Houston Building Permits Will Turn This House into Art — Tonight

Note: Nope, not tonight. See update below.

Sometime after 9 pm tonight — if rain doesn’t postpone its scheduled journey from 3012 Erastus St. in Houston’s Fifth Ward to a new home on Lyons Ave. — this abandoned house will become art. That’s not just the contention of Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, the two demolition artists responsible for the move; it’s actually detailed in the city permits they obtained for “Fifth Ward Jam,” a temporary public-art project they’re creating with funding from the Houston Arts Alliance. After Wooten House Movers set up the structure in its new location, Havel and Ruck will start tearing it up and reconstructing it. But the move is what will make it art — because the city says so. “The permit office had a hard time categorizing just exactly what to call our project,” Havel tells Swamplot:

Is it a house, is it a sculpture? Is it both? The black and white rules of permitting needed to be utilized. The best way to do that is to first call the house a structure in order to obtain the permits to move it. However, once the house is placed on the property, it ceases to be an inhabitable structure and will be transformed into a sculptural environment. So, somewhere along the moving route, whether it is half way between two sites or when it physically enters the new site, it will be officially categorized as a sculpture.

So when we reconstruct the house into a sculpture, we do not need a building permit because it is now a sculpture. Pretty funny logic, if you ask me, but it makes sense. The permit guys were certainly scratching their heads, but we got our permits.


Mary Ellen Carroll is not the only artist in town creating art out of real estate by having it moved,” Havel concludes. He and Ruck are still probably best known in Houston for the funnel-shaped assembly along Montrose Blvd. they created out of 2 old bungalows owned by the Art League of Houston a few years back — since memorialized in a giant photo decal on the window of the Inversion Coffeehouse later built on the site. More recently, a 30-foot-long football-shaped piece they cored out of a dilapidated Norhill bungalow went on display at the Contemporary Arts Museum.

For their latest project, the team plans to carve a diagonal “canyon-like” corridor from the front of the Fifth Ward house to the back that will split it in two. Toward the back, the canyon walls will poke out through the roof. A protruding deck built from  wood they remove will create a “bandshell-like” stage in front they’re hoping might be used for concerts and performances. When the project is complete, the house will be part of a pocket park, with gravel paths and a clearing in front of the stage for seating.

Here’s a view of the future park, at 3705 Lyons Ave. (on the corner of Capron St.). The property is owned by the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corp.:

Havel and Ruck expect the work to take 6 months, with a public opening next May. But the finished product may not end up as described. “What exactly the final sculpture will look like is still open ended,” Havel says. “We work intuitively, for the most part, so a lot of surprises are ahead of us.” This is, in fact, the third design for the project. Havel and Ruck had to scrap their original plans from last year, to move a house behind the DeLuxe Theater to another site. The house ended up being torn down before they could get to it.

Update, 4:30 pm: Havel now tells Swamplot a paperwork “snafu” related to the move means the house will have to remain on its current site — as a plain ol’ non-art structure — for a few more days.

Photos and drawing: Havel Ruck Projects

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