12/17/18 3:45pm

The new owner of the Pasadena’s tallest empty building has 2 items on its agenda for the 1962 structure: air it out and tear it down. For nearly 2 decades, the 12-story office tower at 1002 Southmore Ave. — originally known as the First Pasadena State Bank building — has managed to get by untouched by those who want it gone. (It came this close to vanishing in 2005 when the city issued a demolition permit for it, but a new owner scooped it up before anything went down.) In June, the city filed a lawsuit demanding that the property owner demolish the tower or reimburse the city for taking matters into its own hands. The defendant did neither, and instead passed the building off in October to the Pasadena Economic Development Corporation — which, having secured financial help from Pasadena’s city council shortly after the sale closed — now plans to go through with the teardown.

It’ll cost about $2.5 million to get rid of structure, the private development group estimates, after having negotiated the terms of its demise with various demolition and asbestos abatement contractors. According to the PEDC’s meeting minutes following the purchase: “the roof leaks so badly that water has gone through the whole building.

When Houston architectural firm MacKie & Kamrath designed it for what was to become the commercial center of Pasadena in the early ’60s, the challenge was to make something “that signalled the former Strawberry Capital of the World‘s transition into the era of manned spaceflight,” according to the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray. It became an icon in town — showing up on school report cards and in the logo for the city’s chamber of commerce — and beyond, as a notable waypoint between downtown Houston and NASA’s then-new manned spaceflight facility further south off I-45.

Looking from closer up, you can see the corner holes in the building’s cantilevered roof overhang:

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Breaking the Bank Building
12/12/18 5:30pm

The new owner of 812 Main St. (shown above) is the same entity that owns the JW Marriott next-door at 806 Main St. Well, sort of. Technically, the properties belong to 2 separate entities, but they both tie back to the same real estate overlord: Pearl Hospitality, a Houston-based hotel operator with a few extra properties in Lubbock. Pearl closed on the 812 Main St. building last month for $3.6 million.

Designed by Houston architects Joseph Finger and George Rustay the recently-transacted tower was completed in 1950 for the Battelsteins’s department store — which occupied each of its 10 floors. It’s now been vacant for roughly 30 years. Battlestein’s signage has been replaced by the smudges visible above the mural-ized storefront face in the photo at top. But 2 naked flagpoles remain on either side of where the lettering once was.

After visiting the property in December, 2015, PDG Architects estimated it’d cost nearly $17 million to renovate it into something suitable for office tenants to inhabit. Just bringing it up to code could cost $8 million, according to public records.

The JW Marriott next-door at Rusk St. — formally known as the Samuel F. Carter building — underwent its Pearl-Hospitality redo starting in 2010 with a bit of financial help from the city and HUD, as well as architectural know-how from Gensler:

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Department Store Skyscraper
10/16/18 11:15am

CHASE BANK CLOSING IN THE TOWER THAT BEARS ITS NAME December 13 is the last business day at Chase’s Chase Tower branch. The bank — which a portion of the lobby shown beyond Joan Miró’s Personage and Birds sculpture in the photo above — is following in the footsteps of the upstairs Chase employees who left in 2006 when the corporation moved its offices out of the building and lost the naming rights to it, reports the Chronicle’s John C. Roper. The nearest branch: in the former Gulf Building at 712 Main St., on the block catty-corner southeast of the Chase Tower. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: 42 Floors

10/10/17 2:00pm

Skanska is touting the green roof it’s planning atop the 11-story parking-garage portion of the Capitol Tower as a “Sky Park”: It’ll be the “first and largest green roof in Downtown Houston to be open to all building tenants,” the development company says. The 24,000-sq.-ft. roofscape will feature pathways surrounded by plants, grasses, and a few decorative trees; arbors with roofs modeled after the pipe-assembly structure seen at Rice’s Brochstein Pavilion, and “an infinity edge that makes it appear as though the park is floating in the sky.” Plus: an automated irrigation system that’ll pull water from the building’s 50,000-gallon rainwater cistern. Looming neighbors will include the Esperson Building, 712 Main, and Pennzoil Place.

Access to the roofscape, which was designed by OJB Landscape Architecture, will be through west-facing doors on the building’s 12th floor, the 35-story building’s lowest office level:

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Green Roofs Downtown
09/26/17 1:15pm

Something you might not have noticed about Houston’s iconic Bank of America Center (top) at 700 Louisiana St. Downtown: There’s an entire unused building hidden inside. The thrice-renamed spiky Dutch-ish PoMo tower complex, designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1982, sits across the street from his other famous Downtown Houston office building, Pennzoil Place. It’s not obvious from the exterior or interior, but the 2-story former Western Union building on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets (pictured above in a photo from 1957) takes up almost a quarter of the block Bank of America Center sits on. This was Western Union’s longtime regional switching center; Johnson was asked to design his building around it because the cable and electrical connections maintained within it were deemed cost-prohibitive to relocate.

