NEWSLETTER OF THE GREATER HOUSTON PRESERVATION ALLIANCE VOLUME 8, NUMBER
Requiem for a Landmark By Gerald Moorhead The building known as Kennedy Corner, at Travis and Congress Avenue, built in 1861, was demolished Feb. 26, 1992, by its current owners, Albert Kalas and partners. In its century-plus of existence, the structure was home to uses that ranged from the baking of bread to the storage of war materiel. When the Kennedy Corner structure fell, Houston lost what one preservation professional has described as "the bookend" for two historic blocks. John Kennedy, born in Ireland in 1819, arrived in Houston in 1842, having traveled by way of New Jersey and Missouri. Kennedy opened a bakery on Franktin Avenue between Main and Fannin. In 1843, he began buying land at Travis and Congress A venue. The first parcel, 25'x50', already held a building in which Kennedy operated a trading post. It was a prime business location, across the street from City Hall (Market Square). By 1855, Kennedy had bought all of lots 1 and 2, fronting on the Congress Avenue corner and north along Travis. Buildings already on this land housed the Shakespeare House coffee shop, Hoffman'S Hotel, a bakery, and Hogan's Grocery. A fire in 1860, the first of several which dominate the history of this property, broke out between the bakery and the hotel, destroying the entire city block. Kennedy rebuilt, filling his two lots with a brick load-bearing structure four bays wide and three stories tall. The bearing walls of his new structure were oriented east-west facing Travis, leaving about 20 feet open at the west end of the lots. Into this narrow space, a small building was inserted, facing Congress Avenue. It housed Kennedy's steam-operated bakery. The buildings now referred to as Kennedy Corner and the Kennedy Bakery (La Carafe) were begun in 1860, and probably were completed in 1861. In addition to his commercial activities in town, Kennedy by this time also owned several thousand acres of slaveworked agricultural land in Harris and adjacent counties. Ouring the Civil War, Kennedy received a commission to supply hardtack for the Confederacy. He sometimes hired blockade runners to export cotton and to import ammunition. The military supplies were stored in his buildings in downtown Houston. Shortly after the Confederate surrender in April of 1865, disbanding military units posted along the Texas coast stopped in Houston on their way home, awaiting rail transport. Their stayovers were usually peaceful;
On this February day, the upper western wall of the Kennedy Corner building had already been dismantled by workers using hand tools. The rest of the structure soon followed.
soldiers were fed from military supplies on hand. But by the morning of May 23, military authority had collapsed, and soldiers were ransacking the supply warehouses of food, clothing, weapons and ammunition. Kennedy Corner and other ordinance depots were in imminent danger of being blown up by an explosion of loose powder stored there. Mayor William Anders ordered Protection Fire Co. No.1 to standby status, but the supplies had vanished by noon, and the melee had subsided. When the mayor wrote a report on the incident to City Council, he noted "It was an orderly mob, taking what it considered its own. Private property was in no instance molested." In 1873, Kennedy's daughter, Mary Frances, married William L. Foley (1855-1925), an immigrant from Ireland like her father. When Kennedy died in 1878, he left individual bays of his buildings to his wife and children. Thus, Foley acquired bay 2, and opened a grocery store. When Kennedy's wife, Mathilda, died in 1885, she left bay 4 to Mary Frances, who died the next year. The two northern bays (3 and 4) of the Kennedy Store Building were destroyed by a fire July 13, 1888. Foley then bought bay 3 from Kennedy's son, John Jr., and
rebuilt his three bays in 1889 to the designs of Eugene T. Heiner, as we see them today at 214-218 Travis. The corner portion of the Kennedy Store Building, bay 1, though untouched by the fire, was also remodeled. Its simple brick appearance, probably similar to the bakery building, was updated in Victorian style. The brick walls were covered with stucco, scored to look like stone. Elaborate frames and pediments were added around the windows, and a small, onion-domed turret rose above the corner. The sidewalk on both sides of the building was covered by a wide canopy. In their century and a quarter, many types of business have occupied Kennedy's buildings, and later Foley's: grocers, dry goods, druggists, a meat market, a candy maker, a cigar factory, saloons, barbers, the Texas Dental College, all during the Kennedy-Foley ownership era. The remaining portion of the Kennedy Store Building, known as Kennedy Corner, was insensitively remodeled, probably in the period of the 1940s or 1950s. The groundfloor iron storefronts were enclosed, the turret and canopies removed, and the exterior walls covered with lumpy red stucco. The Victorian window ornament was destroyed. Steel windows replaced the original wood sashes. In 1969, the La Carafe bar' opened
