02/21/18 11:30am

La Calle Tacos & Tortas has opened a hole in the wall to allow customers to get to its new space: Cantina La Calle, shown to the right of the original restaurant on Franklin St. in the photo at top. Interior renovations on the new cantina at 911 Franklin began late last year in the spot that PI Lounge once occupied and a planned English-themed bar dubbed The Brit eyed but never landed in. The photo above looks into the taco shop — opened in 2016 — from the new cantina next door to it.

Photos: La Calle Tacos

Bayou Lofts Eats
02/05/18 4:30pm

TABC signage tacked to the 2-story office structure at 1803 Pease St. notes that AZ Furniture is applying for permission to serve beverages into the late hours on site. Could it be that a boozy cabinetry boutique is in the works, or a couch showroom that fronts a speakeasy? No, according to building permits filed to convert the 5,952-sq.-ft. building into a bar. The name listed on those permits is more suited for a venue located 3 blocks southeast of the Toyota Center — it’s Slam Dunk Bar & Grill.

Renovations began on the building last year. The photo below views it from its adjacent parking lot on the corner of Pease and Chenevert:

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The Hard Court
02/01/18 4:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A NEW DOWNTOWN BIKING MAIN LANE “. . . Metro and the City of Houston should close Main St. to vehicle traffic and make it a bike/pedestrian lane. It’s terribly confusing and extremely slow compared to the lanes next to it and causes more harm than good. People love to hate on bike lanes, but I bet all the haters avoid driving on Main like the plague already.” [HeyHeyHouston, commenting on Council Cuts a Break on Harvey Water Bills; Metro Cracking Down on Illegal Turns Across Tracks; Latest Timeline on the San Jacinto Waste Pits Cleanup] Photo of Main St. at Franklin St.: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

01/31/18 11:45am

The turf is down and the Adirondack chairs are seated in the front courtyard of Frank’s Backyard — the new 2,520-sq.-ft. beer garden wedged in Frank’s Pizza’s side yard on Travis St. Frank’s opened the lawn 2 days ago in place of a parking lot that once spanned all the way from the historic restaurant building on the corner of Travis and Prairie — home to both Frank’s and El Big Bad — north to Preston St. Hines’s Aris Market Square apartment has since taken over the northern portion of that lot along Preston. Its ground floor tenant Bravery Chef Hall borders Frank’s Backyard’s northern side.

At the end of the courtyard, an Airstream trailer-turned-bar sits parked beyond the garage door:

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Downtown Beer Garden
01/03/18 2:15pm

New renderings released by Sydness Architects show the street-level changes planned for the Bank of America Center, which sits across the street from Jones Plaza on one side and Philip Johnson’s other notable downtown office tower, Pennzoil Place, on the other. Last fall, building owner M-M Properties announced plans to remove the mummified 2-story Western Union building that had been encapsulated within the Bank of America Center’s northeast quadrant since 1983 (see photo above).

Windows and doors are shown added to the skyscraper along Capitol and Louisiana streets — in 2 of the walls that once entombed the telegram building. The rendering at top shows the reconfigured view from outside Jones Hall, with new 2-story openings facing Capitol St.

Only one new street-level entrance is clearly shown in that rendering, however: the awninged door to a new restaurant along Louisiana St. That restaurant is planned for a portion of the former Western Union building’s ground floor in the northeast corner of the Bank of America Center:

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Philip Johnson’s Ghosts
01/02/18 12:30pm

Quick, what’s the most vaulted bank in all of Houston? Easy: the lofty Bank of America branch on the ground floor of the Bank of America Center at 700 Louisiana St. Downtown (pictured at top) — so grand, so postmodern, so . . . unleasable. Philip Johnson designed the 12-story high banking hall to resemble “a sixteenth-century Dutch guild hall, albeit one scaled to be seen from the freeway at sixty miles per hour,” writes Joel Warren Barna in a history of the project included in The See-Through Years. But now big changes are planned for that empty space:

“We’re just going to kind of slip in these two floor slabs,” Jeff Sydness of Sydness Architects tells the Chronicle’s Katherine Feser. Sydness was hired by M-M Properties to reconfigure the lower levels of the 56-floor tower, which was built in 1983. So: Lower ceilings ahoy! New mezzanines are now being planned to colonize the banking hall’s towering overhead emptiness. The new structures, edged with glass walls, will fill much of that air-conditioned but unused airspace with workstation- and cubicle-ready office platforms:

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Loft Office
12/21/17 3:15pm

Renderings now up on Lyric Market’s new website reveal more of what’s planned for the parking-garage food hall. The image at top shows David Adickes’s self-playing cello sculpture ascended atop a new pedestal at the corner of Smith and Preston streets. Behind the artwork, outdoor seating and what the website describes as a private terrace back up to the food hall’s main entrance. The new structure, currently under construction, is shown on the left of that rendering — adjacent to the existing Lyric Centre office tower.

