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Preservation Update
Spire Realty demolishes historic Willliam Penn Hotel

Spire Realty Group has demolished the William Penn Hotel (1925), 1423 Texas Ave. near Minute Maid Park.

The 1925 William Penn Hotel on Texas Avenue was demolished in late January. (Photo by Jim Parsons)

The Penn was one of three hotels on Texas Avenue designed by architect Joseph Finger during the oil boom of the Roaring ‘20s, the others being the Ben Milam (1925) and the Auditorium (1926), which is now the Lancaster.

GHPA had not considered the William Penn endangered because Spire is a well-known developer of historic properties. The company has renovated the former Southern Pacific Building (1911), Stowers Building (1913) and Sam Houston Hotel (1924) among others. In 2003, GHPA presented Spire with a Good Brick Award for the company’s commitment to preservation in downtown Houston.

Spire had announced its intention to renovate the Penn Hotel. Even as the demolition proceeded, the company’s Web site said, “We are in the early stages of evaluating the highest and best use for this building, so that we may bring this fine historic structure back to life.”

The company is marketing the vacant land.

Heights demolition demonstrates importance of local designation

Demolition of the National Register-listed McDonald House at 1801 Ashland in the Heights demonstrates the importance of designating protected landmarks under Houston’s preservation ordinance. A new owner razed the historic house on January 30 despite neighborhood concerns.


The historic home at 1801 Ashland before and after demolition. (Photos courtesy of Mark Sterling)

Although the property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the McDonald House, it was commonly known as the Ashland House Tea Room. Mark Sterling, Chair of the Land Use Committee of the Houston Heights Association, contacted the owner to discuss alternatives to demolition, but the property owner did not want to work with the Heights Association. Before demolition began, the contractor at the site told neighbors the building was being renovated. Business partners Ryan Hildebrand and Matthew Pridgen plan to build a restaurant, tentatively called Table in the Heights, on the site.

Listing in the National Register provides recognition, but does not prevent buildings from being altered or demolished. The only way to protect a building from demolition is to have it designated as a “Protected Landmark” under the City of Houston’s historic preservation ordinance. The owner of a historic property must apply for the designation. Protected status cannot be assigned by any government agency or outside entity. Once designated, protected landmark status travels with the land.

The demolition could have been delayed 90 days if the house had been located in a designated City of Houston Historic District. It is a common misconception that the Heights is a historic district. While the neighborhood is a National Register Multiple Resource Area, residents have never completed the process to have one of Houston’s most significant historic neighborhoods designated as a City of Houston Historic District.

For information on having a historic property designated as a Protected Landmark or a neighborhood designated as a historic district, contact City of Houston Historic Preservation Officer Randy Pace. GHPA’s Historic Neighborhoods Council Director Thomas McWhorter can also provide information on the process.

The National Register description of the house: McDonald House. 1801 Ashland. 1907. Two story frame house; combination roof with projecting gable bay on front with two gable ends; attached double gallery curves to both sides, supported by fluted columns; squared balusters, double French door to upstairs gallery; three sided bay window on lower gallery; single front entrance with transom; windows with one-over-one lights. Home of John E. McDonald, a real estate investor in the Heights; he purchased this property from O. M. Carter in 1907 and built this fine home, complying with the deed restrictions that prohibited construction of buildings costing less than $2000. The area near 19th and Ashland was already established as the commercial center for the Heights; thus this house was in a prime spot from the beginning.

City offers new protection for historic resources

On Aug. 17, 2005, Houston City Council unanimously voted to amend the Historic Preservation Ordinance and create a new category of historic designation: Protected Landmark. GHPA strongly supported this measure, which, for the first time, provides real protection from demolition, relocation and unsympathetic alteration for Houston's irreplaceable historic resources.

Mayor Bill White demonstrated his public commitment to historic preservation by providing strong leadership in this matter. Council Members Pam Holm and Adrian Garcia successfully crafted a workable amendment that recognizes the unique challenges of preservation in Houston. This is the first time that provisions of the Preservation Ordinance have been changed since Council enacted the law in 1995.

As the proposed amendment was working its way toward approval, GHPA staff members attended public sessions of the Archeological and Historical Commission, Planning Commission and City Council to speak on behalf of the changes. GHPA members received regular e-mail updates and were encouraged to contact their Council representatives in support of the amendment.

During the public discussion before City Council, GHPA Executive Director Ramona Davis said, "This is a real gift to the city. Our staff has carefully studied the amendment and it addresses many preservation concerns. We are very happy to support it."

In response, Mayor White made a request of Davis, "We need your help to bring forth as many people as possible. People who want to enhance their properties and preserve their properties using the provisions of this amendment."