in the only portion of John Kennedy's 1861 mercantile empire retaining its original appearance. DiverseWorks, a non-profit gallery, occupied parts of the Foley Building from 1984 until 1989. The portion of the Foley Building immediately north of Kennedy Corner, the old bay 2, was gutted by fire Feb. 9, 1989. The roof of Kennedy Corner, then vacant, was severely damaged, but the owners took no action to repair the damage, or to protect the structure from further deterioration. As a result of weather exposure, the interior structures collapsed Sept. 15, 1991. Although the brick bearing walls remained in place, they were unbraced for their threestory height and therefore were unstable. The adjacent Foley Building and Kennedy Bakery were threatened by the imminent collapse of the masonry walls. The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance (GHPA) and the Market Square Historic District Project immediately began concerted efforts (see next page) on Feb. 26, 1992, Kennedy Corner became an empty lot. Editor's note: Information on the history of the Kennedy Building is drawn from a chronology prepared by archeologist Roger Moore. Gerald Moorhead is a Houston architect.
How heritage takes a hit: What happened at Kennedy Corner By Rosie Walker "If there is a good economic reason for something to happen, it will happen. On the other hand, if there are economic reasons to prevent an event from happening, it won't happen." That dual-edged principle, stated succinctly by real-estate broker Reggie Bowman and directed specifically to the Kennedy Comer fiasco, puts into practical focus the events leading to the obliteration of the structure. Bowman, who specializes in the real-estate market in the vicinity of Market Square and the warehouse district, was one of many volunteers who expended energy and donated expertise in the doomed attempt to "save" Kennedy Corner. Few thinking Houstonians dispute the cultural and historic significance of Kennedy Comer, the history of which Gerald Moorhead summarizes on the front page of this newsletter. Yet Kennedy Comer, throughout its existence, was a place where commerce; not culture, was king. All that preservation-minded people can salvage from the destruction of the second-oldest building in the city are real-world lessons in real-life preservation. The lessons will be unlearned, and the loss of a treasure will be purposeless, if preservationists yield to the temptation to explain the loss by the devices of demonizing and sermonizing. At best, the lessons of Kennedy Comer are painful and expensive; painful because another hole has been ripped in the urban historical context. Yet the chain of events is not a simple good-guys/bad guys passion play. The politics of procrastination, the dismal science of economics, competing priorities, organizational voids, liability anxiety, public safety-all were factors in the loss of Kennedy Corner. Some of the lessons of Kennedy Comer follow. The owner would not sell at a reasonable price so no responsible developer could buy Kennedy Corner. Not so. An unwillingness on the part of the owners, Albert Kalas and his partners, to sell the property at fair market value was not the sticking point during the last days of Kennedy Comer. Kalas and partners ultimately accommodated the real-life market. Albert Kalas, like John Kennedy so long ago, is a businessman. As Bowman has pointed out, numerous owners of historic structures in downtown Houston are desperate to sell, but the market for their buildings is, in a word, "zero." Albert Kalas, presented with the facts of the recession-diminished value of his property, and after having met with volunteers as well as Houston City Councilmember Ben Reyes, lowered the asking price. As a matter of fact, a responsible developer's contract to buy Kennedy Comer was accepted by Albert Kalas. A responsible developer could have bought the Kennedy Corner Building and have restored it to a viable commercial building. Again, no. The sticking point was the risk and near-limitless cost to restore the unstable old building, not the purchase price. One expert tossed out these ball park estimates: After
