06/15/17 1:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THERE’S MORE MONEY IN HISTORY “First of all, this really doesn’t make much difference, as the original art moderne lines of this center were destroyed several years ago with the addition of gun turrets on the corners of the buildings. What I do find interesting is that Weingarten talks about the alterations as being financially responsible decisions to their shareholders. Yet this is the 3rd oldest intact shopping center in the US, and the only two that predate it, AFAIK, are Highland Park Village in Dallas and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Both of those have owners that have restored them to essentially their original designs and have enjoyed much increased property values. In the case of Highland Park Village, Henry S Miller (a Dallas developer) bought HP Village in the later ’70’s as it was very run down and dumpy, and had the foresight to restore its original Spanish Colonial design and garner a better tenant mix. Though his company no longer owns it, HP Village commands far higher square foot rents than River Oaks Shopping Center. All this is to say that if Weingarten had invested money in restoring their property 10-15 years ago, they probably would have a more valuable asset today.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on The Other River Oaks Shopping Center Knockdown Hearing Scheduled for This Week] Rendering of proposed alterations to River Oaks Shopping Center, 1997 West Gray St.: Aria Group Architects for Weingarten Realty Investors

06/09/17 11:30am

A segment of the Heights Waterworks properties at 20th and Nicholson St. should be making its way into the hands of Braun Enterprises later this year, Katherine Feser reports this morning in the Chronicle. Building on Houston’s budding tradition of high profile redevelopment of decommissioned water storage tanks, the company will be turning the handful of pump station and reservoir structures on the block southeast of 20th and Nicholson into a handful of restaurants and bars, catty-corner from Alliance’s planned apartments.

One of the features called out in the city’s 2015 declaration of the property as a protected landmark was the “unusual grass roof” atop the reservoir itself; Tipps Architecture’s design for the structure’s redevelopment shows some grass in place on a rooftop patio, as well as a 3-story glassy extension protruding from the east face of the 2-story building. Other views of the complex show a lawn in between the building labeled Heights Tap & Bar above and the pumphouse to the south:

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Turning the Waterworks Back On
06/02/17 4:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AREN’T THESE THE HEIGHTS DESIGN GUIDELINES WE’VE BEEN ASKING FOR? “Here we go again with the sky-is-falling BS on the historic ordinance. For years, the builders have whined about how they needed a design guide for the Heights. HAHC takes 2 years to collect input from the HDs [historic districts] on design guidelines. There were many meetings, direct mailings, surveys and even direct invitations from Steph McDougal to have one-on-one meetings with stakeholders to discuss the design guidelines. The response HAHC got from the HDs was that we are sick and tired of builders trying to fill every lot with gratuitous square footage. Additions are fine, but building a 3300-sq.-ft. house behind a bungalow is atrocious. And stop with the BS about families. Families do not need giant houses. They need affordable houses. Every time I talk with a family about moving to the Heights they always say that they have been priced out because everything is so huge and expensive.” [Old School, commenting on June Is Your Last Chance To Make Noise In Person About the New Heights Historic District Design Guidelines] Photo of 519 Heights Blvd.: HAR

06/02/17 12:45pm


The partially ruined former Jefferson Davis Hospital nurses quarters at 1225 Elder St. — until very recently in the running for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places — was recommended for demolition at last week’s Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting following a public hearing the day before. The building, tucked west of the elevated freeway tangle where I-45 splits from I-10 near Downtown, would have joined the nextdoor former Jefferson Davis Hospital itself on the historic registry — instead, it looks like the structure will finally meet meet the ‘dozers after its long slow decline, accelerated by damage from a fire in 2013 that lead to last year’s semi-collapse.

Next door, the 4-story hospital structure (built in 1924, and replaced by 1938 with another Jefferson Davis Hospital where the Federal Reserve building now stands on Allen Pkwy.) cycled through various modes of use and disuse until its early 2000’s restoration into the Elder Street Artist Lofts, which serve as low-rent apartments and studios for artsy types. That redevelopment, of course, involved carefully digging around the dozens of unmarked graves turned up on the surrounding land, which beginning in 1840 had served as the second city cemetery (and as the final resting place for a hodgepodge likely including  Confederate soldiers, former slaves, victims of the 1860s yellow fever epidemics, people who died in duels, Masons, and a variety of others). The hospital’s name is still carved above the lofts’ entrance:

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First Ward Fire Damage by HFD
06/01/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: NOSTALGIA FOR THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE HISTORICAL HEIGHTS BUILDING GUIDELINES “The big problem isn’t just the restriction on the size of the addition, it’s how they will allow you to add the square footage. Instead of allowing you to build out your attic with dormers, or do an addition on top of the back half of the house, they want you to basically build a new historically incompatible structure in your existing back yard and connect it to the house through some little hallway which will look like crap, AND use up your yard/permeable surface, AND create a structure looming over your neighbors’ backyards. The first year or 2 of the historic district, things worked pretty well in regards to stopping teardown and allowing responsible additions. Then it all went off the rails.” [Arlington Gal, commenting on June Is Your Last Chance To Make Noise In Person About the New Heights Historic District Design Guidelines] Illustrations of Heights houses: Dalia Rihani