Thirty-five years later, it’s the building’s anchor tenant that’s relocating: Bank of America, which now occupies 165,000 sq. ft., will move to Skanska’s Capitol Tower in a couple years. As part of a new set of renovations to the structure the bank is leaving behind, owner M-M Properties plans to completely dismantle what remains of the Western Union building, recapturing 35,000 sq. ft. of space without expanding the building’s footprint. Among the plans for the resulting space: A “reconfiguration” of the lobby and the addition of a “white tablecloth restaurant.”

The secret Western Union void is well disguised. It isn’t in the lobby of the 56-story tower but in the 12-story adjacent bank-lobby building fronting Louisiana St., more formally known as the the Banking Hall when the building first opened in 1983 as RepublicBank Center. It takes up the entire northern half of that structure: It’s beyond the colonnaded-but-blank wall on your right as you enter the lobby from Louisiana (on the left in this photo):

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Tales from the Vault
02/08/17 11:00am

HOW MANY DOWNTOWNS DOES HOUSTON HAVE? Williams Tower, 2800 Post Oak Blvd., Galleria Area, Houston, 77056The list of Houston neighborhoods with potential to be mistaken for Downtown by outsiders, Blake Mathews of KHOU writes this week, is long, and includes at least “Uptown (Galleria), the Texas Medical Center, Greenspoint, Greenway Plaza, The Woodlands and perhaps even Westchase.” So what makes a Downtown? Mathews runs through some factors for consideration, ranging from the city’s population density center (which falls somewhere west of Downtown) to total office space (Uptown has less than downtown Houston, but more than downtown Denver) to building height (with a specific shoutout to the Williams Tower, pictured here.) [KHOU] Photo of Williams Tower: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

09/02/16 2:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON LEARNED IT’S NOT FLOOR COUNT, IT’S HOW YOU USE IT Missing Skyscraper“Competing for the tallest building is the civilizational equivalent of comparing certain body part sizes. Houston may have been ‘robbed‘ of it back when it was a headstrong teenager, but with maturity comes the realization that it’s really not necessary to spend ridiculous amounts of money just to have the tallest, shiniest building on the block.” [meh, commenting on ExxonMobil Backs Off Property Tax Dispute; Fiesta Wayside’s New Look]

08/26/16 3:30pm

ESPERSON, PENNZOIL, 712 MAIN TUNNELS TO REOPEN NEXT THURSDAY AROUND STALLED SPROUT OF CAPITOL TOWER Capitol Tower Tunnel ReopeningFrom the depths of the Esperson building, a reader sends a fresh shot of a sign announcing that tunnel connections from the building to nearby 712 Main and Pennzoil Place will be open again late next week. The phrasing implies that the connections beneath the site of Skanska’s planned-for-maybe-later Capitol Tower may not all be open by that time, but the Chase Tower (which itself connects to the lawsuit-embroiled former Houston Chronicle spot) will at least be accessible via a 712 Main detour. The tunnels beneath the former home of the previously-blown-away Houston Club building have been closed since 2014 as Skanska poured a tower foundation and built a parking garage; the company said earlier this year that it won’t be moving forward with the rest of the Capitol Tower until the market looks perkier. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: ThaChadwick

07/27/16 4:30pm

Market Square Tower construction, 777 Preston St., Downtown, Houston, 77002Market Square Tower construction, 777 Preston St., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The spindly yellow crane that has been dangling over the top of Woodbranch Investment’s Market Square Tower is coming down in pieces this afternoon, notes a downtown reader. The shot above shows the scene from the corner of Prairie and Travis streets, with the top edge of the still-standing-by-court-order former Houston Chronicle building sticking in from the left.

