HOUSTON’S FORGOTTEN FOUNDING ALLEN The third name in the trio of John, Augustus, and Charlotte Allen is typically dropped when discussing the founding of Houston via arguably questionable New York newspaper advertisement (touting an elevated, salubrious, and breezy paradise along the Texas coast). But Charlotte likely bankrolled the whole operation, Maggie Gordon notes this week in the Chronicle: Charlotte’s inheritance money was used to make the purchase of the city’s original 8,500 acres of swampland in 1836. And of the 3, Charlotte was the only Allen to spend subsequent decades involved in the Houston real estate scene, including the donation of land for the first city hall on the site of today’s Market Square Park. John, on the other hand, died of what may have been mosquito-borne illness 2 years in to the venture, while Augustus took off back to New York in 1850, after he and Charlotte split up. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Image of the Allen brothers’ advertisement: Houstorian
YOU TOO CAN BE THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OBSCURE HOUSTON HISTORY YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD Got 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
COMMENT OF THE DAY: Y’ALL NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT DUCT TAPE SOLUTION HOUSTON CAME UP WITH TO FIX THAT PROBLEM WE HAD “‘Problem solved, crisis ended, astronauts saved,’ should be the answer the world should know. ‘Houston’ — actually JSC — solved the problem, saving the astronauts on Apollo 13.” [Blake, commenting on Taking on the ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ Problem] Photo of device installed in-flight on Apollo 13 using duct tape, maps, and other materials on hand: NASA
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEREFORE ART THOU, ALABAMA THEATER? “My elementary school class (can’t remember which grade) saw Romeo and Juliet there. The one with Olivia Hussey as Juliet. I remember the seats were velvet and rocked. If you kicked the seat in front of you really hard it sent the person’s popcorn flying for several rows.” [Tangyjoe, commenting on Former Alabama Theater’s Pastel Modernistic Forehead Browned Out]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A STEAMY BACKWARD GLANCE TO METEOR’S PRE-SHOWER DAYS “Oh, the memories of 2306 Genesee St., circa the late 1970’s! When the space was Houston’s 3rd bath house . . . All sorts of debauchery took place within those walls. I, of course, will not divulge what happened there.” [Happy Go Lucky, commenting on Meteor Crashes to the Ground in East Montrose] Photo of 2306 Genesee St., prior to demolition: Meteor Lounge
El Big Bad’s corner at Travis and Prairie streets now provides a view straight into (and even through) some long-hidden interior sections of the former Houston Chronicle headquarters at 801 Texas Ave. The building — or, rather, group of buildings bundled together behind in a single mid-1960’s skin — has been coming down gently since the judge for the Hines-Hearst-Linbeck tunnel lawsuit gave the okay over the summer. Most of the 10-story original section of the relocated paper’s former headquarters, on the south side of the block facing Texas Ave. at the Travis corner, has already been removed; a reader snapped the shot above yesterday, as what’s left of the complex was being draped in black again for the next phase of the pull-apart.
Photo: Christine Wilson
TALK ASTRODOME TOMORROW WITH THE GUYS THAT WROTE THE BOOK ON IT There’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
A few readers were curious about the detached backyard room densely strewn with drawings of clowns and other cartoonish figures that made an appearance as Swamplot’s Home Listing Photo of the Day late last month. If you were waiting for more info on the property to make an offer, you’re too late — the place is already listed as under contract, along with the interior furnishings. Here’s a few more shots of the leftover memorabilia in the space, formerly known as Tootsie’s Birthday Hut:
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Hanging Around Out Back
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOUSTON’S FUTURE HISTORIC PRESERVATION CULTURE “Houston seems younger than it is,” writes Barry Moore today: “Few would guess that our founding by the Allen Brothers was within a few years of Chicago’s. Why does Chicago seem so much older? The answer is complex.” While the 70-year-old annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation kicks off today in Houston for the first time, Moore charts decades of change in Houston’s laws, tax rules, and attitudes related to letting historic structures and places stick around. And Moore claims that these days, Houston’s out-with-the-old reputation “is itself a relic. Houston has turned a corner. After half a century of organizing, we now have a preservation culture and laws to protect parts of the built environment. This may be hard to believe, but I will argue that no other city in the country has such an opportunity to become ground zero for the future of the preservation movement.” [OffCite; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATIONISTS TO GATHER IN HOUSTON, GAWK AT ASTRODOME The National Trust for Historic Preservation — that’d be the folks that coined the ‘orgy of irrational destruction’ line picked up by Save the Bungalows a few years back — is holding its annual conference in Houston for the first time, starting next Tuesday. Current president Stephanie Meeks cites the city’s “compelling preservation story,” amid a regional lack of preservation-minded rules and regulations, as a reason for picking the city. Planned field trip locales include the Astrodome (currently getting ready for that basement parking garage remodel), as well as Mission Control, the artsifying warehouses and industrial facilities around Washington Ave., and a handful of Galveston historic districts. Also on the docket: the debut of the organization’s Atlas of ReUrbanism (a digital collection of built environment data aimed public officials, reporters, and other city data scavengers), for which Houston is one of 5 starter cities. Would-be attendees can catch some conference sessions next Tuesday through Friday in the neighborhood of the newly-game-faced George R. Brown Convention Center; those who don’t want to make the trip downtown can watch some sessions at home. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo of Astrodome: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
The rendering up top shows the sort of scene that visitors can expect if they wander into the 1920’s leaking-water-reservoir-turned-public-art-space buried alongside Buffalo Bayou after December 10th (and before next June): Venezuelan artist Magdalena Fernández’s 2iPM009 projection, adapted from flat-walled origins to fill the 2-acre space (and going by the name Rain). As for what they’ll hear — that’d be an accompanying soundtrack of snaps, claps, and other meteorologically-inspired noisemaking from Slovenian choir Pertuum Jazzile. The original piece is part of the Museum of Fine Arts’s permanent collection; the adaptation will be the first temporary art installation in the column-studded space, which opened for tours in May.