05/30/17 2:15pm

The state bill proposed by Houston-area senator John Whitmire (to require a vote on major county-funded upgrades to certain Texas stadiums that happen to be the Astrodome) was killed in the Texas House by a different Houston-area legislator, Robert Arnold reports this week for KHOU. (That likely means the work on Harris County’s plan to fill in the bottom of the Dome with an underground parking garage can go ahead without a special election on the spending.) The bill actually passed the Senate at the end of March, but died in the House’s County Affairs committee chaired by representative Garnet Coleman (whose own legislative district ever-so-slightly overlaps Whitmire’s around Fourth Ward: From there, Coleman’s District 147 stretches down through Third Ward toward the Beltway along the Gulf Freeway, while Whitmire’s Senate District 15 horseshoes up 290 to FM 1960 and Humble before looping back down to the Ship Channel). Arnold says the bill made an unsuccessful comeback attempt as an amendment to another measure, and looks to be dead for now as of yesterday’s end of the normal legislative calendar. (Then again — who knows what might pop up during a special session?)

Schematic of county Astrodome parking garage plan: Harris County Engineering Dept.

Parking Plan Stop-and-Go
05/04/17 5:15pm

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is now promoting a crowdfunding campaign to host some kind of multi-day art-slash-music-slash-sports festival inside the Astrodome, perhaps as depicted in the trippy rendering above shown on the campaign’s online fundraising page. (The campaign is one of the so-called Cities Project projects being coordinated by the National Trust and beer multinational Heineken; other projects around the country getting similar treatment include fundraising for a documentary about the war memorial-slash-swimming-pool in Waikiki, and fundraising for the restoration of some glass sidewalks in Seattle.)

Materials for the campaign (which also has the backing of the Astrodome Conservancy) say the event would “preview the Astrodome’s future use” (assuming no laws that happen to prevent a certain aging Dome from getting remodeled pass in Austin this summer). Details on what such a festival would actually look like are scarce, though some good examples of what not to aim for have been floated recently.

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Prepping for DomeFest
04/20/17 3:30pm

BART TRUXILLO, 1942-2017 Brewery Tap, 717 Franklin St., Downtown, Houston, 77002In 2006, the former brewery structure now hosting the Magnolia Ballroom was the first building in Houston to get protected landmark status — and was not the last, probably thanks in part to the life work of its restorer. Bart Truxillo bought the then-vacant building on the edge of Market Square in the late sixties, not too long before buying and restoring the crumbling Queen Anne Mansfield house in the Heights; both structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Truxillo later helped found what’s today known as Preservation Houston, and start the organization’s Good Brick Awards during the demolition-rich years of Houston’s first oil boom, as Lisa Gray notes today in the Chronicle; after years of work restoring historic buildings around town and serving a bunch of other history-minded groups, he died yesterday at age 74. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Magnolia Ballroom building on Franklin St.: Brewery Tap HTX

04/14/17 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HOUSTON KEEPS ITS HISTORICAL RELATIONSHIPS STRICTLY PROFESSIONAL Witch Hat, circa December 2013“Houston is a city of practical and economical people. Emotion does not drive the focus of our communities like San Francisco or New Orleans. If it is economical to refurbish an old establishment for modern luxury, Houston will do it. If neighborhoods neglect their historic landmarks for 20 to 30 years and have the institutions fall into disrepair, they will cost the tax payers in a time where our budget is upside down.” [Mr.Clean19, commenting on Until We Forget the Alamo Wasn’t Always Just a Tex-Mex Chain] Photo of melted Witch’s Hat, since restored: Claude B. Anello

04/14/17 11:15am

UNTIL WE FORGET THE ALAMO WASN’T ALWAYS JUST A TEX-MEX CHAIN Mural by Wiley Robertson, 3301 Cline St., Fifth Ward, Houston“Once you start erasing history, who knows where it ends?” writes Cort McMurray in today’s Chronicle, scripting out a taste of potential dystopian franchise future for Houston and Texas’s most prominent landmarks should that bill that would gut preservation rules across the state make it through the legislature this session. The problem with the bill, he argues, is that it “makes forgetting easy” — and “in a place with no patience for memories, no place is sacred.” Before launching into a scene depicting how the Alamo might come to be repurposed into imaginary family-friendly megachain Casey Dilla’s, McMurray writes that “using a broad, vaguely worded standard — just what does ‘widely known’ mean? — to address the question of what’s historically significant to a community is a little like rewriting Hamlet entirely in emojis: a lot of really important stuff is going to be lost. And we will be left with a state that’s little more than the affable hell of FM 518 at Highway 288, traffic and pavement and an endless supply of family-friendly chain restaurants, serving an awful pastiche of Tex-Mex.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Mural commemorating Peacock Records, the former home of which was demolished last month: Spectrum Audio