The 463-unit tower has been leasing spaces since April, with plans to open this fall. There’s still work to do on the building before then, though the support for the glass-bottom cantilevered rooftop pool that will hang some 500 feet above Preston looks to be in place. Here’s Jackson & Ryan’s rendering of what the space will look like once the water has been added:

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Coming Down Downtown
07/21/16 5:00pm

downtown-tour-1

A set of skeletal construction updates are the product of Bob Russell’s downtown photo hunt earlier this week. The view above is a Hines 2-fer: Behind James Surl’s spiky Point of View sculpture is the 32-floor apartment building on its way up at the corner of Travis and Preston (now going by Aris Market Square), with a sliver of all-business 609 Main visible on the right. The office tower has been getting its last few bits of steel stuck into place this week — check out a more centered portrait of the rooftop action (plus more covert snaps of bare beams from around the area) below:

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All On The Way
07/08/16 12:45pm

Capitol Tower Tunnel Closures
The connections to the Downtown tunnel system beneath the planned future site of 35-story Capitol Tower at 811 Rusk St. should reopen by the end of the year, a Skanska representative tells Swamplot, though a hard date hasn’t been set yet.  The developer told Cara Smith of the HBJ last month that the bulk of the project wouldn’t go forward until leasing conditions look better, regardless of the explosive eviction of the former Houston Club building from the site, and last August’s foundation pour. The closures have cut off 601 Travis, the rebranding former Gulf Building, and all 3 of the buildings tangled up in that Hines-Linbeck-Houston-Chronicle tunnel lawsuit from the rest of the system since work on the spot first started in 2014. Take a look at the once-and-future underground crossroads in broader context:

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Under Downtown
06/21/16 4:45pm

Sky Lobby, 600 Travis St., Downtown, Houston, 77002sky-lobbyYou’ve missed your last chance to catch a view like these from the Chase Tower at 600 Travis St., unless you’re there on business. Craig Hlavaty reports that Hines has permanently closed the downtown skyscraper’s 60th floor Sky Lobby to the public, just 3 years after that 2013 redo by Gensler, to cut down on tenant-bothering “extra non-business-related traffic” on the floor (which is also an elevator swapout zone.) Time to update that list.

Photos: Bill Barfield (top) and Russell Hancock (bottom) via Swamplot Flickr Pool

Grounded Downtown
05/06/16 12:30pm

allen-center-remodel-2

One Allen Center, 1200 Smith St., Downtown, Houston, 77002Brookfield released a few renderings this morning of the plans to make over One, Two, and Three Allen Centers at the corner of Smith and Dallas streets downtown. The rendering above depicts the new plan for the greenspace between One and Two: to subtract 1 of the 2 second-story skybridges currently running parallel to Smith and add an events venue. The redo plans also include a major street-level change for One Allen Center, depicted above with a 2-story glass lobby running around corner in place of the current largely-bricked-over podium facade.

That tiny neon sign on the left edge of the turn-of-the-decade photo above once marked the location of Don Patron; the quarter-centenarian Tex-Mex lunch spot started to close in February and finished the job in March. The remodel plans swap it out for a higher-end restaurant, which will get some patio space along Smith St:

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1, 2, 3 Remodel
04/26/16 10:30am

Former Houston Chronicle Building, 801 Texas Ave., Downtown, Houston, 77002

The company developing the block across Prairie St. from the Houston Chronicle‘s downtown ex-headquarters filed a lawsuit last week over the impending demolition of the paper’s former haunt at 801 Texas Ave. Theater Square, an entity connected to Linbeck, claimed in a Wednesday night filing that the upcoming demo interferes with its plans to build a tunnel through the former newspaper building’s basement to connect its across-the-street property into the broader downtown tunnel network.

The ex-Chronicle building (actually a collection of buildings later wrapped together behind a single facade) currently sits above a tunnel segment connecting the 717 Texas Ave. building (the office building formerly known as Calpine Center) sharing a block with the Lancaster Hotel and its new parking lots) to the Chase tower (south across Texas Ave., between Milam and Travis). Theater Square’s filing alleges that news corporation Hearst agreed back in 2007 to give the company permanent access to some underground easements for the purpose of building a new tunnel segment leading to the property across Prairie (currently a surface parking lot previously slated for the International Tower project). Theater Square also claims that the easement access agreements transferred to the next owner when Hines bought up the property last year.

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Downtown Tunnel Tussle
04/14/16 4:45pm

712 Main St., Downtown, Houston, 77002
The Chase-occupied former Gulf Building at 712 Main St. (above) and the 10-story Great Jones building tucked next to it on the corner with Capitol St. are getting made over and rebranded together as The Jones on Main. Planned updates to the 37-story art deco skyscraper, which between 1929 and 1951 housed the Sakowitz department store in its first 5 floors at the corner of Rusk St. and Main, include a de-conversion of the ground level at that corner from office space back to retail usage — here’s a look at the intended floorplan released by developer Midway this morning, with Rusk at the bottom of the frame:

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712 + 708