Toward that end, GHPA has posted the application form and criteria for City Landmark and Protected Landmark designation on this Web site. Download the form >

More information on the amendment to the Historic Preservation Ordinance >

The amendment also secured the futures of eight important city-owned buildings by designating these historic properties as Protected Landmarks:


City Hall and Hermann Square
Kellum-Noble House
Julia Ideson Building
Heights Branch Library
Heights City Hall/Fire Station No. 14
Arthur B. Cohn House
Fire Station No. 7/Houston Fire Museum
Gregory School

I-45 Update

Faced with vocal, well-organized opposition, Texas Department of Transportation is rethinking its planned expansion of the North Freeway, I-45. According to an article in the Aug. 31 Houston Chronicle, the highway department is looking at alternatives that include using the Hardy Toll Road for added capacity. Examining the additional proposals could take at least a year.

TxDOT's decision came after an estimated 500 concerned residents filled the auditorium of Jefferson Davis High School for an Aug. 13 town meeting organized by the I-45 Coalition. The audience heard TxDOT's preliminary recommendations for expanding the North Freeway between downtown Houston and Loop 610. The proposed widening will impact Houston's Woodland Heights, First Ward and Near Northside as well as lesser known historic neighborhoods, such as the Brooke Smith Addition, Germantown and Grota Homestead, where preservation is just getting a foothold.

Many GHPA members and supporters were among those in attendance, along with U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, State Representatives Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and City Council Members Adrian Garcia and Gordon Quan. During opening comments, Council Member Adrian Garcia stated, "These plans will erase the Northside as we know it today."

Janet Kennison of Carter & Burgess, the state's consultants, presented TxDOT's proposal. The recommended alternative would provide eight general purpose lanes and four managed lanes on I-45 north of downtown Houston. There are currently eight general purpose lanes and one reversible HOV lane.

The reconstruction project would provide no additional capacity for the general purpose lanes, but would allow TxDOT to meet its goal of providing "reliable travel times in the managed lanes." Unlike current HOV lanes, which are limited to public transit and vehicles with two or more occupants, managed lanes provide access to single-occupant vehicles which pay a toll. Kennison stated that the opportunity for "innovative financing" [toll lanes] was the deciding factor in recommending this alternative.

The TxDOT presentation did not address two issues of extreme importance to the residents of surrounding neighborhoods: the potential need for expanded right-of-way and the possible widening and extension of adjacent service roads. Kennison said questions regarding expanded right-of-way and service roads would be addressed during the preliminary design phase. Kennison also stated that TxDOT would make every effort to remain within the existing right-of-way between Loop 610 and downtown Houston.

John Wilson of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention presented the I-45 Coalition's concerns, which included the absence of information regarding the service roads and expanded right-of-way. The Coalition is asking TxDOT to include assessment of the right-of-way impact, frontage road requirements and surface street improvements in the planning phase of the project. The Coalition also expressed concerns that TxDOT's cost estimates for the project are unrealistically low in light of the well-publicized cost overruns associated with the Katy Freeway expansion. The Coalition has asked TxDOT to present its plans to stakeholders before going to the regional planning agency for its approval.

The meeting also included a presentation by a representative of transportation engineer Gonzalo Camacho on his proposal for a twin tunnel that would place the expanded highway underground. Details of the tunnel proposal are available online.  

GHPA will continue cooperating with the I-45 Coalition and Citizens Transportation Coalition to keep its members updated on the situation.

Elysian Viaduct Update


State Representative Jessica Farrar, center, discusses residents' concerns during the Elysian Viaduct meeting.

Houston City Council Member Adrian Garcia, left, discusses the Elysian Viaduct with GHPA's Thomas McWhorter. (Photos by David Bush)

On Sept. 1, 2005, an estimated 150 residents of Houston's Near Northside turned out for a Texas Department of Transportation town hall meeting presenting new alternatives for the proposed expansion and extension of the Elysian Viaduct. State Representative Jessica Farrar and City Council Member Adrian Garcia were also on hand for the event.

TxDOT presented a total of seven alternatives that were variations on four basic routes. Each proposal includes connections to the Hardy Toll Road. The new alternatives were developed in response to significant public comment at a very well-attended meeting on Dec. 7, 2004. As a result of that meeting, TxDOT expanded the proposed study area. The project boundaries are now Commerce on the south, Quitman on the north, Maury on the east and McKee on the west. The alternatives are also aimed at addressing calls to minimize impact on historic residential areas.

TxDOT staff will review feedback from the meeting and present their recommended alternative during a public meeting in late fall 2005. Planning should be completed by February 2006, followed by a public hearing in the fall of 2006. Construction is expected to begin in early 2007.

GHPA will continue to monitor this project and cooperate with neighborhood groups, including Northside BOND and Avenue CDC, to update members and residents on any new developments.

