07/25/11 12:30pm

The silver apple went up late last week on the enormous new Houston Food Bank location carved out of the former Sysco Foods warehouse at 535 Portwall St., just northwest of the I-10 East-610 Loop intersection. The 310,000-sq.-ft. facility will include a cafe, a community room and training center that’s open to the public, and a volunteer program called Serving for Success that’s open to inmates and probationers. The organization hopes to use its new space to double the amount of food it distributes (to 120 million lbs. a year) by 2018. Official opening date: September 23rd.


03/14/11 11:45am

The new owner of Texas Rice’s old Fidelity St. property has already begun demolishing the grain silos on the site, which are just visible from the East Freeway. A reader sends Swamplot this photo taken late yesterday of the view from Market St., just southeast of the intersection of I-10 east and the 610 Loop. McCorvey Real Estate Holdings bought the 22-acre industrial facility last October, and is spending about $600,000 to upgrade warehouses on the site. The company plans to spend a similar amount on improvements for future tenants, then $5 million more within the next couple of years on 130,000 more sq. ft. of industrial space. There’s 141,280 sq. ft. of space there already, though that figure includes the silos that are coming down.


01/18/11 4:38pm

DON’T CHOP DOWN THE RODNEY CROWELL TREE! Two Chinaberry trees the country-music star planted with his mother by the front sidewalk of his childhood home at 10418 Norvic St. in Jacinto City never grew at all, but a third one Rodney Crowell named after himself did well. “It’s a Spanish-speaking fellow that lives there now,” Crowell tells the Chronicle‘s Andrew Dansby. “He had built a house where our house had fallen down. I got him out in the yard and tried to explain everything. I gave him a record of The Houston Kid. He looked at me like, ‘What do you want me to do with this?’ So we had a pointing conversation. I told him, ‘I planted that tree. Don’t chop it down!’ After a while he said, ‘Yes! Shade!’ I thought, OK, well the tree’s safe. A few years [later] I go back by, and it was cut down. I was livid. But the good news is the trunk is still there, and the trunk had started to sprout some little limbs. So maybe it’ll grow back in some way. These trees are tougher than we give them credit for. But I was mad; I was sure I’d gotten the point across.” [29-95]

01/13/11 9:34pm

SUMMARY REPORT FROM THE RECENT URBAN GARDEN SUMMIT “There is a 2 acre plot of land beside the parking lot at the Houston Food Bank’s new headquarters on I-10 east and that organization is looking for someone to build a demonstration garden there. Meanwhile, Covenant Community Capital is assisting a group of chefs including Randy Evans from Haven who are looking for a spot for a cooperative restaurant garden. Last Organic Outpost and the Harris County AgriLife extension office are looking for ways to help both groups. One idea under consideration is to turn the Houston Food Bank lot into a composting facility — at least to get that project started. The search for a restaurant garden is focusing on vacant lots in the Fifth Ward.” [Texas Eats; previously on Swamplot]

09/24/10 11:12am

From RdlR Architects: Drawings showing how the former Sysco Foods HQ on Portwall St. off I-10 just inside the East Loop will look when its transformation into what its sponsors claim will be the world’s largest food bank is complete. The Houston Food Bank bought the facility — which includes a 298,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and a 130,000-sq.-ft. freezer building — back in April, for $17 million. The nonprofit hopes to be able to distribute 120 million pounds of food annually by 2018.


09/02/10 9:58am

HOUSTON’S NATURAL GAS PARKS Isn’t it about time this city got back to basics? A company called Southern Star Exploration will soon be setting up drilling rigs outside 3 city parks and a city service center in northeast Houston. Yesterday city council approved a 3-year oil and gas lease to let the company explore possible reserves under Herman Brown Park, Maxey Park, Brock Park, and a public works facility on McCarty Rd. What’s in it for the city? $200,000 for the lease, plus a promised 25 percent of any royalties. Mayor Parker says she doesn’t want drilling rigs set up on city property, but she’ll “look for more opportunities” for horizontal or slant drilling to get at what lies beneath. [abc13] Photo of Herman Brown Park: Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

04/28/10 9:00am

SOME VERY LARGE BUILDINGS NOW OWNED BY THE BANK Oh, but this time it’s the Houston Food Bank, announcing it has finally acquired restaurant distribution giant Sysco Foods’ former warehouse facilities at 535 Portwall St., just northeast of the intersection of I-10 East and the Loop. Officials of the nonprofit organization are set to announce plans today for renovating the property into the largest food bank in the country. The Houston Food Bank paid $17 million for the complex, down from the $22 million quoted when the deal was first announced: “The acquisition included a 272,711-square foot warehouse, a 153,341 square-foot freezer building and a 15,870 square-foot truck center. . . . This deal had been in the works since 2007 when Sysco announced it was selling its storage warehouse to build a new one on the north side of town.” [Prime Property]

