This is one of the strangest statues in town. The life-size angel itself isn't that odd. But if you walk a little closer, you'll see a plaque that says the limestone for the statue's pedestal was taken from room 301 of Brackenridge Hall, the now-demolished University of Texas dormitory where "The Eyes of Texas" was written. (Former cemetery owner Thomas C. Hall lived in room 301 with John Lang Sinclair, the student who wrote the song.) The lyrics about not being able to escape the eyes of Texas until Gabriel blows his horn are inscribed on the back of the pedestal. According to TexasExes.org, Hall was walking to class one day in 1902 when he saw prohibitionist Carrie Nation threatening to break the windows of a bar; he persuaded her to speak about temperance on campus instead. To quiet the crowd that had gathered, university president William Prather admonished: "Remember, young men, wherever you are, and wherever you may be, the eyes of Texas are upon you. You are expected to uphold her tradition and not act as hoodlums and cheer this poor deluded woman." The song was written. And years later, the statue of the angel Gabriel was erected.

Compaq Center (née the Summit) has been everything from the home of the Rockets to the host of rock and roll superstars like the Rolling Stones. But the place that once held a shimmying Mick Jagger and a slamming Hakeem Olajuwon will now house charismatic Lakewood Church preacher Joel Osteen (when you think about it, all three men are similar in that they've each earned huge followings). After several court fights and City Council debates, the "Oasis of Love" will take over the Compaq in November. The church's Web site promises a grand vision: a production studio, a health and wellness center and even a dining and retail plaza. But don't worry, the Compaq won't lose touch with its roots. The building's history "has been one of excellence, crowning champions in the world of sports," reads the church Web site. "And continuing in that great and awesome tradition, the Lakewood International Center will become a place that will crown 'Champions in Life.'" Can I get an amen?

Down but not out: Mecom Fountain, at the gateway to Hermann Park, is undergoing repairs but should be back up and spouting in time for the Super Bowl. This 40-year-old, three-bowled fountain has appeared in wedding pictures, travel spots and even the early-1980s flick My Best Friend Is a Vampire. Bob Hope noted the fountain and the tree-lined boulevards that lead up to it when he said the view from the penthouse at the Warwick Hotel was the most beautiful in the world. Thanks, Bob. RIP.

This Museum District median was immortalized in the film Rushmore (Bill Murray and Olivia Williams stared at each other under its arch of live oaks), but the pretty street would make anyone feel like they're on the set of a movie. The sunlight slicing through the branches warms the quaint cobblestone path, and the live oaks seem to go on forever. Even better, this upper-crust neighborhood is a great place to pretend you're loaded. Just grab your dog or put on your running shoes and travel up the median nodding hello to all your wealthy neighbors. You'll be tempted to ask Jeeves to pull the car around front.

Magnolia Hotel
While more and more old downtown structures are getting well-deserved restorations, this makeover is much more than skin-deep. The former 1926 Post-Dispatch building had long been an example of urban blight, a boxlike building that was boarded up and hardly worthy of notice for decades. But the Magnolia hotel chain, headquartered in Denver, has turned this ugly duckling into dynamic new lodging -- and given it an exciting new look for all of Houston to enjoy. Foremost for visitors is the ultraposh and sleek lobby, a showcase of wavy walls, luxurious woods and modern furnishings. Don't miss the upstairs billiards and bar area. And taking a lap-pool dip on the roof right across from the stately Christ Church Cathedral is some kind of scenic experience.

Best Use of Taxpayer Dollars Best Use of Taxpayer Dollars

Houston Community College

Despite the antics of perhaps the most micromanaging governmental board in the Houston area, the third-largest community college system in the state continues to provide cost-effective education to 53,000 students enrolled at 17 sites around the city and its suburbs. HCCS offers vocational, adult literacy and accredited college-level courses at a fraction of the tuition of state and private universities. Voters will have the opportunity this November to vote on a $151 million bond referendum to finance campus improvement projects. At a cost of $15.70 a year to the owner of a $100,000 home, it's an education bargain too good to pass up.
Houston's hardy downtown residents have earned charter memberships in the first real community among the skyscrapers since the early 1900s. "Almost everybody who lives down here now knows each other, and it's a good bunch of professionals," notes Solero restaurant owner Bill Sadler, who lives just a block away at the Rice Hotel. Being at the center of things also means you can go days without using your car, a virtual necessity almost everywhere else in Houston, says District I Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who also rents at the Rice. Of course, with the state of the street construction downtown, human internal combustion machines can get around faster on foot than their automotive counterparts anyway.

These days of low interest rates make us a little homesick -- for a new house, that is. Whether you see yourself ensconced in a little Heights bungalow, perched in a high-rise condo downtown or building your own place on some land outside the city, the Houston Association of Realtors' Web site lets you live the dream. Just type in your most important criteria (two bedrooms or three, centrally located or suburban, a lot of money or a whole lot of money) and the site spits back hundreds of homes that match -- many with photo galleries or virtual tours of the property. You can even calculate a hypothetical mortgage and check out area schools for your hypothetical children. It's the next best thing to driving around town with a realtor. Actually, it's much better than driving around town with a realtor -- especially when you're just fantasizing.

Three years ago, if you were traveling from downtown Houston to the Great Southwest along Highway 59 anytime between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on a weekday, you'd hit the wall around Bissonnet. The wall of traffic, that is. For the next eight miles, all the way to State Highway 6, you'd sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic -- changing lanes, exiting and re-entering the freeway in a useless attempt to shave seconds off your commute. It wasn't uncommon for it to take an hour to drive this tedious stretch. Then, overnight (well, almost) on Memorial Day weekend, the wall was removed. Now, the traffic doesn't begin to back up until Highway 6, where the road narrows to two lanes again. The only downside to all this is that gratefully speeding drivers might not notice the attempt to improve the aesthetics of this section of U.S. 59 with the addition of painted columns imprinted with the Lone Star as well as a crown, the symbol for Imperial Sugar Corporation, which is based in Sugar Land.

When the good old days turned bad, American Red Cross volunteers were familiar sights at the scenes of tragedies -- the tornadoes or hurricanes or floods that rocked the Bayou City. Now add to that the new global era, when disasters are both natural and man-made. The Red Cross is still on call. When families here have emergencies and need to communicate with their U.S. soldier relatives in Iraq or Korea or Africa, the Red Cross can help. And the impressive list goes on: Travelers Aid, service projects for youngsters, care for VA patients, even tracking missing relatives and aiding refugees. Whether the misfortunes are local or global, give this agency credit for being there and ready to help in an instant.

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