This Blows!

Houston has a national rep for taking down buildings. So why are these eyesores still standing?

To be honest with you, I wasn't able to get much out of the owner, Michael Nassif. He bought it in 1999 and says he's open to reasonable offers. He wouldn't give me a price, but said it's in keeping with nearby buildings.

According to Peter Brown, the Federal Transit Administration controls grant money for stuff like asbestos abatement for buildings within 1,500 feet of rail stops, which all these buildings are.

And Vickie Rivers of the Main Street/Market Square TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) said whoever owns the Savoy could apply for a local, state or federal historical facade designation for the original structure. If granted, they could get a tax break. Pretty cool, huh?

Here's something else: Laura Van Ness of Central Houston, Inc. -- the conjoined twin of the Downtown Management District who actually wanted to talk -- said there are tax breaks for developers who convert historic buildings into residential use. This was done with a kick-ass property here called Commerce Towers.

You know what else is cool? Unlike some old hotels, the Savoy isn't haunted. You know that movie The Shining? With the creepy little girls and bloody elevators and shapeshifting undead hag in the bathtub? None of that here. You know how I know? Well, I can't show you the inside, but I did talk to a guy who squatted in the building about three years ago. He says he lived there, on and off, for about a year. I found him through the Houston Architecture Information Forum. He has since moved back to his home state of California and, since he was living here illegally, he did not want to reveal his last name.

His name's Sean, and he was about 22 when he lived there. He met a girl from Houston and moved here with her. I'll let Sean take it from here.

"One day, she had kicked me out of her house, and I was walking down the road to go to Food Not Bombs, and I looked up at the Savoy -- I was walking down Main Street...and there was a very large broken open window up at the top and I saw a giant chandelier in there. And I looked up at the whole building, and [I was] amazed that a 17-story building would be completely abandoned. We're not used to that kind of thing in California."

He said the inside of the older building was "completely thrashed," but was pleasantly surprised to find the newer structure's interior in nice condition. It had completely furnished rooms and two libraries stocked full of Texas law books. Plus, the electricity was on. So Sean moved into a room on the 16th floor, mostly for the great view. After a while, he got tired of the long hike upstairs, so he settled into a room on a lower floor.

"I went to one of the lower floors and picked a room that had a Murphy bed...And honest to cartoon form, it tried to fold me up into the wall the first time I slept on it."

He eventually made friends with some other homeless people, and they made the Savoy their HQ. They put a hot plate in one room and called it their kitchen, watched TV and created a "bouncy room" with a bunch of mattresses. Yes, he said "bouncy room."

All right, now on to another non-haunted hotel. This one's the old Holiday Inn. This baby's got 31 floors with 600 rooms and sits on top of a parking garage. Now, I really like the owners of this one. They're very interesting folks. You know the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? The guy who the Beatles were pals with for a while till enthusiasm subsided?

Well, the Maharishi was the pioneer of Transcendental Meditation. You know, "om," and all that stuff. Yogic flying. They have people who can actually levitate. What's that, sir? Has anyone ever seen them? Well, no. That's just for insiders. And it takes a while to get to where you can actually fly. First, you have to bounce. See, a bunch of people sit in the lotus position on a mattress and they all practice hopping around. They believe that if you get enough people hopping around at the same time, you can achieve world peace. They say once, in the early 1990s, they decreased Washington, D.C.'s crime rate. In the early '80s, a bunch of yogic fliers convened in Israel and decreased unrest in neighboring Lebanon.

They also have a host of all-natural health products that have been tested in clinical trials for 5,000 years. What's that, ma'am? No, I'm not sure what kind of clinical trials they were conducting 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. But I did call their 800-number, and the operator assured me that, unlike Viagra, their all-natural boner pills will not produce a four-hour erection. Pardon? I'm sorry, ma'am. I meant no disrespect.

This Transcendental Meditation is popular stuff. They've got their own little town in southeast Iowa, where their university is. And they're building "peace palaces" throughout the country. There's one about 40 miles north of here, in a very nice community called The Woodlands. An oilman named Howard Settle bankrolled it, and he offices there as well. These palaces are designed under the principles of "Vedic" architecture. All the main entrances face east, and the actual design of the building itself promotes harmony. What's that, sir? No, you're absolutely right -- there's not a touch of Vedic architecture in the old Holiday Inn. But I talked to Tom Hayden, the guy who keeps the premises secure.

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