01/14/19 10:45am

A Swamplot reader perched up in the SkyHouse Main Apartments has been documenting the evolving scene 3 blocks away from his living room, where the block once home to U-Haul Moving and Storage of Midtown at San Jacinto now completely demolished — is now giving rise to a larger, replacement U-Haul building. The photo at top looks east down Pease St. to show workers planting the earth with beams for the new structure. On the left, you can see what the previous moving and storage building looked like during its final stand at the end of last year.

The demolished building consisted of 28,376 sq.-ft. for self-storage, moving supplies retail, and truck parking. Building permits filed for its replacement indicate it’ll be 220,160-sq.-ft.:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Downtown Block 348
01/10/19 12:30pm

A building permit filed yesterday for renovations to the former Brown Bag Deli at 702 Main St. has this familiar name on it: Shake Shack. The photo at top of the storefront’s north side along Capitol St. show its windows completely whited-out to prevent passers-by from getting too curious about what’s going on inside. On Main St., Brown Bag Deli’s December 21 closure notice remains stuck to the front door.

The storefront takes up the northeast corner of the 10-story Great Jones Building and is right next door to the WeWork that arrived in the structure last year. At the opposite, south end of the block, the adjacent Chase Building (formerly known as the Gulf Building) became home last month to Houston’s newest food hall Finn Hall.

Photos: Swamplot inbox

Main and Capitol
12/20/18 12:45pm

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS HOLD OFF ON REPAIRS TO DOWNTOWN’S SOGGY CRIMINAL JUSTICE SKYSCRAPER The County Commissioners were set to approve repairs to the chronically wet Harris County Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday when District Attorney Kim Ogg — who occupies the building along with her 735 employees — convinced them to tap the brakes, calling it “unseemly . . . that we would be spending $14 million when we still don’t know the cause of the flooding.Writing in November, the Houston Chronicle‘s Brian Rogers blamed it on: “unprecedented amounts of standing water,” that “seeped into the underground walls” of the building even though its flood gates remained secure. But he noted that some county officials believe there were “multiple sources,” of water and remained unsure about how it all got in. The 18-year-old building at 1201 Franklin St. partly reopened in June. The repairs that the commissioners had planned to authorize this week included fixes to its elevator shafts and parts of floors 2 through 20. (They suffered damage when the electronics in the basement — dampened by floodwaters — malfunctioned, sending gallons of water through the building’s anti-flood pumping system, which ironically, burst pipes and flooded the upper stories.) Following up on Ogg’s remarks, County Engineer John Blount raised the possibility of building a new criminal justice building from scratch. The estimated cost he gave for doing so: $430 million. [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Harris County

12/17/18 4:45pm

From the tunnels beneath the building formerly known as Two Shell Plaza, a Swamplot reader reports that the McDonald’s has closed. By management’s tally, it had been open down there for 30 years. The photo at top shows the notice that’s been up on the restaurant’s spot since last week.

Photos: Hines (811 Louisiana); Swamplot inbox (flyer)

811 Louisiana
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:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Department Store Skyscraper
12/05/18 12:45pm

Think your street’s drainage is bad? Listen to this: In 2015, Kris Handoyo was heading north on Travis St. in the backseat of a Mazda when the downtown storm drain cover pictured above came loose and punched through the floorboard of the car, severing half of his right foot. Handoyo, a digital content employee of the Houston Rockets, filed a lawsuit against the city asking for up to $1.25 million in recompense. And this morning the city voted to give it to him. Well, some of it: After mediation, the parties had settled on $200,000.

The drain in question — shown above in the Travis St. bus lane just north of Clay St. — is still there, although the particular grate that impacted Handoyo has been removed and patched over with concrete. Many of its relatives remain in their asphalt habitats however, where they’ve been since the late ’90s and early 2000s.

And where neighbors in Downtown and Midtown have been complaining about them for at least a decade:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Drainage Lawsuit
11/28/18 11:45am

Note: We’ve appended a photo showing off Caffè Di Firenze’s espresso machine to the end of this story.

New signage is up in the windows of the Henry Brashear Building at 910 Prairie St. downtown on account of Caffè Di Firenze‘s recent move into the place. It’s now serving drinks and food inside and plans to do so on the outside, too, once the city signs off on permission for chairs and tables to go on the sidewalk. The photo at top shows the storefront pretty much the same as it’s been since going red in 2016. Except now some new tri-colored tiling peeks out from underneath the doors.

Inside, there’s this hashtagged wall of greenery:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

New Coffee Grounds
11/05/18 11:30am

Chevron made some strikingly real 3D changes to the fake 3D facade of the old Houston Press building last week, bringing it closer to total collapse. The photos above — shot over the weekend from the YMCA catty corner to the scene — show Suzanne E. Sellers’ 1994 trompe-l’œil additions to the building’s east face no longer fooling anyone, though a few sections of her work on that side and off Leeland St. remain intact.

Nothing’s crumbled yet on the unpainted, Pease-St. side:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Illusions Shattered
10/26/18 5:15pm

 

Note: This story has been updated to indicate that City Council’s October 23 vote approved funding for previous work that was already completed on the plaza, not for future renovations.

