It's hard to think of a pool hall, with its slick sharks and low lights, as a "glamorous" setting. But if you step outside the Slick Willie's pool hall at 1200 Westheimer and just look up, you'll see Egyptian motifs and intricate geometric designs, calling cards of the glamorous art deco movement. Long before it was a pool hall, Slick Willie's was Minimax Store No. 1, a commercial enterprise that was built in 1930.
And these buildings are all over Houston, according to Greater Houston Preservation Alliance staffers David Bush and Jim Parsons, who literally wrote the book on Houston's deco scene: Their Houston Deco, a collection of more than 100 images of local art deco buildings, was published in 2008.
"At the time, there was a lot of focus on the River Oaks Theatre, the Alabama Theatre and these deco-focused buildings," Bush says. "Someone made a comment that a Web site should be made to promote preservation."
Bush and Parsons decided to build a Web site dedicated to art deco, which thrived in Houston and around the world from the 1920s to the 1950s, but as their image base grew, they decided to make a book to complement the site.
"One of the things about these buildings in a Houston context is that they were built as Houston was growing from a small city into a big city, and the view was that they were going to build a modern city," Parsons says. "They were getting away from the old style of architecture."
Parsons and Bush are currently at work on another book, on the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in 1936, which is slated to be published in September of 2012.
Scroll through for some then-and-now images of Houston's art deco scene. We couldn't get the rights to all of the archival photos, so check out Houstondeco.org for more images.
Completed in 1934, this Houston landmark was designed by Joseph Finger. Situated at 420 Main, It's now a City of Houston Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. It's currently a mixed-use building and houses several condos.
The Wilson Building, 1018 Prairie, was built in 1932 by William Ward Watkin, the supervising architect for the construction of Rice University. It's slated to be restored by new owners.
This shoe store at 901 Main was completed in 1929 by Alfred C. Finn. In 1964, the deco facade was covered by marble panels. The Just a Dollar Store stands there now.
This building, completed in 1939 by Lenard Gabert, has seen a slew of restaurants come and go since the cleaners left the premises, according to Swamplot. Renovations have stripped the building, 2815 South Shepherd, of nearly all its modernistic detailing, according to the Houston Deco.
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This department store, 702 Orleans Street in Beaumont, was completed in 1942 and designed by Stone & Pitts. It's currently the home of the Beaumont Municipal Courts.