all the tedious and risky undertakings to restore Kennedy Comer, and assuming it to be phYSically possible, the income required for that developer to break even would have been upward of $20,000 a month. "And," the source added, "Market Square is not The Strand, where there is a lot of activity and foot-traffic." The structure was crumbling because of a roof leak that had been inexorably undermining the structure over a period of years. Just how unstable was the building? According to Nick Toparcean, division manager, Community Standards, of the City's Department of Planning and Development, the mortar between the bricks had undergone such decomposition that the substance no longer functioned to hold the bricks together. Toparcean, a public employee who espouses a fervent preservation philosophy, explained that he had extended the deadline for Building Code compliance for Kennedy Comer by several months. He, and others, feared the brick walls would topple into Congress Avenue traffic, possibly killing people. The role of the City in dealing with dangerous buildings, Toparcean said, is to make them safe and in compliance with the building code and dangerous building regulations. Adherence to the law is bendable but not optional. Toparcean's recommendation for Kennedy Comer was that the structure be photographed in detail and measured, so that it could be faithfully reconstructed. Just as preventive maintenance, performed several years ago, could have prevented Kennedy Comer from becoming a lifethreatening peril, so also is lack of preventive maintenance a critical issue with a number of historic buildings still standing. Those buildings must be preservation's next theater of operations. The City of Houston did too little too late. That is true in part, the too-late part. In the last days, City Finance Director Al Haines performed some feats of budgetary derring-do, while elsewhere, in other offices and departments, other public employees were striving to achieve "a happy ending" by doing whatever they could in their capacities. A necessarily oversimplified scenario is that Haines found remnants of grants and appropriations from other projects and funding sources, and crafted a package worth $150,000 for saving Kennedy Comer. The notion, or rumor, that the $150,000 is yet available for other preservation uses is not one that stands up to a direct query to the appropriate city official. The $150,000 "was only available for Kennedy Corner." For any other proposal, "they will have to come back to us and it will have to go to City Council," he said through a subordinate. Another lesson is that ingenuity timely employed costs little. Some of the buildings in the Market Square Historic District have leaking roofs that could be repaired with only a few patches. Absent preventive maintenance, heavy rains will continue to undermine the structures. Bowman says that the City could effect the repairs and place a lien on such properties. "Most owners I know
wouldn't mind," he said. 'What the City should do, if it wants to preserve old buildings, is to decide what it wants to save and try to help the owners keep up the buildings." Who said that? A preservation professional? An academic? An architect? Albert Kalas said that. Others have taken their turns at laying the blame on Kalas for what happened at Kennedy Comer. That release of emotions feels better than it operates as remedy for preservation losses. Certainly, after talking to a number of sources with firsthand knowledge of the goingson, this reporter has no heart for engaging in another round of owner-bashing. She's been an eyewitness to so many landmark demolitions she submits just this timid footnote: In presiding over the demolition of an architectural resource in their possession, Albert Kalas and partners joined the company of bankers, cuisinology moguls, philanthropists and patrons of the arts, as well as descendants of pioneers, not to mention some of our own supporters, employers and governmental entities. Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to foster a preservation ethos in our community. Our ultimate lesson is about building, not about tearing down or lashing out. Economic and organizational resources must be in place if preservation is to happen for us in Houston. Guy Hagstette, another of the volunteers who carried the attempt to save Kennedy Comer to the limit, pointed out that funds to purchase Kennedy Comer were available from the National Trust, but that the correctly-structured recipient organization, with all the financial controls in place, was not available in Houston. Had we had the organizational resources, quite likely we would still have Kennedy Comer. Hagstette joined Minnette Boesel, executive director of the Market Square Historic District Project, and City of Houston employees whose jobs intersect preservation issues, in urging establishment of an office of historic preservation in city government, as well as continued diligent support of an historic overlay to the zoning ordinance being developed for the city. Rosie Walker is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She is chairman of the GHPA newsletter committee.
PRESERVATION VOLUNTEERS NEEDED.
If you have a 35 mm camera and would like to use your photography skills to promote historic preservation perhaps you would like to volunteer for occasional photo jobs for GHPA. We often need black and white photos for the newsletter or another publication and color slides for public presentations or for submitting historic applications for registration. If you're handy with a camera and would like to sign up for an occasional assignment, please give us a call at 236-5000.
