Best Of :: People & Places
Enron Field? Hardly. The Astros' stadium may be a strong anchor to east downtown's revitalization, but the real stars of central city redevelopment were already playing hardball long before Drayton's dream ever hit the drawing board. The real pioneers are people like New York implant Sharon Roseke Haynes. She led the group that rehabbed the sad Brashear building into the precedent-setting Solero. It showed the scores of imitators who followed that a classy new place could indeed bring the masses back downtown. But in terms of sheer stamina and shoot-from-the-hip successes, Randall Davis prevails. The Beaumont native had a comfortable business as a southwest Houston developer when he took a trip to Portland, Oregon, and got the itch for rehabbing old buildings. He returned and set his sights on the old Bute Paint building in north downtown in 1992. Nobody then was seriously betting on central Houston to awake from the dead. Davis's debut was a Bute, the 54-unit Dakota Lofts. Two years later, he came closer to downtown's heart with the 79 Hogg Palace Lofts. As everyone knows by now, his grandest quest was the forlorn Rice Hotel in 1997. Houston heavyweights with ten times his credit line had come away saying a rehab couldn't be done. Davis scrabbled up piecemeal funding -- public and private, logical and questionable. The resulting Rice Lofts building is a magnificent monument, to both the old Houston and the new. Houston loves to brag about its heritage of adventuresome, ballsy wildcatters who put their minds and money on the line to build the Bayou City in earlier eras. Many today like to pretend they're made of that stuff. That could still be the case if not for the man who has the brains to go along with the bricks and mortar. Without the audacity of Randall Davis, the rest of Houston might still be waiting for the Rice to reopen -- and for downtown to come back to life.
Tucked in the armpit of West U, Bellaire and the railroad tracks, Little Woodrow's seems out of place and time. Few of the mostly working-class regulars who frequent the area's only neighborhood bar live in the monstrosities that have sprouted in the adjoining neighborhoods, displacing the modest middle-class ranch-styles. But those regulars are fiercely loyal, thanks in no small part to Betty Campbell, bar manager since forever. Betty knows her customers so well that she recognizes many of their cars; by the time they enter the place and belly up, their brand of choice is already waiting on the bar. The crowd likes to drink, but disturbances are almost nonexistent, also in no small part because any transgressors would have to deal with Betty (as a few permanently banned customers have discovered). And if you need to vent about life's dirty deals, Betty (who has heard enough whining to board-certify in clinical psychology) fits the bill.
On June 16, the New Black Panthers had every right to be pissed. They'd dressed all in eye-catching black. They arrived at the state GOP convention in Houston in a rare Hummer limousine. And most of them came to the protest party armed with all manner of menacing weapons: rifles, shotguns and an AK-47 or two. They were hunting, all right -- hunting for attention. And that kind of preparation ought to attract ample publicity. Instead, it was A.J. McClure, a 71-year-old nobody Republican delegate from Kaufman County, who grabbed the limelight. What started as a verbal confrontation with the Panthers ended when he either fell or was pushed by a member of the militant entourage. For the next few days, the battles sifted to state legislators and city councilmembers and police and a mayor all arguing over the charge and actions -- or inactivity -- of the police. Meanwhile, McClure's tumble took him, or at least the footage of him going to the mat, onto the national network stage. Stories that touched on the incident totaled more than 2,000 words in the Houston Chronicle and on the Associated Press wire. Yep. It was a prime-time dive. Lots of old-timers may go headlong -- A.J. went headline.
Just another example of how overrated pop music songcraft is. Since a catchy five- or ten-second hook is usually described as genius, the little bit of pop profundity known as the Mossy Nissan commercial jingle also deserves as glowing a description. Over a snappy beat, a male voice sings the name of the dealership over and over. "Mos-sey Neeee-sahhhhn / Mos-sey Neeee-sahhhn / Whoooooooo!" Okay, so the lyrics aren't as deep as, say, "Oh, baby, baby," but they do roll easily off the tongue. The jingle is the brainchild of L.A.-based A&M Advertising.
Europeans may build great cathedrals, but Americans have a genius for bathrooms. At Prague, the WC marries old-world elegance with Yankee utilitarianism. When nature's irrepressible call rises above the club's techno beat, you can drift down to this swank unisex chamber of flickering candles, period furniture and a full-service bar to answer. The style might be described as bathroom baroque. A dripping chandelier throws just enough light to reveal the glinting accessories of nubile fashionistas and their well-groomed mates. The music keeps a respectful distance, allowing one to clear one's mind and bladder in one of 12 stalls set tastefully behind black doors. Roughly the size of a confessional, these immaculate stalls seem designed for a religious experience of one sort or another.
Maybe these are just the moments that downtown finally arrives. Party on the Plaza is in full swing. So is its dynamic corner of the central city, with Bayou Place beckoning the masses across the street. And there, on the magnificent grounds that serve as the front entrance to the Wortham Theater Center, are scores of motorcycles at rest in neatly lined rows. The bikers rumble in to party at the plaza, and what better place to park 'em than on off-nights at the Wortham. All the nightlife available isn't going to be enough if downtown can't loosen up a little. On these evenings, it shows off its finest colors: Electra Glides in blue.