Laura Day

On August 30, 1836, just months after Texas won its independence from Mexico, New York land speculators Augustus and John Allen placed an advertisement in the local Telegraph and Texas Register bragging of their new “Town of Houston.”  Their description of the area was highly exaggerated, and was also filled with downright lies.  The biggest boast was that Houston was “situated at the head of navigation,” where Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou meet, and “at a point on the river which must ever command the trade of the largest and richest portion of Texas.”

A few months after their colorful ad, the Allen Brothers hired a captain to see if a commercial ship could, in fact, make it all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, through Galveston Bay, and up to Buffalo Bayou.  On January 22, 1837, the packet steamer Laura arrived at Allen’s Landing, at the foot of Main Street, proving that Houston could be a port city.

Local commercial enterprise was slow until the years following the Civil War.  When the new railroad network connected Houston to the nation, lumber and cotton could be shipped efficiently from the wharves along the banks of Buffalo Bayou.  Dredging and widening the channel kept Houston competitive with Galveston.  In the early 20th century, civic leaders would form the Houston Ship Channel and made sure Houston received federal funds to build it.  By 1914, the Ship Channel had been dredged to a depth of 25-feet, and today, it is a thriving, fifty-two-mile, deep water port connecting Houston to the world.


Laura Day commemorates the first commercial ship to arrive in Houston on January 22, and the importance of commerce on Buffalo Bayou and at the Port of Houston, which made Houston the world-class city it is today.  The town that built the port that built the city.


Laura Day is a project from Houstorian, Houston’s loudest preservation group, dedicated to telling the story of Houston.

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Houston Colors

Houston may not have zoning, or even a signature architectural style, but it does have a helluva color palette.
These are some of the more notable colors found here.

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Take the Houstorian Quiz

How much do you know about Houston?
Are you a tourist?
Maybe a Newstonian?
Or are you a coveted Houstorian?
Take this quiz and post your results.

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Astrodome Q&A

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Beth Wiedower, senior field officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Houston Field Office.  The NTHP has sought to encourage Houston and Harris County to protect its signature landmark the Astrodome through advocacy and education.


Houstorian: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the Astrodome was going to be demolished if Proposition 2 failed? Didn’t Harris County just vote on this?

Beth Wiedower: Proposition 2 called for the public to support one proposed plan – The New Dome Experience – by issuing Harris County bonds to turn the Astrodome into the world’s largest multipurpose space. As we all know, that proposition did not pass. Although county officials mentioned prior to Election Day that demolition was an alternative if the referendum failed, there has been no proposal made to tear down the Dome. Moving forward, we hope that the 112,087 Harris County residents who voted to reuse the Dome have convinced the Commissioners Court that a solution must be found to save this iconic landmark.

Houstorian: So then what’s the deal with all the recent demolition work? Why did the towers go?

Beth Wiedower: The demolition and site work that we’ve all heard so much about are part of the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the Astrodome. The non-historic circular exterior ramps that were demolished this month were not an integral part of the Dome, and won’t be needed in the building’s reuse. In fact, Harris County, which owns the Astrodome, appropriated the funds for this site work prior to the November 5 election. All of this work needs to be completed regardless of what happens in the future. For now, the Dome isn’t going anywhere.

Houstorian: Isn’t the Dome being listed as a local, state, or national landmark? Won’t that protect it?

Beth Wiedower: There’s actually quite a bit of confusion about the impact and meaning of historic designation. Unfortunately, historic preservation laws at the local, state, and federal levels do not protect buildings from demolition. Believe me, we in the preservation field certainly wish they did! Instead, these laws recognize buildings as historically significant for their architecture, their association with an important person, or their cultural importance in the history of the United States or the world. With this recognition come incentives to encourage property owners to protect their buildings and their defining characteristics. Bottom line – historic designations at any level do not prohibit a building from being demolished.

Houstorian: So why don’t you just make it a National Monument?

Beth Wiedower: National Monuments, like their counterparts National Historic Landmarks, do offer historic buildings and landscapes more protection in that they are recognized as having national importance. Some also receive limited funding from the federal government. They do not, however, prevent demolition if a property owner so desires. A National Monument is declared by the President of the United States, and unlike a National Park or National Heritage Area, it does not need the approval of Congress. A National Historic Landmark is designated by the Department of the Interior following a set of regulations and qualifications laid out by the National Historic Sites Act of 1935. The Astrodome is a good candidate for one or both of these designations, though neither is a short-term solution for saving or reusing the building.

Houstorian: Earlier you mentioned incentives that exist for owners of history buildings. Tell me more about these. Is there money available to save the Dome?  