03/02/10 2:09pm

DARKNESS DESCENDS OVER THE EAST FREEWAY Hey, who turned out all the street lights along I-10 between the East Loop and Uvalde? Copper thieves! [Public Works spokesperson Alvin] Wright said a similar theft took place inside the loop, but this was the first time it had happened on such a large scale further east. In response, public works is considering replacing the copper wires with aluminum, and installing lock boxes to keep the copper conductors safe. Officials said they don’t know how long it will take to complete the repairs, which could eventually cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.” [KHOU.com]

12/17/08 11:06am

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE That fire in the atrium office building at 9343 North Loop East almost 2 years ago still heats up the Houston real estate scene: “An insurance company with a potential $25 million liability from a 2007 Houston office fire is claiming smoke that killed three people was ‘pollution’ and surviving families shouldn’t be compensated for their losses since the deaths were not caused directly by the actual flames. Great American Insurance Company is arguing in a Houston federal court that the section of the insurance policy that excludes payments for pollution — like discharges or seepage that require cleanup — would also exclude payouts for damages, including deaths, caused by smoke, or pollution, that results from a fire.” [Houston Chronicle]

02/27/08 1:01pm

El Torito Lounge, Harrisburg Blvd., Houston

Houston’s lone professional tourists, John Nova Lomax and David Beebe, stop off at the Brady’s Island in the Ship Channel midway into their latest day-long stroll . . . through this city’s southeastern stretches:

The air is foul here, and the eastern view is little more than a forest of tall crackers and satanic fume-belching smokestacks, sending clouds of roasted-cabbage-smelling incense skyward to Mammon, all bisected by the amazingly tall East Loop Ship Channel Bridge, its pillars standing in the toxic bilge where Brays Bayou dumps its effluent into the great pot of greenish-brown petro-gumbo.

While Brady’s Landing today seems to survive as a function room – a sort of Rainbow Lodge for the Ship Channel, with manicured grounds that reminded Beebe of Astroworld — decades ago, people came here to eat and to take in the view. This was progress to them, this horrifically awesome vista showed how we beat the Nazis and Japanese and how we were gonna stave off them godless Commies. As for me, it made me think of Beebe’s maxim: “Chicken and gasoline don’t mix.”

More from the duo’s march through “Deep Harrisburg”: Flag-waving Gulf Freeway auto dealerships, an early-morning ice house near the Almeda Mall, a razorwire-fenced artist compound in Garden Villas, Harold Farb’s last stand, colorful Broadway muffler joints, the hidden gardens of Thai Xuan, and — yes, gas-station chicken.

“There is nothing else like the Southeast side,” Lomax adds in a comment:

I see it as the true heart of Houston. Without the port and the refineries we are nothing. The prosperous West Side could be Anywhere, USA, but the Southeast Side could only be here.

Photo of El Torito Lounge on Harrisburg: John Nova Lomax and David Beebe

09/17/07 10:33am

House at Southern End of Fifth Ward, HoustonJohn Nova Lomax chronicles another pedestrian adventure with drummer pal David Beebe in Houstoned—this time through desolate pockets of Houston’s East Side. Their potion-and-perspiration-soaked journey begins at the southern end of the Fifth Ward.

There, on the corner of Lyons Avenue and McKee, a dry-heaving stray dog in its death throes welcomed us to central Houston’s Chernobyl, a cursed warren of rusty train tracks, crumbling warehouses, and whole blocks that have reverted to wild coastal prairie.

Ruins of an entire neighborhood molder back here – unpainted shotgun shacks collapsing in on themselves scattered around a blocky brick building that looked like it was once a bar or liquor store. It had been stripped of all metal fixtures by street urchins and cut off from the electrical grid, but a sign in the window indicated it was for sale. “Call Bob,” it said. And evidently it was not so long ago a place of some importance, as a street teamer for a rapper named Marcelo had plastered a few promo posters on its door.

Next stop: Clinton Dr., where the “rank stench” of the 69th Street Wastewater Treatment Plant guides their path.

Lord have mercy on Clinton Drive. Save for a couple of islands of activity like the huge fenced-in KBR headquarters (which is rumored to be for sale), Clinton is now little more than a decrepit strip of ruined factories, warehouses fast crumbling into rubble, and decaying 1950s office buildings with broken windows and mold-stained walls.

It reminded me of 19th Century British gadfly William Cobbett’s description of the village of Deal, Sussex: “Deal is a most villainous place. It is full of filthy looking people. Great desolation of abomination has been going on here; tremendous barracks, partly pulled down and partly tumbling down and partly occupied by soldiers. Everything seems upon the perish. I was glad to hurry along through it…”

It wasn’t always such. From the Ship Channel’s opening until the advent of containerized shipping in the early ‘80s, Clinton and surrounding streets were bustling by day and by night, dotted with rice beer-soaked bars with names like the Cesspool, the Worker’s Bar, the Seafarer’s Retreat, the Mermaid Café, Tater’s Last Chance and Dottie’s Snug Harbor.

In those days, it could take a week to unload a cargo ship, and for much of that time, sailors were free to roam the port, dine in the restaurants, carouse in the bars, and find companionship where they may. The same went for the thousands of shore-based workers – the mechanics, channel pilots, stevedores, and tug boat crews.

Neighborhood on the waterfront: Coulda been a contender.

Photo: David Beebe and John Nova Lomax