Here’s a full view of the completed parking garage from across the intersection of Preston and Louisiana:

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Downtown Food Hall No. 4
12/14/17 4:30pm

KHOU is showing a rendering of the new Downtown satellite studio it plans to open in a storefront space that’s part of Avenida Houston, the collection of restaurants and entertainment venues Houston First has been corralling into the George R. Brown convention center’s expanded frontage along Avenida de Las Americas. The 780-sq.-ft. studio will be KHOU’s first venture out into the city since its mid-Harvey retreat to UH. It’s expected to open next March at 1001 Avenida de Las Americas and will be used for portions of the station’s programming.

The rendering shows tables and chairs placed in a cordoned-off area outside the studio’s storefront. According to the organization’s press release, the teevee station’s new pied-à-terre “will have the flexibility to open on to the plaza, enabling reporters to directly engage with the public.

Image: Houston First

Downtown News Desk
12/08/17 4:45pm

Number 4 on the list of Downtown food halls, one of which has actually been built: Lyric Market, a 31,000-sq.-ft. multi-restaurant space that plans to move in just north of the Lyric Centre on Louisiana St. Houston’s first food hall, Conservatory, opened 5 blocks east on Prairie St. last year. Both Bravery Chef Hall and Finn Hall are expected to open within the same 7-block sector of downtown as Lyric Market.

Work to build the blocky white parking garage shown above began on the site of a surface parking lot last October. The structure’s street level, allocated to retail, will now be occupied entirely by Lyric Market. The food hall will span Preston St. between Smith and Louisiana and connect directly to the adjacent Lyric Centre, shown looking ghostly in the rendering above. A new plaza with outdoor seating will go between the end of the food hall and David Adickes’s self-playing-cello sculpture at the corner of Smith and Prairie streets.

The floor plan below shows how the restaurants will lay out:

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Lyric Market
11/15/17 10:15am

Construction is almost complete on a missing link between the bike paths lining Buffalo Bayou Park and the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, according to passer-by Christopher Andrews — who snapped the above photo from the southern span of the Main St. bridge, looking towards the back of the UH–Downtown campus. The purple curve just north of Allen’s Landing marked on the map below is the segment of the bayou trail that’s in the works. You can see where that portion will intersect the Heights trail, marked below in gray, after it crosses White Oak Bayou’s southerly meander to the east of UHD:

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Downtown Link
11/14/17 11:45am

More new features are imagined for the center of Houston than just the new Green Loop highlighted in the just-released Plan Downtown proposal. There’s also a mysterious new Downtown island. Where did it come from?

It’s the result of digging the long-whispered North Canal Channel Bypass, a re-linking of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous north of Downtown. Existing bends and narrow banks along the 2 bayous just east of Main St. restrict the flow of stormwater during flooding events. According to reports, engineering studies have estimated that cutting a straighter diversion channel to bypass the oxbow could reduce flooding Downtown by 3.5 ft.

But digging a new canal while maintaining the existing path of the bayou would create an island out of the area just north of Commerce St. An imagined map of the area in Plan Downtown’s report (rotated so North is aimed down and to the right) shows what car and pedestrian bridges might link it to the mainland:

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Plan Downtown
11/09/17 3:30pm

Is Houston ready for yet another loop road? Here’s the proposed Green Loop, a 5-mile network of parks, trails, and other public spaces that the neighborhood supergroups behind Plan Downtown imagine ringing in Houston’s bicentennial — if it’s completed by 2036. One of 10 separate proposals in the plan, the city’s littlest loop is meant to take advantage of TxDOT’s proposed rerouting of I-45 to the east side of Downtown — by wrapping the district tightly with a transportation and recreation circuit that could attract adjacent development and help link the city center to adjacent neighborhoods.

Plan Houston’s new report flags ideas and renderings for 3 spots along Downtown’s proposed Emerald Choker: At Buffalo Bayou, on top of I-69 and I-45 once they’re sunk behind the George R. Brown, and on Pierce St. at the Midtown border.