Beth Wiedower: When a building is designated as historic, governments often offer incentives to the property owner to help with the costs associated with maintain it. These incentives can be tax abatements, property tax exemptions, state and federal tax credits, or special funding resources for historic preservation. Unfortunately, the availability of these special funding resources, both at the state and federal levels, has decreased significantly in the past decade due to budget cuts and shifting priorities within governments. But yes, long story short, there might be money available to help preserve and reuse the Astrodome.

Houstorian: What options exist for the county? For a private developer?

Beth Wiedower: It appears that there are limited options for Harris County to redevelop the Astrodome itself. Although voters rejected The New Dome Experience, there are other options to explore, such as an innovative public-private partnership where a limited county investment could leverage private dollars, or a development that is 100% private. This latter option might jeopardize public access to the Astrodome, but it could be a viable option for the reuse and ultimate preservation of Houston’s most iconic building. As I mentioned before, there are economic incentives for private development, and we hope to work with the county and any potential investors to make sure those incentives and resources are utilized to their maximum capacity.

Houstorian: Given where we are today, what can the average citizen do to show support for saving the Astrodome?

Beth Wiedower: Harris County voters can and should continue to talk to their elected officials – both at the county and the city – about saving the Astrodome. County officials have said that they were disappointed by low voter turnout on November 5, and that they still want to hear from people who support saving the Dome. We’ve created an easy-to-use form for citizens to contact Harris County officials directly with one click of a button. You can find that here:    Collectively, we need to keep the conversation moving forward. Saving places is never easy and rarely straightforward, but when you believe in something, you stay your course. And a lot of people out there believe in the Dome. I know I do.


photo courtesy of NTHP.

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Top 10 Houston Sports Moments

Written by Andrew Curry

If there’s one thing Houston sports fans can agree on, it’s that Jeff Kent really was kind of an a-hole. If there’s a second thing they can agree on, it’s that fate has not always been kind to the city, its teams, or (especially) its fans. Year after year, season after season, in sport after sport, Houston’s fans have had their hopes dashed by teams they expected to be this close to championship glory (most recently the 2015 Astros have fit the pattern quite nicely).  But we’re Houston, dammit! Boomtown. Space City. Hustle-town. Crush City (to varying degrees).  We’re overdue for our next Downtown parade. And so, rather than wallowing in our discontent, let’s take a look back at those unforgettable moments that united us as a city. We’ll get to the bad and the ugly in future installments of this series, but for today, let’s focus on the good:

10. The Astrodome Opens (1965)

No discussion of Houston sports would be complete without acknowledging the truly epic importance of the Astrodome to the city’s history. A genuine landmark, the Dome is the single most iconic and recognizable building in Houston, and it was home to the Astros, the Oilers and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo for decades. It’s where Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini became icons; where Nolan Ryan threw his fifth no-hitter; where Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell started their professional careers.

It’s where the late, great Bum Phillips whipped 50,000 crazed Oilers fans into a frenzy by promising to “kick the son of a bitch in.”

It’s where the recently departed Bud Adams – arguably Houston’s greatest sports villain – left those same Oilers fans high and dry when he moved the team to Tennessee after his demands for further changes to the Dome were refused by city leaders

Now, the Astrodome’s fate is up for a vote in less than a week. The sports teams and the rodeos may be gone, but the Dome is still iconic and still important to the city moving forward. Here’s hoping Houstonians remember and appreciate that when they go to the ballot box on Tuesday.

9.  Jeff Kent’s walk off HR in Game 5 of the NLCS (10/18/2004)

The Astros have had some great teams over the years. But until 2004, none of those teams had been able to win a single playoff series. Ever.  They finally broke the curse in 2004, beating the Atlanta Braves in five games in the National League Divisional Series, setting up a Championship Series against Central Division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. With the series tied at two games apiece, game five was an epic pitching duel. Houston starter Brandon Backe took a perfect game into the fifth inning, and after eight, he had only given up one hit. But as great as Backe was at shutting down the Cardinals, St. Louis pitcher Woody Williams (himself a native Houstonian) was equally dominant, keeping the Astros scoreless as well.

Brad Lidge shut down the Cardinals in the top of the 9th, and the heart of the Astros order was set for the bottom of the inning. Carlos Beltran (ironically, now playing for the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series) led off with a single. After Jeff Bagwell flied out, Beltran stole second, leaving first base open. Trying to set up a double play to end the inning, the Cardinals intentionally walked Lance Berkman to bring Jeff Kent to the plate.