Neighborhood preservation: a new agenda By Donald Skipwith Largely, it has been the adoption by Houston City Council of a planning and zoning agenda which forced recognition of the urgent need to have historic preservationists' interests be addressed in all zoning plans. Certain Houston neighborhoods, notably the Heights, Courtlandt Place, Westmoreland Addition and the Sixth Ward, have persevered in improving and preserving their own historic communities. In May of last year, a forum for neighborhood preservationists from all over Houston was held at the Julia Ideson Building. In November of last year, we met again at the Heights Women's Club for a second forum. We heard the announcement that City Council had passed the GHPA-sponsored ordinance declaring a moratorium on demolition of historic buildings, pending adoption of a zoning ordinance that will include provisions for preservation. Throughout the past year, representatives have continued meeting at least once a month. People have come representing the Heights, Sunset Heights, Westmoreland, Magnolia Grove, South Main, Montrose, and Sixth Ward. The Third Historic Neighborhoods Forum, hosted by the Historic Neighborhoods Committee of GHPA, will meet on Saturday, May 16, at the Heights Women's Club, from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. This forum will be a workshop on preparing a National Register nomination for historical designation of an individual building. Anyone interested in having a house listed for historical recognition should attend. Attorney Donald Skipwith maintains historic homes in Houston and Galveston. He is a member of the Historic Neighborhoods Committee of GHPA.
Girl Scouts destroy 'Big House' After months negotiation and work by preservationists inside and outside the ranks of the Girl Scouts to reverse the decision to demolish it, the 1915 William B. Scott mansion, owned by San Jacinto Girl Scouts, was razed on April 8. Known originally as "Deepdene", the three-story house, located in Seabrook on a 47-acre lot facing Galveston Bay, was an outstanding example of the Mission Revival architectural style. On March 28, the State Board of Review of the Texas Historical Commission had voted unanimously to nominate the building to the National Register of Historic Places under National Register Criterion C, significant for the importance of its architectural design and craftsmanship. Despite its nomination, the mansion would not have been listed in the National Register due to the objection of the San Jacinto Girl Scouts.
Demolition permit issued in error A building demolition permit issued in error led to the razing of the historic John Baker Building located at 910 Preston, by its owner late Sunday night. A city moratorium approved in December, 1991 called for the temporary suspension of the acceptance of applications for the demolition of historic structures. The temporary ordinance does not apply to dangerous buildings, and included a hardship appeal process to prevent inappropriate application of the ordinance. "Unfortunately, human error resulted in the demolition permit being issued. A dangerous building complaint was on file for the building, and it was presumed the building fell within the exclusion of the moratorium. However, proper procedure to verify historic and dangerous building status was not followed. New procedures are already in place to ensure this mistake will not happen again," said Donna Kristaponis, Director,
Planning and Development Department. The building owner, Pappas restaurant, applied for a demolition permit in December, 1991 and was denied. A dangerous building complaint was registered in March, 1992 about the structure. A second request for a dangerous building demolition permit was granted in error. A plumbing permit for sewer disconnection was issued on March 30, and a building demolition permit was issued April 9. "It is indeed disheartening to the Planning and Development staff, who worked so diligently with the preservation community to put this first ever demolition moratorium in place, that a staff error led to the loss of this important historic resource," Kristaponis continued. Just about everything that can be said has already been said about last weekend's demolition of the 1868 Baker Building in the
Truxillo elected GHPA's first director emeritus By Julie Cook Bart Truxillo did not become involved in the issues of preservation until he landed his first job, working with developers renovating 1920s and 1930s era bungalows in Montrose. At the GHPAannual meeting in March, Truxillo's achievements were noted when he was elected GHPA' s first Bart Truxillo director emeritus. Bart Truxillo was born in the City of New Orleans. Return visits to the city of his birth have shown him that preservation provides economic incentives necessary for development of a tourism industry. At the time Truxillo graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Houston, the modern style was at its zenith. It was his hands-on experience with older buildings that caused him to appreciate period architecture. In 1974 he purchased his Victorian mansion in The Heights. Restoring that showplace took two years. When he moved into the place, Truxillo became involved with the Houston Heights Association (HHA). He has served as HHA president twice; most recently during the centennial celebration of The Heights in 1991. One of the achievements of his 1991 term of office was the establishment of the Houston Heights Historical Museum. Truxillo's tie to preservation is commercial as well. Since the late 1960s, he has owned the Magnolia Brewery Building at Franklin and Milam, which sits on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. As a landlord, he has made the investment productive by using the building's ambience as its main attraction. Truxillo has been a member of GHPA since 1978 when it was formed as a spinoff activist group by members of the Harris County Heritage Society. Two of the many
