The new owner of the Pasadena’s tallest empty building has 2 items on its agenda for the 1962 structure: air it out and tear it down. For nearly 2 decades, the 12-story office tower at 1002 Southmore Ave. — originally known as the First Pasadena State Bank building — has managed to get by untouched by those who want it gone. (It came this close to vanishing in 2005 when the city issued a demolition permit for it, but a new owner scooped it up before anything went down.) In June, the city filed a lawsuit demanding that the property owner demolish the tower or reimburse the city for taking matters into its own hands. The defendant did neither, and instead passed the building off in October to the Pasadena Economic Development Corporation — which, having secured financial help from Pasadena’s city council shortly after the sale closed — now plans to go through with the teardown.
It’ll cost about $2.5 million to get rid of structure, the private development group estimates, after having negotiated the terms of its demise with various demolition and asbestos abatement contractors. According to the PEDC’s meeting minutes following the purchase: “the roof leaks so badly that water has gone through the whole building.”
When Houston architectural firm MacKie & Kamrath designed it for what was to become the commercial center of Pasadena in the early ’60s, the challenge was to make something “that signalled the former Strawberry Capital of the World‘s transition into the era of manned spaceflight,” according to the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray. It became an icon in town — showing up on school report cards and in the logo for the city’s chamber of commerce — and beyond, as a notable waypoint between downtown Houston and NASA’s then-new manned spaceflight facility further south off I-45.
Looking from closer up, you can see the corner holes in the building’s cantilevered roof overhang:
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Breaking the Bank Building
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT ELSE LEFT MIDTOWN WHEN RICHMOND AVE MET WHEELER ST.
“In addition to the Delman Theater, an adjacent retailer named the Delman Juvenile Shop was also destroyed. The popular 1950s children’s clothing store featured a behemoth machine, the “Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope,” that zapped the kids’ feet with unshielded x-rays, ostensibly to make sure the new shoes were a correct fit. In reality, it was used as a babysitter while Mom shopped. I couldn’t wait to grow tall enough to actually peer down the metal tube to view my wiggling skeletal toe bones.” [Patsy Schillaci, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Delman Theater Lives On, on Google Maps] Photo of Delman Theater and adjacent retail: Predator [license]
Ever notice that the Wheeler-St. side of the Midtown Sears (shown above) doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the building? It’s become even clearer since all that beige metal cladding was stripped off the structure earlier this year. Upon its removal, the biggest revelations were cascading green, red, and blue art-deco tile mosaics (shown here) running from top to bottom on every side of the building, except the Wheeler one, where the array of facade openings pictured at top are a bit less architecturally refined despite their prominent positions overlooking crosstown traffic.
So, what gives? Well, it turns out that Sears’s south side wasn’t all that visible when the building opened in 1939. Back then, Wheeler was just a narrow side street off Main and did not flow directly into Richmond as it does now, explains Preservation Houston’s Jim Parsons. Richmond, a much larger thoroughfare, also dead-ended into Main St., across from the Sears and just north of where Wheeler began. You can see the missed connection in the 1950 street map above.
It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the 2 streets were joined through a partial annexation of the Delman Theater property at 4412 Main, catty-corner southwest of the Sears:
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When Roads Collide
That’s 50 pounds of the city’s own name-brand organic fertilizer — dubbed Hou-Actinite — in the photo above. Every Houston resident gets the urge to help produce it sometimes through contributions to the municipal sewer system — which eventually arrive at one of the 2 largest treatment facilities in the city: the 69th St. Wastewater Treatment Plant off Clinton Dr. near Wayside and Buffalo Bayou, or the Almeda Sims plant near W. Orem Dr. and Sims Bayou. There, the raw material is heated until dry, sterilized, and ground into pellets of what the city calls “Class-A” product; in other words: top-shelf stuff. About 32,000 tons of it are made each year and shipped off to nurseries, as well as bulk agricultural buyers.
It’s nothing new; the city patented the process back in 1949:
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It Takes a Village
With the former Shelor Motor Company building at 1621 Milam St. all but doomed to meet the wrecking ball, historian Stephen Fox digs through some old Chronicle clips to remind us that there’s still a few other old car dealerships lurking down south in Midtown. Sure, they may not be as pedigreed as the ill-fated building to the north, but get this: One of them still sells cars! It’s Midtown Cadillac at the corner of Main and McGowen streets, shown at top. Architect Harvin C. Moore — the brains behind more than 84 homes in River Oaks, as well as Rice University’s chapel — designed it for Sam White Oldsmobile (pictured above), which opened inside in the early 1950s, according to Fox. Sam White and its successor Rice-Menger occupied the building until 1985. It’s been a Cadillac dealership since Don Massey took it over in 1999, followed by Stewart and then Central in 2012.
