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
02/27/17 1:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: ON HAVING YOUR ART DECO STRIP CENTER AND EATING IT, TOO River Oaks Shopping Center highrise plan, Houston, 77019“’Everybody wants walkability, but nobody wants density’ is the urban-planning equivalent of ‘everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.’” [Angostura, commenting on Where Weingarten Plans To Stab That 30-Story Residential Highrise into the River Oaks Shopping Center] Site plan of future highrise development: Weingarten Realty

02/14/17 12:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HIDDEN COSTS OF THE HOUSTON DEMOLITION REFLEX 2 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 77019“I know nothing about this particular situation — but having seen some examples of this sort of renovation scene play out, I wonder whether there is a lot of anti-renovation bias that pushes the estimates beyond what they really need to be. I have family on the East Coast that have done renovations of homes built in the early 1800s. These were homes that at some point fell into disrepair and had pretty serious issues with wood rot all over, and expensive foundation issues. But there was never a second thought about tearing the building down, even though there was no historic protection in place. All the builders up there do historic renovations all day long and can price them reasonably. I think builders in Houston just do not have the experience and are afraid of taking on the job so they provide an astronomical bid to try to get the owner to tear down.” [Old School, commenting on River Oaks Mid-Century Preservation Turns Demolition, with Reincarnation In the Works] Photo of demolished to-be-rebuilt 2 Tiel Way: HAR

02/13/17 10:00am

2 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 77019

2 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 77019The remodeling permit issued last fall for 2 Tiel Way (shown above in its previous listing portrait) was augmented by a demolition permit at the end of January, as Diane Cowen reports in this weekend’s Chronicle. The 1960s house (designed by Karl Kamrath, like a few others of the not-yet-demolished original houses on the street) was bought last July after a 10-month stint on the market; Cowen writes that the new owners had planned to restore the home, but structural issues including uncovered termite and water damage boosted cost estimates to around twice the likely cost of a rebuild.

The house was torn down to the slab and fireplace late last month, and some of the interior redwood paneling and light fixtures were salvaged. The new home designed for the site will purportedly mimic the old one to a significant extent — here’s a rendering from Robertson Design, the architecture firm of the new owners’ son:

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Theseus’s Ranch
02/10/17 5:45pm

JUDGE EMMETT ON THE NEW PLAN TO REIN IN THE NEW ASTRODOME PLAN Proposed Astrodome Parking Garage PlansHere’s the statement judge Ed Emmett’s office just released to FOX26 in response to this afternoon’s news of District 15 senator John Whitmire’s about-to-be-filed bill to require a Harris County voter okay on that plan to turn the Astrodome’s bottom into a parking garage: “It’s frustrating that while the Astrodome stood vacant for more than 15 years, very few people stepped forward to offer real solutions. But now that we on Commissioners Court have finally arrived at a way to preserve the Dome as a revenue-generating asset for the people of Harris County, Sen. Whitmire’s legislation risks derailing that solution. The Astrodome is a paid-for asset that needs to be used for the benefit of the overall NRG Park complex. Creating more than 8 acres of covered usable space along with 1,400 indoor parking spaces will generate revenue that will allow the county to maintain NRG Stadium and the rest of the complex.” The bill could potentially shut down the parking garage plan, if county-wide support can’t be mustered to support the project; demolition plans, on the other hand, are now subject to review by the Texas Historical Commission, as of late last month’s State Antiquities Landmark designation. [FOX26; previously on Swamplot] Astrodome parking plan schematic: Harris County Engineering Department

01/31/17 5:15pm

New Paint Job for Trader Joe's, Petsmart at Former Alabama Theater, 2922 S. Shepherd Dr., Upper Kirby, Houston

The front of Weingarten Realty’s Alabama Shepherd Shopping Center now sports some big dark blocks on its Shepherd-facing facade, Houstorian James Glassman notes in a drive-by of the scene this afternoon. The gradated yellow vertical fluting above the movie-theater-turned-bookstore-turned-sandbox-turned-grocery store’s marquee sign (which the city’s landmark designation writeup says is made of enameled steel) has been done over in a single swath of brown, matching the shade applied above the formerly tan Petsmart facade as well. Marketing materials on Weingarten’s website for the shopping center still show the old color scheme:

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Trader Joe’s Trade
01/27/17 3:00pm

Astrodome Super Bowl Lighting Rendering
 
After a few years of mulling it over, the Texas Historical Commission voted this morning to give State Antiquities Landmark status to the Astrodome (formally known, the agency notes, as the Harris County Domed Stadium). About a dozen Houston buildings have the designation (which can also go to shipwrecks and archaeological sites); the status means that any attempts to “remove, alter, damage, salvage, or excavate” the Dome — a spread of activity which probably includes installing that parking garage in the bottom — will now also need a permit from the state. 