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Only Light Flooding Expected
To cap off a series of Houston-landmark-linked performances carried out over the past few years, Karen Stoke’s dance company will put on bayou-and-space-themed DEEP: Seaspace at Hobby Center the weekend after next (that’s October 20th through 22nd). Stokes, whose previous work includes that well-timed dance about flooding in Discovery Green right after Memorial Day last year, tells Swamplot she has been mulling over appropriately grand Ship Channel choreographies since at least 2003, when she cut a related section from her piece Hometown with plans to tackle the topic later in greater depth.
On the list of historical places given a nod in the choreography (or in the short film to be shown during the live performance): Ship-Channel-side spots like the site of Santa Anna’s capture near the San Jacinto battlegrounds (the historical marker for which is located along Federal Rd. where the Washburn Tunnel crosses under the waterway); Allen’s Landing in Downtown; and the area around the former Willow St. Pump Station (just north of where White Oak Bayou meets Buffalo, by the Harris County Jail) — that spot is shown below, with dancers placed for atmosphere:
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ABOUT THAT TIME SOME SEX-FOCUSED TENNIS STARS BATTLED IT OUT ON THE FLOOR OF THE ASTRODOME Craig Hlavaty digs into some ‘Dome history this week on the anniversary of the so-called Battle of the Sexes: the 1973 tennis match in which then-50-year-old Bobby Riggs tried and failed to “put [29-year-old] Billie Jean King and all the other Women’s Libbers back where they belong – in the kitchen and the bedroom,” as he reportedly promised in a deliberately hype-provoking pre-match interview. Hlavaty writes that the event (still the most-watched match in tennis teevee history) belongs on the roster of epic Astrodome happenings “right next to Evel Knievel jumping 13 cars on a motorcycle, Wrestlemania X-Seven (the 17th, if you can smell what the Rock is cooking), and those 6 Elvis Presley shows.” Hlavaty also notes that Riggs stayed in the decked-out Tarzan Room at the nearby AstroWorld Hotel, complete with “actual rope swing, leopard-skin everything, green plastic jungle greenery, and green shag carpet to mimic jungle grass. You can still stay in a version of the room at the hotel, now a Crowne Plaza.” [Houston Chronicle; Astrodome coverage] Postcard of AstroWorld Hotel: arch-ive.org
It’s that time again — Houston’s birthday celebration, observed traditionally on the anniversary of the publication of the Allen brothers’ newspaper ads offering land for sale in the area in 1836. Among the more eyebrow-worthy claims put forward by the founders: that the “beautifully-elevated” area (depicted nestled amid a clutch of towering hills) was already the site of regular steamboat traffic (the Laura wouldn’t make the first steamboat run up the sandy twists of Buffalo Bayou to Allen’s Landing until the following year), and that the area “[enjoys] the sea breeze in all its freshness” and is “well-watered” (that part, at least, is likely undisputed).
The ad text also claims that “Nature appears to have designated this place for the future seat of Government,” though Lisa Gray suggests this morning that a few well-timed gifts to members of the newly-minted Texas Legislature may have been responsible as well. Gray writes that the city hosted the Texas government from 1837 until the legislators, tired of the heat and mosquitoes, voted to move elsewhere in 1839.
Here’s the ad in its entirety, as it appeared 180 years ago today in the Telegraph and Texas Register:
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And Many More
If the top of that pointy gazebo currently camped out at the about-to-open Park for Humans and Dogs by Glenwood Cemetery looks familiar, it’s because it’s been lurking around the Houston landscape for the last 115 years or so. This morning Susie Tommaney inventories the history and internet lore surrounding the house at 2201 Fannin St., from which a cupola nicknamed the Witch’s Hat was plucked just before the home’s 1997 demolition. “Not many people realize that the cupola was saved,” TIRZ 13 chair Claude Anello tells Swamplot, sending along the photo above of the hat’s installation, as well as his account of the hat’s rediscovery, reshaping, and ground-up career-building:
“I got a call a few years ago from Carl Detering, who had stored it in his outdoor storage yard at Detering’s on Washington. He was selling the property and told me that someone needed to get it or he would be forced to throw it in the dumpster. When I went to look at it, it had basically melted, [and] a tree had grown up through the middle of it (removed prior to photos) . . . Several people told us that it was beyond repair, but we dismantled it, had it reconstructed, and designed the park around it. It sat on the ground for a couple of years while we dealt with issues related to park design and permitting.”
Here’s a few tree-free glamour shots of the Hat prior to those reconstructive procedures, circa late 2013:
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Sawyer St. Comeback