Catty corner to it, Midtown seafood spot REEF was originally a dealership, too. Built in 1952, the building opened as Smith Chevrolet Co.:
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Inner-Loop Auto Lore
COMMENT OF THE DAY: PARSLEY STUDIOS’ BIKE LAB REDO COMES FULL CIRCLE
“Blue Line Bike Lab’s owners are brothers Fred and David Zapalac whose mother Patti Moore Zapalac graduated from Reagan High School in 1966 — actually had senior pictures taken at Parsley Photography!” [Patti Zapalac, commenting on Blue Like Lab Now Has Parsley Studios’ Former Yale St. Building Color-Coded] Photo of former Parsley Studios, soon-to-be Blue Line Bike Lab: Swamplox inbox
“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.
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Sam Houston High to HSPVA
AN OPENING-NIGHT BRAWL AT CAM STARTED WITH A FEW LOAVES OF BREAD
One highlight of Pete Gershon’s new book about Houston’s ’70s and ’80s art scene is his description of the all-out melee that erupted in the Contemporary Arts Museum’s upper gallery at the opening night of an exhibition put on by Spanish artist Antoni Miralda in 1977. Notorious for his work with food, Miralda, writes Gershon, had “hung color photographs of brightly hued macaroni, labeled huge mounds of salt and sugar with garishly flashing neon signs, and showed videos . . . of food being prepared and eaten in restaurants from around Houston.” The centerpiece was “four thousand loaves of bread dyed with food coloring” which performers placed “on a 175-foot row of benches bisecting the exhibition space.” Following some nibbling and “the playful tossing of slices,” one “notorious troublemaker from the St. Thomas art crowd,” picked up a loaf and chucked it carelessly, hitting a 6-year-old girl and knocking her to the ground. A fellow attendee dragged him out the back entrance to teach him a lesson, but it was too late: “inside the gallery the scene quickly escalated to a full-scale, Texas-sized donnybrook, with flying bread and flying fists.” Fifteen minutes later, management had cleared the room “and mopped up the blood,” adds the museum’s then-director. But his boss worried about the mark it’d left — not just in the minds of those who disapproved but, worse, the ones who “eagerly entered the fray.” Perhaps, writes Gershon, “they thought this happened at CAM all the time.” [Arts and Culture Texas; interview with Pete Gershon] Photo: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
The brick Western Union building shown in black and white on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets vanished from the downtown landscape in 1983 — although it didn’t go anywhere. Because the longtime regional switching center was too expensive to move, architect Philip Johnson simply designed his much larger landmark — then-called RepublicBank Center Center — around it, sealing the telecom structure off from public view. Inside the skyscraper’s lobby, the dead building takes up nearly a quarter of the floor space, with its west corner wedged into the Bank of America Center’s own, catty-corner to Jones Hall.
Last year, renovations were announced that’d add a new restaurant and cafe in the doorless and windowless portion of the Bank of America Center’s ground floor where the building is entombed. Crews began stripping away portions of the office building’s exterior earlier this year in order to make room for new openings to access the eateries. They’ve now busted all the way through the red granite, revealing the decades-older facade that lies behind it.
It’s still mostly obscured by the scaffolding that looms over the Capitol St. sidewalk :
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Western Union Sees the Light
COMMENT OF THE DAY: RICE VILLAGE, CLASS OF ’47 “Collegiate Cleaners is now Rice Village’s oldest business, by both age and location.” [James Glassman, commenting on Old Rice Village Shops in Exile Reconvene at the Strip Center off 59] Photo: Collegiate Cleaners
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BROADACRES’ LONG HISTORY OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS “In a way, this is just the latest battle in a hundred year old fight. On a Preservation Houston tour of Broadacres (where we trespassed all over the esplanades), it was pointed out that the neighborhood was originally designed as a closed loop with the only access to the city via Parkway to the east. Houston, however, viewed the streets as public and forced the developers to cede ROW through the lots on the western side of the loop to connect North and South Blvds to their counterparts in the west. This is why North and South Blvds pinch weirdly right around West Blvd. — when you’re ceding expensive land, you only give the minimum required. . . .” [Cactus, commenting on Who Owns the Esplanades on North and South Boulevards?] Photo of Broadacres assessor’s map: HCAD
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A QUICK ALLEN PARKVIEW VILLAGE RECAP FOR HOUSTON NEWCOMERS “. . . Back in the 1920s, the 4th Ward was Houston’s version of Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. Racist white city officials did not want a thriving African American community right next to a rapidly growing downtown and demolished a huge section of the community to build public housing (the decisive blow to the 4th ward would be extending the freeway through the community, effectively cutting it off from downtown). APV was designed by MacKie & Kamrath and was intended to be public housing. It ended up as all white housing for veterans. Eventually, African Americans moved in as whites moved out and headed to the suburbs. In the ’70s, as the City was booming again, City officials wanted to demolish APV as it, and much of the rest of the 4th ward, was falling into disrepair. Every single move after that was just controversy on top of controversy. The City was accused of moving Vietnamese immigrants into APV to dilute the number of African Americans who opposed demolition. Then, there was a big master plan project proposed to redevelop the entire area, a court case over demolition of APV and designation of APV and the Fourth Ward on the national register of historic places. In the end, more than half was demoed and replaced with new apartments in 2000. The original MacKie & Kamrath designed buildings are architecturally and historically significant. But, like the history of the 4th ward, Houston’s transient population knows very little about the trials and tribulations behind APV. So, it is an easy target to troll for hate on preservationists.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: An Alternative Plan for the Site Next to Allen Parkway Village] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE LAST MESSAGE OF DOWNTOWN’S ENTOMBED WESTERN UNION BUILDING “. . . Soon after I moved to Houston, I had money wired to me at this Western Union building (this would have been November of ’81). Didn’t make much of an impression on me. I think the façade had been stripped off, and the office itself was shabby.
