THE INVENTION OF UPPER KIRBY Among Houston’s grids, strips, and cul de sacs, let a million neighborhoods bloom! Perhaps the story of how the area around upper Kirby Dr. came to be known as Upper Kirby can form some sort of template for this city’s vast numbers of undifferentiated districts just waiting to be branded? “We weren’t Greenway Plaza, we weren’t Montrose, we weren’t Rice Village,” Upper Kirby Management District deputy director Travis Younkin tells reporter Nicki Koetting. It was a section of town that lacked identity. “This nameless neighborhood, Koetting adds, “was the sort of place you drove through on the way to other, named neighborhoods.” One helpful step along the way: Planting the shopping areas with red phone booths. “The authentic British phone booths are an homage to Upper Kirby’s acronym, and actually operated as phone booths for a few decades until cellphones became the norm,” Koetting notes. “Now, the telephone booths are lit from within and locked, serving today as a visual indication to visitors that they’ve arrived in Houston’s own UK.” [Houstonia] Photo: WhisperToMe
THE TIME MY BROTHER AND HIS FRIENDS ALMOST BLEW UP A GAS PIPELINE IN THE BAYOU One Houston summer in the early 1960s: “My brother and his friends were playing, pretending they were WWII soldiers and they were running around shooting fake machine guns and then they would go over and jump in the bayou pretending it was a foxhole. And I went over and I heard them talking . . . they were going to build their own bomb. And I told them you know you better not do that. . . . The next thing I know I see them in the garage and they’ve got a bunch of my dad’s leftover firecrackers and they’re splitting them open and pouring them into this big prescription bottle. I tried to find my mother. And she ended up being next door. When I ran next door I was standing in the backyard and I heard this loud boom and looked at where the explosion came from and it was right where my brother and his friends had been playing. I heard sirens in the distance and a helicopter started flying real low over the pipeline. . . . Shortly after that there was a knock at the door and it was the police. . . . they said that the magnitude of this explosion had blown an almost-6-ft.-deep hole right above the Shell gas pipeline [that ran along the bayou] and it could have blown up our whole neighborhood had it been a little bit more than that.” [Texas Standard] Photo: Adam Baker [license]
HOUSTON’S PREMIER FLOATING TOURIST ATTRACTION SHUT DOWN AGAIN AFTER MORE LEAKS A 6-by-8-in. hole 15 inches below the water line discovered yesterday on the starboard side of the Battleship Texas caused the San Jacinto Battleground tourist attraction to tilt a “pretty serious” 6 degrees overnight, KPRC’s Cathy Hernandez reports this morning. The battleship — which was built long after the Battle of San Jacinto, but is a veteran of 2 world wars and a whole lot of 21st Century rust — has now been closed to the public until further notice. At last report, approximately 2,000 gallons of water per minute had been pumped out of the ship for more than 15 hours. Funds originally allocated to move the retired sea vessel to a dry berth were used instead to repair previous leaks. [Click2Houston; Texas Parks & Wildlife; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coast Guard News [license]
Has any former Wendy’s drive-thru — or really, any fast-food joint anywhere — ever had such an illustrious culinary afterlife as the one that once stood at 2300 Westheimer, halfway between Kirby and Shepherd? The standalone burger stand never left us — it just went upscale, time and time again: To Torcello’s. To Armando’s. To Dish. To Two Chefs Bistro. To Beso. To Palazzo’s Trattoria. To 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. (Did we miss any?) To the Harwood Grill.
Then there was the time last year when it was supposed to go Berryhill. But that was not to be.
Instead, this extremely mutable property is now on its way to becoming a champagne-themed restaurant called a’Bouzy (pronounced as you’d expect).
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Cheers to A’Bouzy
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN THEY RAISED GREAT GRANNY’S “This house has some wonderful history. It was originally a one story that was raised up by cranes and the ground level story was built underneath. During WW One, they would roll up the rugs and host dances for the soldiers. It was the home of my great grandparents who lived there with their children when they moved from PA. My two spinster Great Aunts lived there all their lives. It broke the hearts of the family when it had to be sold but no one had the means to buy and restore it. I wanted to share for those of you that had posted the kind comments.” [Renee Lauckner, commenting on Corner Lot Hidden Away for Decades Beneath 1904 Heights House Could Join the Commercial Crowd] Photo: Swamplot inbox
WESLAYAN’S CRUEL TWIST SLAYS Reader Adam Goss, who identifies himself as a Houstonian — and a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut — writes that it “drives him insane” that “the street named after our alma mater is misspelled. All the surrounding streets are named after similar universities and colleges (Amherst, Oberlin, Georgetown), yet for some reason the largest of all, Weslayan, is spelled incorrectly.
How would Rice grads like it if a major thoroughfare in Chicago was named after the famed Houston university, Rize Avenue. Or if Boston named a major street Longhornes, after a famed UT alum?”
Photo of street sign at the corner of Weslayan and W. Alabama St.: Jeremy Hughes
6 MOCK ICE HOUSES FOR BRAYS BAYOU, AS PROPOSED BY THAT GUY WHO TAKES PHOTOS OF HOUSTON ICE HOUSES That massively expanded greenway network is all well and good, suggests architect and icehouse photographer-philosopher David Richmond in the Chronicle today — but bayouside trails are a lot better at getting people from up and down the waterways to run right past one another than they are at getting the same folks to mix or hang out. Richmond offers a suggestion to change that: a design for a boxy, glassy pavilion structure loosely inspired by the shape of, and what he argues is the historic social function of, Houston’s icehouses — namely, as a stand-in for the kind of town squares that he says most of Houston doesn’t really have. Richmond proposes sticking the same square design in 6 different spots along Brays Bayou, with each structure’s range of possible uses (from flea markets and coffee shops to movie nights and wedding receptions) being tailored to fit the surrounding area. [Houston Chronicle] Speculative rendering of pavilion structure along Brays Bayou: David Richmond
ELYSIAN VIADUCT WORK UNEARTHS HISTORIC HOUSTON HERITAGE TRASH PILE The real value of the long-buried dump uncovered by the ongoing replacement of the Elysian St. bridge over I-10 and Buffalo Bayou, write Doug Boyd and Jason Barrett this week in the Chronicle, is in the opportunity it provides “to document the often-unwritten parts of our industrial heritage.” The dump, apparently built up over the early half of the 1900s in a former gully, serves as a springboard for the authors to talk trash — Houston, they write, was one of the first cities to adopt widespread municipal garbage incineration, and lagged decades behind as most cities chose to stop doing it out of concern for public health. Spots like the one under Elysian St., they add, help fill in the gaps of knowledge of what happened to all the other trash that didn’t end up in a city incinerator or landfill — and who tended to live nearby. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photos: Adam J Williams
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