THC’s Executive Director Mark Wolfe says in this morning’s statement that the Dome is “one of the most significant sports and entertainment venues in history, setting the standard for modern facilities around the world.” The structure will continue adding to its sports resume during the impending Super Bowl week by storing Super Bowl-related things and being lit up nearby (as rendered above).

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Under State Protection
01/24/17 12:30pm

Yale St. at I-10, Heights, Houston, 77007

The crossing of Yale St. over White Oak Bayou is open again as of yesterday, beating that initially announced estimated reopening date by close to a year. The new structure should reduce the chronic weight anxieties of those using the crossing, which has been subject to various pounds-per-axle limits for years.

And what of the original 1931 Yale St. bridge bricks, and their fundraising Friend group?  The online component of the crowdfunded save-the-bricks campaign launched last year fell short of that $100,000 goal by more than a bit, but the organization says that pretty much all of the bricks are still being preserved — most of them were just bought by someone else, for incorporation into a not-yet-officially-announced “art-centered mixed use project in First Ward.” Boulevard Realty, headed by Bricks and Fountain Friend and instigator Bill Baldwin, also recently posted a photo purportedly showing the incorporation of some of the bricks into new segments of the White Oak Bayou greenway trail, something the crowdfunding effort helped pay for:

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White Oak Crossing
12/19/16 3:15pm

THE GRAVESITE BREAKUP MYSTERY NEAR ALDINE MIDDLE SCHOOL Aldine Cemetery, Aldine Meadows Rd., Aldine, 77032Who, exactly, ordered the unannounced, interrupted, and apparently haphazard plant and gravestone removal at the unmarked Aldine Cemetery near Aldine Middle School last week? As of Friday, Mike Snyder writes, the local sheriffs  were still trying to figure that out — as were some of the (living) family members of the buried, and unofficial Aldine historian Elizabeth Battle, who had been working to get the cemetery its own historical marker. Battle tells Snyder she’d been under the impression that “people . . . barreling in and destroying graves without contacting the descendants” wasn’t something that was likely to happen; University of Houston professor and periodic gravesite construction advisor Ken Brown notes that any disturbance of the 30-ish headstones, even by the property’s owner, should have required a court order. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of semi-cleared Aldine Cemetery on Aldine Meadows Rd: State rep. Armando Walle

12/07/16 11:00am

TALK ASTRODOME TOMORROW WITH THE GUYS THAT WROTE THE BOOK ON IT Book by Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth WomackThere’s a new tell-all biography of the Astrodome out this fall, now that year 50 since the stadium’s mid-1965 opening has wrapped up. Robert C. Trumpbour and Kenneth Womack’s The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome covers Dome history from its development days, and gets into how the building shaped Houston and Houston’s reputation. The authors, one of whom has also written another book about stadium construction politics, will be in town tomorrow night for a free talk and book signing  — you can check out the when-and-where and RSVP here. The book includes what University of Nebraska Press refers to as some of the structure’s more “memorable problems, such as outfielders’ inability to see fly balls and failed attempts to grow natural grass — which ultimately led to the development of Astroturf.” The text also touches on some of the most recent will-they-won’t-they preservation scuffles— though its publication date precedes this year’s approval by Harris County of initial funding for that plan to turn the bottom levels of the stadium into a parking garage.  [University of Nebraska Press] Image of book cover: University of Nebraska Press

12/06/16 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE 3-STEP FREEDMEN’S TOWN PRESERVATION SHUFFLE Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 770191. Buy a block (maybe the vacant one on W. Gray . . . the blocks are small). 2. Move all extant historical structures to said block and make it a park, with public space for outdoor events. 3. Rehab the brick streets. Anything beyond this, in the name of historical preservation, is in name only.” [Turning_Basin, commenting on City Wants To Create Historic District To Protect What’s Left of Freedmen’s Town Historic District] Photo of torn up brick street section at Andrews St.: Chris C.

12/05/16 3:45pm

COTD: IS A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORIC PRESERVATION WORSE THAN NONE AT ALL? freedmens-town-hist-dist-marker“A little late for that. There are so many new homes and townhomes and vacant lots in the area that there is almost no historic character left. It’s a prime area for redevelopment anyway — might as well let the developers finish the job and do it right so it’s not just a hodgepodge.” [Christian, commenting on City Wants To Create Historic District To Protect What’s Left of Freedmen’s Town Historic DistrictPhoto of Freedmen’s Town Historic District sign: Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition

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

11/21/16 5:15pm

Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019

Some more friends of historic bricks — this time, specifically, of the bricks in the Freedmen’s Town Historical District in Fourth Ward — caught contractors tearing up part of the brickwork on Andrews St. this morning, reports Jeff Ehling. Mayor Sylvester Turner says via Twitter from Mexico that nobody was supposed to have messed with the bricks, which were put under a protective order last year after another short-lived bout of street tearup; Turner adds that he’ll deal with it when he gets back. A reader on the scene snapped a few photos of the torn up section, at the intersection with Genessee St. east of the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center campus:

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Second Stop in Fourth Ward