The planned demolition of former Wheatley High School in the Fifth Ward started in September was stalled yet again on Monday, this time after a resident sued Houston ISD over concerns about asbestos. Previously, preservationists had fought the district's plans to replace the historically black, 1929 school with a modern, smaller version, but HISD put a bulldozer-sized hole in the side of the building anyway before a judge ordered a halt to the razing. The temporary respite is just that though -- the building is coming down one way or another, going the way of countless other sites throughout Houston history that may have been proposed for landmarking had owners only known what to do with them.
The Astrodome is one national treasure whose fate is still under debate. A visionary work of engineering when it was constructed in 1964 to host multipurpose sporting events from baseball to rodeo, it was nicknamed the 8th Wonder of the World and the fake grass of its playing field gained iconic status as "AstroTurf." The Astrodome is sentimental gold, but it has also been sitting idle for a decade. In 2014, the National Park Service named the stadium to its historic places register, but Harris County voters shrugged off a $217 million bond referendum to re-purpose it. Demolition remains an option, but County Judge Ed Emmett is fighting that, while the Texas Historical Commission has been holding hearings too about whether to save it.
Another threatened Houston landmark despite its designation as a historic place is Freedman's Town in the Fourth Ward, where the brick roads were hand-sculpted and laid over swampland by emancipated slaves who settled there in 1866. The city wants to set new utility lines underneath the bricks and plans to contract workers to remove the bricks, dust them off and reset them. Preservationists say the city is sort of missing the point of how those roads were paved. Part of the criteria for a site to be eligible for historic preservation is whether it has been significantly changed -- residents are afraid the city's method for digging them up would damage too many bricks.
There are various preservation designations for historic sites, but the best form of protection for a Texas building is to have it listed as a State Antiquities Landmark with the state historical commission. Sites that earn that label have made it to the end of the process for full protection, consigned to hosting architectural tours and gracing postcard stands for eternity. In all of Harris County there are only 11 buildings that have earned the State Antiquities Landmark designation. Here they are:
Bowles House, 2 West 11th Place
The West 11th Place Historic District was one of the city's first privately planned neighborhoods. Several houses on the block, including Bowles House, are examples of architect Joseph Northrop's Colonial Revival designs, which was something of a trend in the 1920s.
DePelchin Faith Home, 2700 Albany
Now known as the DePelchin Children's Center, the original daycare was the brainchild of Kezia Payne DePelchin, who provided free babysitting for the children of late 19th century working mothers. DePelchin raised homeless orphans there as well, and today the center provides welfare services to about 20,000 children and their families annually.
Sweeney, Coombs and Fredericks Building, 301 Main
Named for a jewelry firm that is still in business there, this downtown Victorian-style building has been operated by small commercial tenants since construction was completed in 1887.
Harris County Courthouse, 301 Fannin
Consecrated on Texas Independence Day in 1910, the Harris County Courthouse was a $500,000 build out that cost $65 million to restore after a botched renovation project in 1954 caused more damage than it was worth. While the courthouse's beautiful stained glass dome survived the ages -- its racially segregated quarters are history.
Julia Ideson Building, 500 McKinney
The centerpiece of the Houston Public Libraries network, the Julia Ideson Building was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style and houses the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. The public can reserve space in the building for lectures, receptions and weddings, though it may also be the home haunt of a former caretaker, according to the Houston Chronicle.
1879 Houston Waterworks, 27 Artesian
The Houston Waterworks Company pumped about 2 million gallons of water from the Buffalo Bayou daily when it was founded in 1879 to extinguish fires, such as the one that broke out on Main Street a few days after the plant was erected. After natural reserves of drinking water were discovered in Houston, the Waterworks company out-competed local wells. The city took over the plant in the early 20th century when it found that Waterworks was mixing Bayou water into the drinking supply.
Marks Ranch Headquarters and Grounds, 1010 Barker-Clodine
The 1907 "LH7" ranch founded by Emil Henry Marks is now one of the last in Houston. Marks was one of the city's original cowboys, riding in the inaugural Salt Grass Trail Ride and engineering some new cow breeds by introducing Indian Brahman bulls to native longhorns, according to the Texas State Historical Commission.
Sheridan Apartments, 2603 Milam
The Sheridan Apartments, which still serve as leasable apartments, were built in 1922 as extra housing for Houston's booming population. It was landmarked in 1984 to preserve the prairie school style of architecture.
Sylvan Beach Pavilion, 1001 Preston, Suite 911
The giant Sylvan Beach pavilion reopened most recently in 2013 as a wedding venue, having survived multiple Galveston Bay hurricanes since it was built in 1956. After Hurricane Ike, the beach house received a $3.6 million restoration grant from the state.
Temple Beth Israel, 3100 Main
The congregation of Beth Israel is the oldest Jewish community in Houston, but it sold its 1920s Midtown temple to HISD in 1966 and built a new one in Meyerland. Houston Community College is the newest heir of the Jewish temple, most recently rededicated to house HCC's fine arts department.
Union Station, 501 Crawford
Built as a pre-Amtrak downtown train station, Union displaced a few buildings of historical significance in their own right. Eventually, it transformed into Minute Maid Park's main lobby.
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