GHPA endeavors that he has moved to completion have been attaining 501(c)(3) status for GHPA, and production of a volume, The Last of the Past, which chronicled the significant historical buildings of downtown Houston, many of which have been lost to demolition. Philosophically, Truxillo does not accept the notion that a preservationist is someone who dislikes anything new. As a matter of fact, Truxillo says it is important to combine new development with historic structures in a compatible mix. He says Houston's modern architecture should be valued for its merit. Attempting to emulate period architecture in modern buildings, Truxillo says, usually results in poor imitations that lack the quality and scale found in the originals. A contemporary building should be true to its age and not be an attempt to hide behind a faux facade. As to the future of historic preservation in Houston, the new director emeritus believes that small inroads have been made and that they will continue. In The Heights, the arrival of young people, many from other cities, has helped the cause of preservation. What is critical for the future, he says, is to educate developers and elected officials that most people in the city are in favor of historic preservation. The implementation of zoning, he says, will have a solidifying effect for people who want the certainty of knowing what can and cannot be built in their neighborhoods. Increasing support from students and faculty in local universities has been important to preservation efforts, Truxillo points out. Professors such as Barry Moore and the late Nia Becnel, among others, have inspired their students to appreciate historic preservation and to become involved.
Julie Cook is an architecture student at The University of Houston.
Market Square Historic District. The loss is especially painful because it was apparently the result of a mistake in the city department that has been especially supportive of historic preservation during this past year. We are confident that the new procedures regarding the review of applications for demolition permits will help prevent future mistakes of this kind. As a city, we must find ways to improve our track record in preserving our historic landmarks and districts. Houston has seven National Register historic districts and several others in the formative stages; all but two or three of those districts are in jeopardy of disappearing. The Main Street/Market Square District is our commercial neighborhood and belongs to all of us. It makes no sense economically to have invested millions of dollars in a great new convention center designed to help the city
Book Review Corner
benefit from the convention and tourism trade while at the same time destroying so much of the historic fabric that tourists want to see in the cities they visit. We face some serious decisions about our downtown area. It is no longer the only commercial center in Houston and probably never will be again. But it does not have to die. Not everyone wants to live and work in a new so-called edge city. The key is whether we can re-create our downtown for a world in which it is no longer the only center. One of the biggest assets we have downtown is our old buildings. Historic buildings are the most important thing that establishes the identity of our downtown and makes it different from Greenspoint and the Galleria. The public must promote public policies to help preserve tne investment we have in our landmarks.
By Vicki List I strongly recommend that you read William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute, the recentlypublished biography by Patrick J. Nicholson, but only if you are interested in Rice University and its history; the architectural history of Houston; architecture in general; education in general or the creation of American institutions of higher learning; planning; gardening; the birth and nurturing of Houston's culture; and/or athletics and the history of the Southwest Conference. Granted, the author portrays Watkin as a caricature of the quintessential Renaissance man. Creative and gifted, witnessed by his architectural accomplishments; scholarly, not only as an author but as a perennial student of history; humanitarian, involved as an instigator of Houston's cultural arts community; sensitive and responsive in his devotion to his family; while also being active and pragmatic, exemplified by his dedication to and interest in athletics, his negotiating skills, and his very unarchitectural approach to the hands-on in supervision of construction. He seems to be too psychologically healthy to be real! My own yardstick for the success of any piece of literature is most importantly a measure of its lingering impressions and the stimulation of thought it inspires. The images lingering after reading this volume are those of Houston and its cultural climate between 1910 and World War II; the era most fully covered by Nicholson. The years after the War until Watkin's death in 1952 are given only cursory coverage. The reader is denied a sense of baving known a real person; the true gift of a biographer. But the incredible collection of facts compiled cannot help but pique the interest of those
A sketch of Frank Lloyd Wright and William Ward Watkin in the early 1930s by Francis Vesey, Class of 1929. Wright did not approve of Houston's architecture. Book copyright e 1991 by P.trick J. Nicholoon. Publiohed by Gulf Publilhing Company, Houston, Texâ€˘â€˘. Used by permillion of the publilher. All rights reoerved.