04/11/17 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CAN WE LAY TO REST THAT POSITIVE VIEW OF HISTORY? Gravestone and Ravine, Olivewood Cemetery, First and Sixth Wards, Houston“If one of the Georges (or let’s say King George to round things out a little) happened to have been responsible for the destruction of some place — notable or otherwise, regarded as new or old at that particular moment in time — is that not an event deserving the adjective historical? Why must history be construed to reflect the addition to some facet of our tangible world, and never a subtraction from it? Is a repository of construction waste not historic simply because it lacks gingerbread affectations? If cemeteries can be historic, then why not a dump? . . . As a society, I think that we must acknowledge that the physical manifestation of our civilization is an ongoing work in progress. We should not mortgage our future to honor the past in this way.” [TheNiche, commenting on Comment of the Day: History is in the Eye of the Deedholder; previously on Swamplot] Photo of eroded grave in Olivewood Cemetery, ca. 2010:  J.R. Gonzales

04/10/17 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HISTORY IS IN THE EYE OF THE DEEDHOLDER Historic and Gone“Demolish your great aunt’s soup tureen! Every person wants to preserve her or his family history, yet is bonkers to bulldoze the neighbor’s. BS. All of it is Houston’s history — whether, or not, George Washington or George Bush slept there.” [movocelot, commenting on Texas May Demolish Your Local Preservation LawsIllustration of demolished historic structure: Lulu

04/07/17 1:45pm

TEXAS MAY DEMOLISH YOUR LOCAL PRESERVATION LAWS 2120 Sabine St., First Ward, Houston, 77007Ever worry that Houston’s historical preservation rules are just too darn strict? Tired of having to wait a whole 90 days to go ahead and do whatever you were going to do anyway to that non-protected city landmark? A public hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday in Austin on a state bill that would gut and restructure local historic preservation procedures across Texas. The bill, as Preservation Houston Texas put it to VBX‘s Adolfo Pesquera last month, “clumsily attempts to impose a woefully old-fashioned ‘George Washington slept here’ standard of historical significance:” The measure appears to limit new historical designations to either 1) structures lived in by a famous person or 2) places where something “widely recognized as a historic event” happened. (Under that standard, the Astrodome might make the cut for Evel Knieval’s 13-car motorcycle jump.) Houston’s own District 135 rep Gary Elkins is the only sponsor of the measure, which would also require that any movements to designate areas of “historical, cultural, or architectural significance” get support from 3 quarters of the city council or the local planning commission. The measure also may put the final say on any proposed changes to a protected structure in the hands of a single “municipal official,” who will have 30 days to give a yea or nay. [Virtual Builder’s Exchange; bill here; previously on Swamplot] Photo of protected former home of August von Haxthausen at 2120 Sabine St.: HAR

03/03/17 1:30pm

YOU TOO CAN BE THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OBSCURE HOUSTON HISTORY YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD Blue tile sign at 2500 block of Westheimer Rd., Upper Kirby, Houston, 77098Got questions about early Texas drinking culture? Looking for info on Houston’s most prominent Bulgarian philosophers? Need to know who took the photos sketched in around that famous map of 1869 Downtown? All this and more is now archived for your online perusal in the Houston History Alliance’s new Handbook of Houston, which went live yesterday. The HHA (which the handbook says was established after then-mayor Bill White started looking for ways to make Houstonians care about the city’s history) says it had been tossing around the encyclopedia idea since 2008, but finally got a grant from the Houston Endowment to work on it with the state’s historical alliance in 2015. The initial launch includes about 1,300 articles; you can browse them all here, or help write more of them yourself. [Houston Historical Association via Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of new-ish street tiles styled after Houston’s historic ones: James Glassman

03/01/17 11:30am

Signage at Kroger, 239 W. 20th St., Houston Heights, Houston, 77008

Signage at Kroger, 239 W. 20th St., Houston Heights, Houston, 77008The removal of the “Right Store Right Price” sign tacked onto the side of the Kroger at 239 W. 20th St. briefly revealed long-buried evidence of the building’s long-hidden relationship with Weingarten, a parking lot cruising reader notes. Yes, that Weingarten (which currently owns the shopping center): the company’s account of its own history notes that the Weingarten family started out in the grocery biz, then got into real estate to build its own stores. The company dropped supermarkets altogether in the early 1980s and went into real estate full time.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, the newly unearthed traces of the company’s former association with the building had already been beiged out:

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Uncovered on W. 20th