I started work at HL&P in February of ’82, and our offices looked directly across the street to the construction site. The ‘big pour’ for the concrete foundation slab was quite an event. Starting very early on a Sunday morning, a seemingly endless parade of mixer trucks crept down Louisiana Street. Obviously, most of the block had been excavated, and the lot where Western Union sat (well, sits) was supported by a series of diagonal beams. After seeing the engineering required to save that lot, the lower ‘banking hall’ design for that side of the building makes sense.
While construction continued, the south side of the WU was given a fresh coat of paint with a large graphic proclaiming ‘A Gerald R. Hines Project‘ (or some such thing), which doubtlessly is still there, virtually unseen for 35 years.” [BigTex, commenting on Comment of the Day: Inside the Western Union Building Buried Inside the Bank of America Center Downtown] Photo of banking hall interior, looking toward the Western Union building’s south wall: Bank of America Center
COMMENT OF THE DAY: INSIDE THE WESTERN UNION BUILDING BURIED INSIDE THE BANK OF AMERICA CENTER DOWNTOWN “The Western Union building is only 2 stories. It is completely intact, tar and gravel roof included. The 3rd floor Mezzanine of the BOA building was built clear span over the top of the old WU building. The windows you see on the outside are for the mezzanine. As for the ‘gap’ between the buildings, you can walk/crawl around most of it. Some areas between the buildings are big enough that you could set a desk in there, some are tight enough to induce panic. There is basically nothing left from WU in there, but there were still some curious old artifacts last time I was in there. I worked for the building for a while, and led a few of the tours of architects/designers when this project was in the concept phase.” [ProFixer, commenting on For Its Next Trick, Bank of America Center Will Completely Digest the Secret Building It Swallowed 35 Years Ago] Photo: Mary Ann Sullivan
Something you might not have noticed about Houston’s iconic Bank of America Center (top) at 700 Louisiana St. Downtown: There’s an entire unused building hidden inside. The thrice-renamed spiky Dutch-ish PoMo tower complex, designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1982, sits across the street from his other famous Downtown Houston office building, Pennzoil Place. It’s not obvious from the exterior or interior, but the 2-story former Western Union building on the corner of Louisiana and Capitol streets (pictured above in a photo from 1957) takes up almost a quarter of the block Bank of America Center sits on. This was Western Union’s longtime regional switching center; Johnson was asked to design his building around it because the cable and electrical connections maintained within it were deemed cost-prohibitive to relocate.
Thirty-five years later, it’s the building’s anchor tenant that’s relocating: Bank of America, which now occupies 165,000 sq. ft., will move to Skanska’s Capitol Tower in a couple years. As part of a new set of renovations to the structure the bank is leaving behind, owner M-M Properties plans to completely dismantle what remains of the Western Union building, recapturing 35,000 sq. ft. of space without expanding the building’s footprint. Among the plans for the resulting space: A “reconfiguration” of the lobby and the addition of a “white tablecloth restaurant.”
The secret Western Union void is well disguised. It isn’t in the lobby of the 56-story tower but in the 12-story adjacent bank-lobby building fronting Louisiana St., more formally known as the the Banking Hall when the building first opened in 1983 as RepublicBank Center. It takes up the entire northern half of that structure: It’s beyond the colonnaded-but-blank wall on your right as you enter the lobby from Louisiana (on the left in this photo):
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Tales from the Vault