- Butlier Brothers building designated City Protected Landmark
- Pech House and Montgomery-Reynolds House receive historic designation in spring 2013
- Five River Oaks area homes receive historic designation
- More news
1101 Elder Street
For years a deserted, building caught the attention of motorists passing on I-45 near downtown. Many undoubtedly were curious about what this once-stately structure had been and, in a city slow to preserve its past, were puzzled that it was still standing. Stories circulated that it was haunted, not only because of its ghostly appearance but also because of the cemetery lying beneath it. Finally, in 2004, Jefferson Davis Hospital was rescued by Avenue CDC, a Houston non-profit organization dedicated to providing affordable housing. Today the former charity hospital again assumes its regal stance as home to dozens of Houstonians. Read more....
Fire Station No. 6
1702 Washington Avenue
In 1903, a new fire station was built on Washington Avenue for the Houston Fire Department’s Company No. 6. As the city grew from 9 to 16 square miles in area, the company, formerly a volunteer unit, had outgrown its facility near downtown. The new station was designed in the Italinate-style with brick walls, 27 windows, hot and cold running water, an indoor bathroom and enough space for the automated equipment then being developed. For almost three decades the firefighters at No. 6 answered every alarm with speed, courage and skill. By 1931, however, the building at 1702 Washington was deemed inadequate and was vacated as an active station. Over the next 70 years, the aging structure became privately owned and was used as a storage and auction facility.
In 2005, Tom Hair, president of Axiom, a Houston communications agency with clients worldwide, purchased the vacant building for his company’s headquarters and began a lengthy, meticulous restoration. The architect for the project was Cliff Carlin of Carlin/White Associates and general contractors were Roger Caddell and his son, Jason Caddell, of 12-15 Corp. The original bricks were from Cedar Bayou in the Baytown area. Hair was able to reclaim enough Cedar Bayou bricks to construct an annex to match the appearance of the original building. Almost 60% of the original pine flooring was saved while reclaimed pine was used for the remainder. The structure’s mahogany-framed windows were rebuilt using custom millwork to craft frames that matched the originals portrayed in old photographs of the station. The interior paint colors and wood trim were chosen to reflect the structure’s heritage while the two original fire poles, one for the captain and the other for the rest of the firefighters, were restored to their shining and sliding glory. The high ceilings, open space and abundant natural light complement the historic elements in creating an inviting environment in which to work.
Axiom occupied their new quarters in February 2012. Upon completion of the restoration, Tom Hair explained that he wanted to do something that would allow residents in 100 years to say, “That’s a great building.” By capturing the spirit and character of historic Fire Station No. 6 while creating a 21st century purpose for the landmark, this great building will survive. In doing so, it will provide our city with the ultimate example of how historic preservation not only saves the built environment but also preserves our community heritage for future generations.
Sears Roebuck & Co.
4200 Main St.
November 16, 1939 was a red-letter day for Houston shoppers. Thousands gathered at the corner of Main and Wheeler for the opening of a new Sears Roebuck & Co. store. Although Sears had been a fixture on Houston’s retail scene since 1928, this addition south of the downtown shopping district was to be the city’s largest department store and would boast heretofore unknown amenities.
The three-story building was designed as an Art Deco prototype by the Chicago firm of Nimmons, Carr and Wright with Alfred C. Finn as the local associate architect. The reinforced concrete structure had a projecting base that incorporated store windows surrounded by granite cladding. The upper floors, faced in stucco, featured triple vertical glass block accents, and the roof parapet was articulated by a simple “pie crust” crenellation, according to architect Barry Moore in a 2006 Cite magazine article. The mezzanine roof was utilized for special promotional displays or Christmas decorations. On the interior walls of the main floor, artist Eugene Montgomery created a series of heroic murals depicting Texas history from the time of the Spanish to modern days. The flagship store had air-conditioning (a rarity at the time), the city’s first escalator (capable of carrying 6,000 people per hour) and a lighted parking lot for 600 cars. Just across Fannin Street was the city’s largest service station with 16 gas pumps and 12 mechanics’ stalls. An instant success, Sears introduced a new trend in suburban shopping.
Sadly, this once-distinctive store is unrecognizable today. For whatever reason—perhaps for added security or in the name of “modernization”—in the 1960s the store’s display windows were bricked up and the upper levels were covered with beige metal siding. Even the interior did not escape the massive make-over when the historic murals were removed. The building’s future has been uncertain for years. Reports have frequently predicted the store’s closing and questioned the future of the building itself. Its existence continues to be threatened in spite of the gem underneath the current fortress-like exterior.
The Young Men's Christian Association Building (YMCA)
1600 Louisiana St.
For over 70 years the downtown YMCA building opened its doors to generations of Houstonians. Today the site at Louisiana and Pease holds the demolished remains of this once popular destination. Houston’s Young Men’s Christian Association has an even longer history, having been established in 1886.
After occupying rented quarters for two decades, the organization erected its first building at Fannin and McKinney. This five-story structure remained the YMCA’s principal home until the expansion of its programming required a larger facility. Thus, in 1941 the “Y” relocated to 1600 Louisiana, an address then on the outskirts of downtown.
Prominent architect Kenneth Franzheim designed a ten-story Italian Renaissance building in the architectural style popular among YMCAs across the country. Featuring interior rock walls and painted-beam ceilings, the facility had a dormitory for 270 men, an assembly hall, nineteen classrooms, two gyms, six handball courts, an indoor pool and multiple exercise areas. Educational programming was an important component of the YMCA’s mission.
The South Texas College of Law, established by the “Y” in 1923, was located in the building at 1600 Louisiana until 1967 when it became a privately operated law school, a status it retains today at its location on San Jacinto Street. In 1948 the YMCA founded South Texas Junior College, which became the largest private two-year college in Texas. Like the law school, it, too, became an independent college in 1967 and relocated from 1600 Louisiana to the M & M Building at the foot of Main Street. Although branch YMCAs began to spring up all over the city, the Downtown Y remained an anchor in the lives of many—workers needing safe, inexpensive housing; downtown employees seeking a healthier lifestyle through fitness programs; young people learning good citizenship by participating in character building projects.
Millions of Houstonians, undoubtedly, passed through the doors of this landmark during its seven decades of existence. In 2010, however, the doors closed when a new facility was built nearby, although it will not continue to provide affordable housing as in the past. In spite of a public outcry, the grand old building was razed and rehabbing the structure for a new use was not pursued.
Today 1600 Louisiana is just a memory, but what rich memories they are for those whose lives intersected with the “Y” for decades.