Now, Jeff Kent is and always has been what people in the sports world call “a red ass.”  Quick to anger, dismissive of fans, media, and even fellow players.  While playing in San Francisco, he once came to blows in the dugout with Barry Bonds, his own teammate (and, to be fair, a fellow red ass). Kent appeared on a recent season of the CBS reality staple, Survivor, and his exit speech upon being voted out was epic in just how perfectly “Jeff Kent-ian” it was:

So when the Cardinals walked Lance Berkman on purpose? Because they preferred pitching to Jeff Kent? Well, you can bet that pissed off Kent. He took it as an unforgivable affront. And what he did next was, at the time, the biggest moment in Astros history: a towering three run home run that ended the game and left the Astros one game away from the World Series.

As it happens, the Astros would lose the next two games in St. Louis, and fall short of making it to the Series. Astros fans were crushed but not surprised. But then came 2005!  (We’ll get there. Be patient.)

8.  Craig Biggio’s 3000th hit (6/28/2007)

Craig Biggio may be the best player ever to wear an Astros uniform. Twenty seasons in the big leagues, and all of them with Houston. That he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet is an outrage, and the game he played June 28, 2007 is one of many reasons he should be enshrined there as soon as possible.  Biggio entered the game against Colorado needing three hits to reach 3000 for his career. Certainly doable, but no guarantee. But after Biggio got singles in both the 3rd and 5th innings, the crowd was ready for him to make history that night. And in the 7th inning, he did just that:

Getting gunned down trying to stretch a single into a double earned Craig another piece of history: the only player thrown out on his 3000th hit. And with two more hits in the game, he also became the only player to have five hits in the game that got him to 3000.

For Houston fans, the icing on the cake was when Craig dragged a sheepish Jeff Bagwell out of the dugout to join his celebration. Bagwell, who had retired before the 2007 season began, played with Biggio for 15 seasons. No two players are more closely associated with each other in Houston sports history, and watching them celebrate Craig’s milestone was only fitting.

7. “The Game of the Century”: UCLA vs. UH (1/20/1968)

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the single game that changed college basketball forever. A showdown between the two best teams in the country, it was the first non-tournament game to be televised nationally. Played in the Astrodome, before the largest crowd ever to watch a college basketball game, it pitted the UCLA Bruins and their 47-game winning streak against the upstart Houston Cougars, also undefeated. John Wooden vs. Guy V. Lewis. Elvin Hayes vs. Lew Alcindor. It was epic. And best of all, it lived up to the hype.

The Coogs won, 71-69. Hayes, with 39 points, became a superstar. Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) would offer excuses for his performance for more than 40 years.

UCLA got its revenge later that season, crushing UH in the tournament on its way to winning the national championship. But in the game that permanently altered the course of college basketball, it was University of Houston that emerged triumphant.

6. The Ralph Sampson buzzer-beater against the Lakers (5/20/1986)

From 1980 to 1989, the Los Angeles Lakers represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals eight times. Those other two years? It was none other than the Houston Rockets. In 1981, the Rockets had a losing record during the regular season. But they still managed to jump on Moses Malone’s back and make an improbable playoff run into the Finals, before losing to Boston in six games.

The 1985-86 Rockets were considered the team of the future. Built around the Twin Towers of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, the Rockets were thought to be too young to hang with the defending champion Lakers when they met in the Western Conference Finals. But not only did the Rockets hang with the Lakers, they took a three games to one lead into the fifth game of the series. By the end of this epic, Olajuwon had been ejected for fighting, and Sampson was left as the lone Tower to carry the team. With the game tied at 112, and with only one second left on the clock, Sampson took a lob pass from Rodney McCrae, contorted himself to face the basket and hurled in a shot that miraculously bounced in and won the game.

It was unquestionably the finest moment in Sampson’s oft-maligned career with the Rockets. They lost in the Finals to a Celtics team considered one of the best in NBA history, but the Rockets’ time would eventually come. But never with this nucleus of players, as Sampson was hobbled by injuries, and John Lucas, Mitchell Wiggins, and Lew Lloyd battled drugs and league suspensions.

5. The Birth of Luv Ya Blue (11/20/1978)

No sports team in Houston was ever more loved than the Oilers of the late ‘70s were. With colorful personalities like Carl Mauch, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Dan Pastorini, and Robert Brazile, and coached by the one and only Bum Phillips, the team captured the imagination of the city, who embraced them wholeheartedly, win or lose. And no one was more beloved than Earl Campbell, a Heisman trophy-winning running back out of the University of Texas and a rookie during the 1978 season.

