What Chance Would the Kirby Mansion Stand To Stay Standing Under New Ownership?

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

22 Comment

  • Oh man. This would be a huge loss. I always look at that roof when I drive the Elevated.

  • “Why let this historically significant, architecturally interesting, completely usable building stand, when we can build another generic, stale mid-rise apartment with (probably) no ground floor retail?”
    —The potential buyer, probably

  • It would definitely be a shame to lose this gem! I used to marvel at its design and well kept exterior as i passed by it daily on the bus back in the early 2000s. But Houston has promoted (or definitely not discouraged) a disposable real estate culture.

  • This is Houston where developers (and not very sophisticated ones at that) rule and the name of the game is dirt. It is coming down… Sorry folks, if Incarnate World Academy (Arch. Nicholas Clayton Bldg.), The Lone Star Saloon Bldg, Shamrock Hotel and whole host of other culturally and historically significant buildings can be torn down in this town? Don’t hold out much hope.

    As an Architect myself, this saddens me :( Then again they all do.

  • How shameful it would be to let this beautiful building be demolished. This building held historic meetings with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Gorbachev, Herbert Hoover . . .

    Surely some of our hometown heroes could help with this – Rich Kinder, Mattress Mack, Heritage Society?? A group effort here would great!

  • How about moving it to Sam Houston Park and using it as the central museum and event building. A win win. The city keeps a gem and new owner gets what they are paying for….a empty lot.

  • Jeez, people. Its an old brick house. There are plenty of nice houses to look at in the area. This one looks pretty worn out.

  • @Commenter7 …… where is one as nice and historic as this? I call BS

  • Ask yourselves, “What Would Kirby Do?” The man started as a timber industry lawyer. My guess is he would tear down any building that wasn’t providing optimal profits.

  • if we saved more building’s like this we would have fewer “commenter7’s” in the world.

    keep the damn building!

  • Huh, a quick glance around Google street view doesn’t immediately turn up any other houses nearby. A good deal of surface parking.

    Doesn’t Houston have any lawyers? Where I live – and I’ve seen this elsewhere – lawyers, perhaps in mild penance for the misery they bring down on us all, tend to occupy and maintain old houses in very urban areas. It’s a nice civic service, and can provide a veneer of class. But maybe lawyers don’t wish to project that sort of image anymore.

  • Was he “optimizing profits,” Memebag, when he donated the land for the “Kirby State Forest” in Tyler County?

    A blanket anti-preservation stance, seems to me a peculiarly modern viewpoint. It’s commonplace in urbanist circles, certainly. Just own it if it pleases you, and you feel it makes for a better city block by block.

  • @callirhoe: You mean the forest used for research into silviculture? And generating funds for student loans? Yeah, I think he was.

  • I am mystified by the notion that anyone outside the student loan industry, profits from student loans. Anything that results in pumping money into the education sector – seems to me the very definition of profit-minimizing, and waste generally.

  • Most citizens aren’t willing to sacrifice city services at the expense of aesthetically pleasing buildings and nobody has evaluated it’s value to the public in an aesthetic regard. I would really be interested in seeing the numbers behind that because I’d assume it’s aesthetic value is hyper-localized and all but worthless to the city itself.
    It certainly looks impressive but I’ve never seen it and avoid midtown like the plague. Why would I vote to preserve buildings like this as opposed to increasing city funding to keep the city from going bankrupt?
    Are we to propose we raise property taxes to offset revenue losses through historical preservation?
    Are we proposing that those living close to poverty should help subsidize aesthetically pleasing buildings for those rich enough to live/work in midtown?

  • @peri: Student loans are loans. Loans are repaid with interest. Interest is free money (for the loaner). Silviculture is tree farming.

  • If supporting destruction of this house is ONLY about profit and generating tax revenues (which the city will never ever manage effectively) then that pretty much makes this blog obsolete. Excuse the “F” out of those who are disappointed that older (or any) buildings with character and architectural appeal are being disposed of. Yes of course land owners have the right to do what they want with their property, except if designated historical, in an HOA, etc. It is still a disappointment never-the-less.

  • @joel: Aesthetics is a meaningless word, but nice things are generally nicer than nasty ones; and the argument is that poor people derive no enjoyment from being around nice things. I am less sure than you that this is true. I would almost think that a spot of prettiness in a city, is as meaningful to the person who cannot easily escape the city, or ever look at much anything else, as it would be to the person who can pay for beautiful surroundings, leave at weekends, etc.

    But forgive me, if you feel I am attributing to much humanity to poor people, and that that is not rhetorical fair play.

  • Memeculture, I would point out that interest is not “free money” to the lender. It is the fee paid for the risk the lender assumes and the use of that money in lieu of alternatives that might also generate a return for the owner of that money. I don’t know if you were trying to make a simple statement to clarify a point, or if you truly believe that lenders just make money appear out of thin air, but don’t hate on the lenders. They provide a very important service to borrowers.

  • @Victor Sifuentes: There’s no hate in my description of lending. I love free money.
    I was trying to point out the contradiction of trying to stop commerce to preserve beauty when the thing being preserved was built by a timber baron. I have failed.

  • My stance is it stands a somewhat standard chance of standing with new ownership…

  • Doomed, like the first house to have central AC. Remember that one? Great big beautiful old place on Lovett Blvd that is now a bunch of town homes?
    Don’t be surprised if this spot becomes the first gas station one will coming off the new ramp after the Pierce Elevated is gone.