New buildings at the northwest corner of Downtown would face Buffalo Bayou as well as the surrounding streets, lining the waterfront with flood-worthy attractions:

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It’s a Wrap!
11/01/17 12:45pm

Here’s a view from 2 Houston Center onto the construction site where a new 13-story precast-concrete parking garage is in the early stages of assembly. The site is the west half of the block bounded by Rusk, Fannin, and Walker streets Downtown. On the eastern half: The newly opened Le Meridien hotel (partly visible in the right foreground), built in the renovated former Melrose Building; and (hidden) behind that, the 11-level 1110 Rusk parking garage. On the opposite side of Fannin St. is another recent Downtown hotel: The Aloft, at 820 Fannin (in the left foreground of the image), with BG Group Place directly behind it.

The new parking garage going up on Downtown’s Block 94 appears to be an accessory to another development not visible in the photo, however: It’s a project of developers Lionstone and Midway, to go with the companies’ Jones at Main redo of the former Gulf Building and the adjacent Great Jones building at 712 and 708 Main St. respectively, both 2 blocks away to the northwest.

The parking garage site has been a surface parking lot since not long after Memorial Day 1986, when the retail building on the site was decimated by a natural gas explosion. The replacement structure is expected to be complete by the end of next year.

Photo: Eric Ramon

Block 94
10/20/17 10:30am

Here we are in the newly revamped courtyard between Three Allen Center, Two Allen Center, and the building just renamed from One Allen Center to Motiva Plaza. (The new courtyard plaza itself has been given a new name as well: The Acre.) And what have we here? It appears to be a Swamplot reader, snapping a photo, probably to send to the site. Our report: automatically altered course to pass by and avert collision; continued crime detection through infrared and video feed, facial scans; added new license plates to database.

But in that photo, of course, now published above: the same scene, as viewed from the opposite side, with a little less data to accompany. Just showing the new 5-ft.-3-in.-tall Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine, out on security patrol, Downtown.

Photo: Swamplot inbox

The Bots of Allen Center
10/17/17 12:45pm

SURVEYING THE SOGGY AFTERMATH OF HOUSTON’S ULTIMATE HOME-TOUR TEST Talk about timing: The Rice Design Alliance’s annual home tour this past March opened to inspection 6 structures built in Houston floodplains with some sort of strategy to make it through a major water event. How’d these properties survive the cataclysm that followed only 5 months later? A 1965 Meyerland home on the tour by Houston architects Brooks and Brooks one block north of Brays Bayou was damaged, Jack Murphy reports. And his follow-up story on the RDA’s H2Ouston tour includes no word on the Harvey experiences of François de Menil’s 5-story Temple Terrace townhome or the 3-story butterfly-roof home on Logan Ln. backing up to Buffalo Bayou Taft Architects built in 1996. But 2 more recently built homes on the tour — 2-story structures by architects Brett Zamore in Linkwood and Nonya Grenader in Shirkmere survived without much more than messes in their garages (and a flooded-out car), according to Murphy. Then there’s the Sunset Coffee Building fronting Buffalo Bayou Downtown, which serves as the offices of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, and which in its recent redo by Lake Flato and BNIM (pictured), was designed to take on water: “All sources indicate that the design performed as anticipated. . . . The staff moved exhibit materials to the second floor and secured the elevator on an upper floor. But there are always issues. The grease trap filled with water, thermostats need to be replaced, and the elevator shaft had five feet of standing water at the bottom, causing electrical issues. Security cameras mounted on the building filled with water and malfunctioned. The fire alarm went off for four days, making the area sound like a war zone, even catching the attention of a CNN reporter. Still, water didn’t crest into the offices on the second floor. (It was almost this high during Allison.) Shortly after the waters receded, the building was habitable again.” But this sort of resilience wasn’t just added to the building by its renovators: “The BBP’s Rebecca Leija and Anne Olson told me their insurance adjuster said the Sunset Building, built in 1910, was well-suited to handle floods due to its height and angle relative to the bayou. Sure enough, in plan the building is set at an angle to the bayou’s flow, presenting a corner to floodwaters rather than a flat face. And, its east façade breaks slightly, perhaps to further reduce the surface area ‘seen’ by floodwaters and therefore reduce their force on the walls and foundation.” [OffCite] Photo of Sunset Coffee Building renovation: Adam Williams