting for you to fix it up and bring it back. And you really should look at those houses, because if you don’t, the ‘We Buy Ugly Houses’ people will. And they’ll make them worse.” [ZAW, commenting on Your Opportunity To Hack Away at Memorial Bend’s Former Sales Office Has Arrived] Illustration: Lulu
PRESERVATIONISTS PURCHASE DEER PARK PRAIRIE No thanks to Stephen Colbert, but enough money has rolled in from more than 1,000 donations — including $2 million from Terry Hershey — for the Bayou Land Conservancy to buy up those 53 acres of prairie near Luella Ave. and Spencer Hwy. in Deer Park and stave off a subdivision. Still, at least one question remains: What else is there to do with so much prairie? Lisa Gray explains: “The conservancy plans to donate the land to the Native Prairies Association of Texas, which would manage the health of the prairie and provide guided tours.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Video still: via Brian Traylor
PRESERVING THE DEER PARK PRAIRIE WITH SARDONIC TEEVEE POWER The mad dash to raise the $4 million to buy up 53 acres of the Deer Park Prairie and save it from development got an early $2 million boost from a minor Houston celebrity, long-time environmental activist Terry Hershey; now, with the landowner’s once-delayed deadline just a week away and $650,000 still needed, the Bayou Land Conservancy is appealing to an even higher power, reports Lisa Gray: “‘There is only one man who can save us now,’ proclaims the [conservancy’s] website . . . ‘Stephen Colbert!’ In hopes of winning a mention on ‘The Colbert Report’ and enjoying the resulting ‘Colbert bump’ in popularity, [the conservancy] urges prairie fans to rally the Comedy Central TV host to their cause.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Image: Bayou Park Conservancy
CHUNK OF CHANGE DELAYS DEER PARK PRAIRIE DEADLINE Apparently, the owner of that would-be-sold-and-developed 53-acre patch of prairie in Deer Park has been persuaded to give the Bayou Land Conservancy 3 more weeks to come up with the rest of the money to buy it. A $2 million donation from Terry Hershey helped the conservancy bring in $3.2 million in less than a week; still, $800,000 more is needed before Sept. 10, or the owner will sell to a homebuilder planning a subdivision. If it can close on the prairie, the conservancy says it “will place a conservation easement over the property to permanently protect the land — which would disallow the 250 houses currently planned for the acreage and any other future development.” [Bayou Land Conservancy; previously on Swamplot] Image: Bayou Park Conservancy
The Bayou Land Conservancy is really pushing to raise $4 million in the next week or so in order to outbid a homebuilder on a 50-acre patch of prairie in Deer Park. The video above is part of what the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray describes as a “Hail Mary pass” to raise the money before August 20.
The sought-after patch is among the last 1 percent of the Gulf Coast’s original prairie, reports Gray. The conservancy has been attempting to raise the money to buy it for the past year and a half — an attempt that’s now being hastened by a recent $4.25-million offer from a developer with plans for a 201-home subdivision on the land near Spencer Hwy. and Luella Ave.
And what would the conservancy prefer for the prairie? Here’s Gray:
The prairie’s fans imagine a visitor’s center fashioned from a next-door ranch house. They imagine busloads of visiting schoolkids. They imagine research into the still-mysterious workings of the prairie biome. They imagine harvesting native seed, to be used in eco-conscious plantings in the area. They imagine Battle of San Jacinto re-enactments more realistic than those that take place at the battlefield itself.
Video: Bayou Land Conservancy
INSERTING BATHROOM B INTO HOUSE SLOT A A trio of Rice grads has come up with what seems to be a kind of golden mean between gentrification and decay, when it comes to restoring an old home that no longer works the way it should and yet still preserving the character of the neighborhood: Andrew Daley, Jason Fleming, and Peter Muessig are calling it InHouse OutHouse, reports OffCite, and it’s a prefabricated core consisting of a kitchen, bathroom, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems that’s then inserted — like a transplanted kidney, say — into a hole cut in the wall. The photo here shows just such an insertion of the team’s prototype — which they estimate cost almost $35,000 and took 220 hours to build — at the Bastrop Stuart House among the Project Row Houses in the Third Ward. [OffCite] Photo: Mary Beth Woiccak via OffCite
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!
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The movement to rid the Heights of dilapidated old houses and replace them with far more appropriate historic structures continues. The latest contribution: a demolition permit obtained for the Doyle Mansion at 945 Heights Blvd., which was built by William Wilson (who later founded neighboring Woodland Heights) in 1898, and which somehow managed to sneak onto the National Register of Historic Places about 100 years later.
Harry James has been buying properties all along Heights Boulevard, tearing down homes and replacing them with what he calls “Victorian Classics.”
And now it will happen to the Doyle Mansion too.
A “Preservation Alert” notice sent out by Historic Houston’s Lynn Edmundson reveals a meeting with James last week didn’t go so well:
Despite its deteriorated condition, it is architecturally and historically a very significant residence on Heights Boulevard that could and should be saved.
Unfortunately, the builder now appears unwilling to entertain any offers.
James features several Victorian Classics (the new kind) on his website, along with a childhood story that reveals something preservationists won’t want to hear: the homebuilder doesn’t mind getting his ass kicked if it means he gets to build what he wants:
Needless to say, my dad wasn’t very happy! I remember he gave me a gentle kick across my backside as I scurried back to the house with my head hung down. It seemed like he was mad at me for months. Years later, when I reflect, I realize that what my dad failed to see was the level of skill and craftsmanship that was used in the construction of this secret door into his garage.
Photo of 442 Heights Blvd.: Harry James Building & Design
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!
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