Just in time for Christmas, Preservation Houston has begun marketing a new type of Astrodome memorabilia: 4-in. beverage-coaster-sized squares of AstroTurf removed from the stripped-down stadium — along with loads of other major league hardware — in October 2013. Each one bears “a unique serial number and a certificate of authenticity,” according to the seller, and they come in packs of 4 that cost $100, plus tax. (That’s more than a 200-percent price hike since the last big Astrodome yard sale 5 years ago offered up 12-in.-by-12-in. squares for $20 each.)
During the lead-up to the defeated 2013 bond proposal that would have paid for extensive renovations to the Astrodome, these particular patches of turf road along with staffers from the National Trust onboard the “Dome Mobile,” a 26-ft. truck that the preservationist organization commandeered as part of a public campaign to save the building from demolition. It wasn’t until afterward that Preservation Houston got its hands on them en masse. Shipments of the items, it now says, should be delivered to buyers no later than December 17.
Photos: Preservation Houston
Holiday Yard Sale
After the owner of the yellow bungalow went to jail in 2015 for conspiracy, the townhome neighbors bought it and begun looking to put some distance between the house and their own. Last Wednesday, the city’s historical commission reviewed their plans however and told them no can do. The extra 7-ft.-8-in. they wanted to add between the 2 structures would take the bungalow — part of the Heights South Historic District — out of its original 1920 location at 922 Columbia St. And the other change — sliding it 5-ft.-3.5-in. back from the curb to line up with its taller neighbor — would make it less prominent along the street.
The decision is binding, so there’s no shying away now from the current situation:
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Close Quarters on Columbia St.
The Midwestern investment syndicate that developed the Heights originally planned it as a modest outpost for middle-class families. So it’s a little puzzling when Amy Lynch Kolflat — the realtor for Houston architect Bart Truxillo’s Heights pad — tells Nancy Sarnoff a day after posting the listing that “it’s one of two remaining homes built by the founder of the Houston Heights, Omaha and South Texas Land Co.” Take a look at the video tour Kolflat conducts around the property at 1802 Harvard St. Kind of opulent for what historian Stephen Fox called an “industrial working-class suburb,” right?
That’s because Truxillo’s house is modeled directly on the other longstanding Heights structure Kolflat mentions — 1102 Heights Blvd. — situated 7 blocks away. Along that spinal street — planned as Houston’s first divided boulevard — many of the homes went above and beyond those found in the rest of the neighborhood. 1102 was one of those exceptions:
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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]
Next Saturday, Houston’s historic commission is set to consider a request that new old signage be installed on the former Gibbs Boats building at 1110 W. Gray as part of the renovation to turn it into a new shopping center dubbed Rêve Montrose. The QUALITY LAUNDRY lettering is a nod to the 1936 structure’s original tenant — pictured above — which turned the place over to Gibbs in 1958. According to the rendering above, the replica sign and accompanying pyramidal support structure are set to be installed in the same location as the originals.
Since the Oxberry Group announced its redo plan for the building in March, some of its W. Gray façade has been scratched off, revealing traces of the original brick underneath where the G in Gibbs used to front the street:
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W. Gray and Montrose
WHAT CHANCE WOULD THE KIRBY MANSION STAND TO STAY STANDING UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP?
The demolition watchdogs over at Preservation Houston report that a buyer has the 36-room Midtown mansion on the corner of Pierce and Smith St. under contract and “does not intend to retain the building.” Seeking to thwart a teardown, Houston historic commission chair Minnette Boesel met with seller Phlip Azar last week — reports Nancy Sarnoff — and urged him to find someone instead who’ll keep the place upright. Aside from the house’s pedigree (built in 1894 for John Henry Kirby, it was expanded and remodeled 32-years later by architect James Ruskin Bailey), the Tudor at 2006 Smith St. has state and federal tax credits to offer any developer that renovates it for commercial use. That’s what its last would-be buyer Dennis Murphree hoped to do 3 years ago before the sale fell through. His plan: build a 15-story office tower designed “to look as much like the mansion as possible,” right next door to it — reported Sarnoff — and incorporate the 18,000-sq.-ft. house into the complex.[Preservation Houston; more info] Photo: Preservation Houston/The Heritage Society
SUGAR LAND’S CONVICTS-FOR-LEASE PAST UNEARTHS ITSELF OFF UNIVERSITY BLVD.
Crews at work on the new Sugar Land school building — dubbed The James Reese Career and Technical Center — at the corner of Chatham Ave. and University Blvd. made unexpected human contact in the middle of last month, Fort Bend ISD spokesperson Veronica Sopher tells Click2Houston’s Syan Rhodes: “We were back-filling into a trench when we found some remains, or what we thought could be remains.” The caretaker of a graveyard less than a mile away — which sits on the former Imperial State Prison Farm — wasn’t surprised. Having overseen the Old Imperial Farm Cemetary (pictured above with the same errant spelling) for nearly 20 years — reports the Chronicle’s Brooke A. Lewis — “[Reginald] Moore believes it’s just part of a larger graveyard that includes the remains of those who were part of the convict leasing system,” a statewide program through which Texas allowed mostly black prisoners to be contracted out for free labor shortly after slavery was outlawed. Fearing damage to the then-undiscovered grave sites, Moore “relentlessly pushed city and school officials to study the open area near the cemetery and urged them not to build nearby,” but construction began anyway last November. It’s now being held up in the area where the inadvertent exhumations took place. [Houston Chronicle; more] Photo: Historic Houston
After hauling all 6 of their endangered Victorian cottages 8 blocks and arranging them neatly off Sampson St. 4 years ago, Michael Skelly and Anne Whitlock are now ready to part with the 2 pictured at top. $700,000 is the asking price for both structures — which occupy a single 5,000-sq.-ft. lot at 3408 Garrow St. They’ve been on the market for a week.
Since relocating them, Skelly and Whitlock have also redone the interiors of the 2 cottages:
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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