What tales of real-estate scandal are buried beneath the blocks surrounding Market Square? In 1988, the Bethje-Lang building at 316 Milam St., better known as the site of the Warren’s Inn bar, was torn down without so much as a permit by its new owner, Guardian Savings. According to an account enshrined on the Downtown District website, the soon-to-be-defunct S&L was able to wrest the building from its previous owner, Warren Trousdale, only after a multi-year campaign of harassment that included mysteriously cemented-up sewer lines. (Trousdale’s sister established the current Warren’s Inn, across Market Square on Travis St., in his — and the building’s — memory.) Guardian Savings was never able to build the development it planned for that site, but the parking lot it left behind was ripped out this past summer for construction of the 40-story Market Square Tower.
The block likely held the remnants of other storied escapades, but a Swamplot reader says it’s all gone now: “The entire site [was] bulldozed, excavated and historically sanitized in a matter of a few days. During the excavations red brick foundations were exposed to a depth of about 15 feet and destroyed. There was no sign of any archeological due diligence by the developer before or during the demolition.”
But if you like digging in Houston real estate dirt, there’s still plenty left to explore beneath an adjacent parking lot:
On the block surrounded by Milam, Travis, Preston, and Prairie, where Essex Commercial Properties and Stream Realty appear to be planning a 40-something-story office tower, remnants of some of the many buildings that stood here are still visible in spots, under and around the asphalt rolled out for the current surface parking lot.
Photos taken in September (above and below) “reveal store front foundations of three sides (Milam, Preston, Travis) of the block [are] pretty much intact (peeking out from the edges of the asphalt covered parking lot),” writes the reader who sent them in. “The lot is extremely built up, and it is possible that the foundations of every former structure built on the lot may still exist under the parking lot.”
Here’s a map of what once stood there:
The reader hopes some of this can be unearthed before the next development: “Proper excavation and structure documentation of this block prior to construction would present a ‘last chance opportunity’ to study the history as well of the architecture of an entire 19th century downtown Houston block.”
Photos: Swamplot inbox