And on a Monday night in November, Earl Campbell had a game that secured his place in the pantheon of Houston sports legends. Four touchdowns. 199 yards rushing. A victory over the mighty Miami Dolphins in front of a national TV audience. And, perhaps most memorably, a career defining 81-yard run.  (scroll to 1:25)

It was the game, the player, and the play that would give rise to the entire “Luv Ya Blue” phenomenon. And 35 years later, the city still worships Earl.

4. Louisville vs. UH (4/2/1983)

The game that showed the country just what Phi Slama Jama was capable of.

The University of Houston basketball team was not ranked in the top ten when the 1982-83 season began. This, despite returning multiple starters from a team that had gone to the Final Four just the season before. But eventually the team – which included future NBA legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, as well as standouts like Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, Alvin Franklin and Benny Anders – ascended all the way to #1, a spot they held going into the 1983 NCAA Tournament. It was a team known for its fast-paced, above-the-rim style of play. The team philosophy seemed to be, “Why settle for a layup when you can get a slam dunk instead?” Hence, Phi Slama Jama: Texas’s Tallest Fraternity.

Louisville had an impressive team that season as well, and they went into the tournament ranked #2 in the country. People were puzzled when the brackets were released and showed that Louisville and Houston wouldn’t meet in the Finals if they went far enough in the tournament. If both teams did as they were expected to, they’d face off in the semi-final round instead. And that’s just what happened. With two lesser teams playing in the other semi-final, this game was seen as the de facto championship game. And it was incredible.

In the thin Albuquerque air, and at the pace the game was played, many players needed oxygen tanks just to catch their breath.  Louisville star (and future Houston Rocket [see #6 on this list]) Rodney McCray calls this “the greatest game I’ve ever been a part of.” And it’s not hard to see why. Non-stop action, culminating with 19 dunks.

Final score: Houston 94, Louisville 81. A statement had been made. Phi Slama Jama was dominant.

With a game this intense, the finals almost felt like an afterthought. It wasn’t a matter of if UH was going to beat NC State, but rather by how much they would beat them. I wonder whatever happened in that game…

3. Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series (10/9/2005)

It was tempting to call this entry “The Chris Burke Home Run,” because that was certainly the unbelievable climax of this 18-inning classic. But in reviewing all the other goings-on of this monumental game, it seemed more appropriate to cite the entire game.

Consider: the Astros were losing 6-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning, when Lance Berkman started the amazing comeback with a grand slam, pulling the Astros to within one run.

Still down 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, the Astros had to rely on an unlikely source of power to keep their hopes alive. Brad Ausmus had three home runs all season long when he stepped into the batter’s box. But then…  (scroll to 2:22:00)

An incredible comeback, but still, the game was tied. And it would be a loooong time before anyone would score again.

In extra innings, the Astros would run out of players to use, meaning that 43-year-old Roger Clemens, who had pitched only a couple of days before and who had never pinch hit in his entire career had to come in to bat and pitch. His batting wasn’t too impressive. (Of course, in extra innings, the Astros were held hitless as a team for over eight innings. So in that regard, the Rocket fit right in.) But his pitching was studly. Three innings, no runs allowed, four strikeouts. And then it was Chris Burke’s turn.

Burke was a decent but unspectacular role player for some good Astros teams. But for now, he can claim to having the biggest hit in Astros history, a walk off home run to beat the Braves, end the divisional series and put the Astros on the path to their lone World Series appearance (after they dispensed with the Cardinals in the NLCS).   (scroll to 4:48:00)

And in my favorite bit of Houston sports trivia, the same fan caught both Berkman’s grand slam ball and Burke’s game winner. Shaun Dean will be dining out on that story for years:

2. Mike Scott throws a no hitter to send the Astros to the playoffs (9/25/1986)

Mike Scott had a career season in 1986. He won 18 games, led the National League in strikeouts and Earned Run Average (ERA), and eventually received the Cy Young Award. Most importantly to Astros fans, though, is that he led the team to the playoffs for only the third time in their history. But it was how Scott got them there that earns him the #2 spot on our list.

Never in the history of Major League Baseball had a team clinched a playoff berth via a no-hitter. But Mike Scott changed that in 1986 when he kept the San Francisco Giants hitless on September 25.

In a season filled with spectacular achievements for Scott, the no-hitter is the one that Houston sports fans remember most of all. Scott went on to dominate the New York Mets in the 1986 National League Championship Series, but the Astros were unable to win without him on the mound, eventually losing the series 4 games to 2.