with a curiosity about history. Were you aware, for instance, that not only was John Heisman a football coach at Rice in the 1920s, but that he also originated the snap from center and gained approval from the Rules Commission for use of the forward pass? That Milton McGinty, Seth I. Morris and Harvin C. Moore were among Watkin's students in the Department of Architecture? That the final site selection of the Institute clearly defined the geographic development of Houston's residential neighborhoods developed in that era? Or that Edgar Odell Lovett was King Nottoc XIII at the 1912 Coronation Ball of No-Tsu-Oh? Read this book. It will make you proud of Houston and Houstonians and-by the way-might make you appreciate some of our unique 20th-century historical architecture and realize the importance of its preservation.
William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute by Patrick J. Nicholson, 1991, Gulf Publishing Company ($24.95). Available at Brazos Book Store, 2421 Bissonnet, 523-0701.
Vicki List is an interior architect with Spencer Harolz Architects. She is president of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.
Approximately 75 GHPA members attending the March 19 Annual Meeting elected new officers and directors to the GHPA board. Please join us in welcoming new board members: David Beale, Jeff Baloutine, Betty Chapman, Staci Minchen, Mercedes Terry, Carrington Weems and Kenneth Williams. Thanks and "Good Little Brick" awards for outstanding service to historic preservation went to outgoing board members Minnette Boesel, Roberta Burroughs, Algenita Scott Davis, Rafael Longoria, Charles Maynard, Clark Martinson, and Bart Truxillo. GHPA's first Director Emeritus status was bestowed upon Bart Truxillo, and incoming President Vicki List presented retiring President Graham B. Luhn an engraved plaque in recognition and appreciation of his leadership during the past year. Many thanks to the Pillot Cafe for hosting this year's annual meeting.
The Rice Design Alliance Architectural tour of SpanishMediterranean Houses in Houston, April 25 and 26, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call 524-6297. AlA/Houston Spring home tour in the neighborhoods of Riverside Terrace along South MacGregor Way, May 2 and 3, 1:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call 622-2081. Galveston Historical Foundation The 18th Galveston Historic Homes Tour, May 2, 3, 9, 10. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays, Noon to 6 p.m. Call 409/765-7834 for information. The Houston Heights Association Annual Heights Home Tour, May 9 and 10. Call 868-0102.
MEMBERSHIP ApPLICATION Please enroll me as a member of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. My contribution for the following category is enclosed. Individual Family Patron Business Corporate Student
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The Heights Historical Museum 1703 Heights Boulevard, Saturdays and Sundays, Noon to 5 p.m.
THE GREATER HOUSTON PRESERVATION ALLIANCE GllEATER HOUSTON PREsERVATION ALLIANCE
BoARD OF DIRECTORS
Vicki List, President Barry Moore, President Elect Kathleen Wild, 1st Vice President David F. Beale, 2nd Vice President Angela Kerr Smith, Secretary Morgan Hill, Treasurer Graham Luhn, Past President
Charles D. Maynard, Jr.
Legal Counsel Joe Allen
Jeffrey S. Baloutine
J. Steven Brooks Betty Chapman Rosie Zamora Cope R. George Cwmingham Susan Keeton David B. Jones Staa Minchen Mercedes Terry
Jim Tinsley F. Carrington Weems Kenneth M. Williams Ex-<>mao Margie Elliott, Executive Director Daniel T. Brown, Old Sixth Ward
Historic Neighborhood Kelly Thompson, Houston ArcheologiCilI & Historical Commission Minnette Boesel, Market Square Historic District Project AI Davis, Chairman, Harris County Historical Commission NEWSLEI"I"EIl COMMllTEE
Margie Elliott Anna Mod Rosie Walker
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