The Elysian Viaduct is a 1.5-mile overpass connecting downtown Houston, in the vicinity of Minute Maid Park, with the Near Northside. The current overpass was built in 1955 through what had been a densely developed residential neighborhood.
The Viaduct was built over the Elysian Street right-of-way without taking any adjacent properties. As a result, the overpass was built literally in the front yards of blocks of homes. The Viaduct's construction played a significant role in the decline of this historic neighborhood.


A handful of residents still occupy homes in the shadow of the Elysian Viaduct a half-century after the overpass was built. (Photo by David Bush)

TxDOT is currently cooperating with the Harris County Toll Road Authority to expand and widen the Elysian Viaduct and connect the overpass to the planned Hardy Toll Road Extension. The new overpass would be 1.7 miles long and four lanes wide with two shoulders.

The proposed expansion threatens historic resources on the Near Northside, one of Houston's largest concentrations of late Victorian architecture. The project's potential impact was a key component in GHPA's successful nomination of the Near Northside to Preservation Texas' list of the state's Most Endangered Historic Places in February 2005. The Houston Chronicle also published GHPA's guest editorial to increase public awareness of the overpass project.

Federal Transportation Act keeps Section 4(f) preservation protections largely intact

After two years, ten extensions and considerable debate, Congress has passed and the President signed the bill reauthorizing spending on federal highway projects through fiscal year 2009. H.R. 3, also known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFE-TEA) of 2005, incorporates provisions favored by historic preservation advocates. The compromise language, developed by Ohio Senator George Voinovich, maintains most Section 4(f) preservation protections and retains requirements for public involvement in the planning process.

Section 4(f) of the Federal Transportation Act of 1966 requires the Secretary of Transportation to cooperate and consult with federal agencies and the states to develop transportation plans that maintain and enhance our natural and historic resources. Under Section 4(f), the Secretary can only approve a transportation project if there is no prudent and feasible alternative and the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to historic and natural resources. 

The compromise language adopted in the current transportation bill is meant to streamline the review process. If a transportation project is determined to have no adverse effect on districts, sites, buildings, structures or objects included or eligible for inclusion in the National Register for Historic Places, then the project does not have to include planning to minimize harm to historic resources. The state historic preservation officer (SHPO) must concur in writing with the finding of no adverse effect. Until the compromise was signed, preservation advocates had been very concerned by repeated efforts in the U.S. House to severely weaken Section 4(f) protections. House versions of the Transportation Act eliminated the requirements for public comment and SHPO consent. The House version would also have redefined "no adverse effect" for transportation projects. During the ongoing debate, GHPA and The Park People cooperated on a joint editorial explaining the importance of Section 4(f) that was published in the Houston Chronicle.

Two buildings named City of Houston Landmarks

The Houston Archaeological & Historical Commission has added two more buildings to the list of City of Houston Landmarks. Designations have been approved for the Roett House, 3274 Holman Ave., and the Cheek-Neal Coffee Co. Building, 2017 Preston Ave.


Top: Roett House, 1947
Bottom: Cheek-Neal Coffee Co., 1917
(Photos by David Bush)

Dr. Rupert O. Roett (1887-1979) was an African-American physician who served the medical needs of Houston’s black community for more than 60 years. A native of Barbados who graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, Roett established his practice in Houston in 1918. He was instrumental in establishing the city’s first full-service hospital for black patients, now Riverside General Hospital, in 1927. His daughter, Dr. Catherine Roett-Reid (1923-1997), was Houston’s first African-American pediatrician and Chief of Pediatrics at Riverside General and St. Elizabeth’s hospitals.
Dr. Roett built the house at 3274 Holman in the Third Ward as a one-story cottage in 1928. In 1947, he hired architect Leslie O. Jones to expand the house in anticipation of his daughter’s return from the University of Pennsylvania to practice medicine. The resulting two-story house is a good example of the substantial homes built by upper-middle class African-American families along Holman Street.
Houston’s second newly designated landmark also has ties to Tennessee. Joel Cheek created his famous Maxwell House coffee blend in 1892 in Nashville. In 1910, Cheek and his business partner John Neal moved their firm to Houston. They built the Preston Avenue plant in 1917 from designs by architects Joseph Finger and James Ruskin Bailey.
General Foods bought Cheek-Neal in 1928 and continued manufacturing Maxwell House on Preston Avenue until 1945. The building has been vacant for about 35 years. The current owner plans to restore the exterior and rehabilitate the interior to include studio living space.

Magnolia Brewery Building now a Registered Texas Landmark


Magnolia Brewery Building, 1912
(Photo by David Bush)

The Texas Historical Commission has designated Houston’s Magnolia Brewery Building as a Registered Texas Historic Landmark. The building at 715 Franklin Ave. was designed by H.C. Cooke and Company. It is one of two surviving structures from the Houston Ice and Brewing Company complex. The building, familiarly known as the Magnolia Ballroom, was constructed in 1912 to house the brewery’s tap room and executive offices.
GHPA director emeritus Bart Truxillo restored the property, which features original leaded glass magnolia images and ornate plaster and woodwork on the interior. The Magnolia Brewery Building is a City of Houston Landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Pair of Near Northside houses falls to suspicious fire

A fire of suspicious origin destroyed two late Victorian houses in the 1200 block of Elysian Street on Houston's Near Northside on the morning of March 10.