This week Houston City Council voted to cut a check to workers that finished the first round of renovations on the plaza. The results of their work  — including new fencing, gates, and a terrace — clear the way for the second chapter of redos to begin. The video at top winds it way through round 2 of changes, showing off the new children’s reading area, stage, and outdoor seating bound for the 0.75-acre space between the Jesse H. Jones Building (AKA Central Library) and the Julia Ideson building directly east of it.

While 25-year naming rights are already locked down on the Phillips 66 Jumbo Video Screen (on the right in the rendering abvoe) and Janice and Robert C. McNair Performance Stage (left), the puppet theater depicted below is still in need of a namesake:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Downtown Redo
10/26/18 10:30am

THE CASE AGAINST THE HOUSTON FORENSIC SCIENCE CENTER’S SHARED OFFICE SETUP Last month, leaders of the Center told Houston City Council their 200-plus person staff just isn’t fitting in at HPD’s downtown offices in 1200 Travis, pictured above. For one thing: “Technicians test guns by firing live ammunition on the 24th floor,” which neighbors offices above and below, reports the Chronicle‘s Zach Despart. They also “transport evidence upstairs in public elevators.Although “shortcomings in the Houston Police Department’s own crime lab” were what prompted the city to found the Center as an independent body in 2014, the agencies’ ongoing closeness tends to raise eyebrows: “You walk into HPD’s headquarters on the way to the laboratory,” says Center president Peter Stout. The good news: their proximity is only temporary. Earlier this month, City Council approved a new 30-year lease for the Center at 500 Jefferson — a privately-owned building 9 blocks away — where it’ll get 83,000 sq.-ft. for “toxicology, DNA testing, fingerprint analysis and narcotics storage,” as well as a 25-ft. firing range in the basement, reports Jasper Scherer. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 1200 Travis St.: WhisperToMe

10/22/18 2:45pm

A SATURDAY NIGHT SWAN SONG AT SPRUCE GOOSE: SOCIAL FLYERS CLUB This past weekend was the last one ever for the concert venue known as Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club on the second floor of 809 Congress, across from Market Square Park and directly above Henke and Pillot. The 100- to 300-person club only opened up earlier this year, but managed to stay booked through the summer and all the way up until its finale on Saturday, which featured — among others — self-described “Punkish?” band Branagan, shown sending things off in the photo above. [Spruce Goose: Social Flyers Club] Photo: Branagan

10/19/18 10:00am

“Houston must have looked huge to Lyndon Johnson as he drove toward it across the flat Gulf plains in his battered little car,” writes Robert Caro in his biography of the former president. Johnson’s destination: Sam Houston High School (shown at top), which opened in 1921 in place of the even-older Central High School on the block bounded by Austin, Rusk, Caroline, and Capitol — the same spot where the new Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is now “90 percent complete,according to Paper City’s Annie Gallay.

Hired to teach public speaking and coach the debate team, Johnson — writes Caro — promised his new principal he’d win the state championship. He didn’t, coming in second at the tournament in Austin. Still, Johnson had succeeded in making a name for himself among staff — who gave him a $100 raise and a contract for the next school year — and among the school’s 1,800 students — who jockeyed for enrollment in “Mr. Johnson’s speech class” during the following school year. By the end of LBJ’s first full year at Sam Houston, reports Caro, enrollment had increased from 60 to 110 new students.

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Sam Houston High to HSPVA
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

10/10/18 4:00pm

Nancy Sarnoff has a few more details today on what the Downtown Redevelopment Authority will be paying the private owner of the area shown shaded at top — which wouldn’t give up its one-acre parcel there for a new park but will grant the Authority a 30-year lease for: “$355,992 in annual rent,” during the first 5 years, a spokeswoman says, with a 10 percent hike every 5 years thereafter. With that agreement in place — and the Goodyear Auto Service Center that currently occupies the block’s Fannin-St.-side slated for demo next April — the Authority is now seeking plans from landscape architects that’d be responsible for designing the space, though it notes that whatever the chosen firm comes up with “will have a potentially short life, between 30 and 50 years, per the lease agreement currently in place and options to extend.” (The parking lot shown without shading belongs to the South Texas College of Law and is there to stay.)

But that hasn’t stopped those involved from dreaming big while they can. A conceptual map of the park drawn up Project for Public Spaces — a New York planning firm hired to brainstormed some preliminary ideas for the Authority — shows it divvied up among a pair of buildings and a variety of different green spaces including a dog park:

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Block 333
10/03/18 5:00pm

WHO PUSHED THE BUTTON THAT BLEW UP THE DOWNTOWN MACY’S According to the Vice President of Demolition at Cherry Companies, which oversaw the demo: “the person who bought the building had his son do it.” His push triggered 1,500 pounds of explosives — the demo exec estimates on the Chronicle’s latest episode of LoopedInobliterating the structure and clearing the way for the 23-floor Hilcorp Energy Tower his dad would later commission Hines to build in its place at Dallas and Main St. Although technically a partnership connected to Doug Kelly, president of Hilcorp Ventures, “bought” the building around the time of the teardown in 2013, it was more of a shuffling-around than a hand-off. Hilcorp had already owned the former Foley’s since 2010; the later transaction just transferred it over to different entity under the same umbrella of corporate oversight. [Previously on Swamplot]