Two turn-of-the-century houses under the Elysian Viaduct in the Near Northside were destroyed March 10 in a fire of suspicious origin. (Photos by David Bush)

Greater Houston Preservation Alliance had used images of the ca. 1899 one-story house and ca. 1905 two-story house in its ongoing campiagn to increase public awareness of the impact a proposed overpass expansion would have on historic resources in the neighborhood.

The structures were among the few remaining homes in what had been a densely developed residential area. The neighborhood went into a steep decline after the Elysian Viaduct was built over the Elysian Street right-of-way, placing overpass support columns in the front yards of houses along its route.

The photo of the vacant houses with the viaduct overhead (above left) was used to illustrate GHPA's guest editorial in the Houston Chronicle about threats to one of the city's most significant concentrations of Victorian architecture. The image was also instrumental in GHPA's successful nomination of the Near Northside to Preservation Texas' 2005 list of the state's most endangered historic places.

Fire destroys Bethel Church, a Fourth Ward landmark

An early morning fire on Jan. 24, 2005, nearly destroyed Bethel Missionary Baptist Church at 801 Andrews St., adjacent to the Freedmen's Town Historic District.


An early morning fire Jan. 24 left only the walls of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church standing. (Photo by David Bush)

The Gothic Revival building was designed by African-American architect John L. Blount and built in two phases in 1923 and 1949. The church had stood vacant for several years as its dwindling congregation could no longer afford upkeep on the property. Greater Houston Preservation Alliance had been working with church members to develop a plan for preserving the building.

The church was too unstable for arson investigators to enter safely, so Houston Fire Department officials first said the remaining portions of the building would be demolished and the cause of the fire would likely remain unknown. However, community and church leaders stepped in and saved the building's walls, calling for an arson investigation and a look into whether the walls can be saved.

Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1891 by the Rev. Jack Yates, a former slave and early leader of Houston's African-American community. The church counted many prominent community leaders among its members and grew to become one of the city's most influential black congregations in the mid-20th century. Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Volunteers needed for the continuing clean-up of Olivewood Cemetery

GHPA is coordinating volunteer efforts to clean up historic Olivewood Cemetery. On most weekends, volunteers are clearing brush, removing small trees and pulling weeds at the heavily overgrown site on White Oak Bayou near the Heights. Individuals, families, civic, school and church groups have assisted the descendants of those buried in the cemetery in reclaiming the area. Among the organizations that have participated in the project are the National Charity League-Heart of Texas Chapter and YES Academy.


Olivewood Coalition founder Margott Williams attacks heavy weeds on the grounds of Olivewood Cemetery. (Photo by David Bush)


"I'm hoping that one day it will be a tranquility park where people can come to enjoy the peace and quiet," said Margott Williams, who founded the Olivewood Coalition and whose great-great-grandfather is interred in the cemetery. The group is working to have Olivewood designated a Historic Texas Cemetery.

When Olivewood was platted in 1877, it was the first African-American burial ground within the Houston city limits. The six-acre site included more than 700 family plots around a graceful, elliptical drive that originated at an ornate entry gate. The cemetery contains the graves of the well-to-do and those who died in poverty. Grave markers run the gamut from elaborate Victorian monuments to simple, handmade headstones.

Although burials continued through the 1960s, Olivewood is relatively unknown today. It is hidden behind a large shipping complex that occupies the space where the original entrance once stood. The cemetery is heavily overgrown, but traces of its former landscaping hint at its original beauty. Many mature specimens of oak, pecan and elm trees provide shade. Tulips and lilies still bloom even though the cemetery has not been regularly maintained in over forty years.

Individuals, families or representatives of groups who would like to assist in the clean-up should contact Thomas McWhorter.

JPMorgan Chase Building Landmark Dedication

GHPA supported the successful effort to have the JPMorgan Chase Building, 712 Main Street, designated a City of Houston Historic Landmark. Alfred C. Finn, architect of the San Jacinto Monument, designed the 36-story Art Deco tower. Formerly known as the Gulf Building, it was Houston's tallest skyscraper from 1929 to 1963, and has been GHPA's home through most of the organization's history.

The JPMorgan Chase Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

JPMorgan Chase Building, 1929 (Photo by Jimmy Parsons)



Greater Houston Preservation Alliance 712 Main Street, Suite 110 Houston, Texas 77002
phone 713.216.5000
fax 713.216.2143 executive director: Ramona Davis

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