1. Clutch City: The Rockets win back-to-back NBA Championships (1994/1995)

Unquestionably, the Rockets’ championship years are the greatest times in the history of Houston sports. But how exactly does a list like this one – a list that includes a one-second play (see #6) – do justice to two seasons and approximately 200 games worth of basketball? After all, there are plenty of individual moments within those championship runs that could fill a top ten list all on their own. So let’s pick out just a few of our favorite moments from those two magnificent seasons, knowing full well that we’ll miss some good ones along the way.

The Rockets opened their first championship run by winning their first fifteen games, at the time an NBA record for the start of a season. They ended the season with a slew of awards for Hakeem Olajuwon: Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All NBA, and NBA Most Valuable Player, the first Rocket to win that award since Moses Malone in 1980.

They opened the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers, whom they dispatched in four games. The series featured one of Olajuwon’s most famous highlights, an incredible blocked shot against Rod Strickland.

In the next round, the Rockets faced Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns.  After a particularly embarrassing pair of losses at home to open the series – including a game two that saw the Rockets cough up a 20-point fourth quarter lead – the infamous “CHOKE CITY” nickname was born. Down 0-2 and needing to win four of the next five games, the Rockets were written off by most, including large portions of the Houston media. But they won the next three games (games three and four in Phoenix and game five in Houston). After losing game six in Phoenix, it all came down to game seven, where the Rockets won in front of their hometown fans, and where Charles Barkley – who had guaranteed a Phoenix series victory after the Suns won the first two games in Houston – took a cheap shot against Hakeem that Rockets fans were slow to forgive. (All was forgotten when Sir Charles joined the team a few seasons later.)

After a quick four games to one series win over the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets were on to meet the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. Pitting two of the marquee centers of all time (Olajuwon and the Knicks’ Patrick Ewing) against each other, it was a series noted for tough defense. No team scored 100 points, and neither team won by more than nine in any of the seven games.

It was a series that took place during one of the most sensational tabloid stories of the 20th century: the infamous slow speed chase involving Los Angeles police and O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco. Coverage of the chase, which took place in the middle of game five, eventually relegated the NBA Finals to a box in the corner of the screen, to the chagrin of Rockets and Knicks fans everywhere:

Game six ended in truly dramatic fashion, on another signature Olajuwon block, this time of John Starks, who was attempting a three-pointer that would have ended the series had Hakeem not gotten there just in time:

The Rockets won game seven – and the city’s first major championship – because of Olajuwon’s complete domination of the game. In game seven, Dream ended up leading the team in points, rebounds, and even assists. And the city lost its collective mind. Car horns blared for hours after the final buzzer sounded, and strangers embraced each other in celebration.

The following season, the Rockets had a rougher go of things. They won fewer games than they had the year before. They faced higher caliber competition in the playoffs. And they traded away Otis Thorpe, a fan favorite and one of the major components of their first championship team.

But when the city found out who the team had landed in exchange for Thorpe, a true sense of euphoria swept through Houston. Clyde Drexler, Hakeem’s Phi Slama Jama teammate and a native Houstonian, was returning home. Rockets fans were ecstatic.

But the Rockets finished that season having won 11 fewer games than they had the year before, and they entered the playoffs as a 6-seed, without home court advantage at any point. They opened against a Utah Jazz team that had won 60 games during the regular season, but the Rockets ended up winning the series in five games, including a game five victory in Salt Lake City at the notoriously hostile Delta Center.

The second round series featured a rematch with the Phoenix Suns, and things began much as they had the season before, with Phoenix winning the first two games, Charles Barkley talking abundant smack, and the Rockets in a position where they had to win 4 of the next 5 games of the series if they had any hope of moving on. And somehow they did it. Game seven in Phoenix featured one of the most memorable moments in Rockets history, Mario Elie’s legendary Kiss of Death:

But the road didn’t get any easier after knocking off Utah and Phoenix. Now, the Rockets would have to take on the San Antonio Spurs, their I-10 rivals, winners of an NBA-best 62 games during the regular season, and home to the man who succeeded Olajuwon as league MVP, David Robinson. While Robinson had a perfectly fine series for himself, The Dream was simply unstoppable. He made the Admiral look utterly pedestrian during their battles in the paint.

Six games later, the Rockets had another series victory that no one ever expected. And it was on to the NBA Finals and the Orlando Magic.

Much like the 1986 Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic of 1995 were considered a dynasty in the making. Led by Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, the Magic won 57 games during the 94-95 season, and they entered the NBA Finals as favorites to win it all. And after building a 20-point lead in the first half of game one, it looked like they were going to make quick work of the Rockets. But then…

Game one of the 1995 NBA Finals featured so many iconic Rockets moments. The comeback that erased the aforementioned 20-point lead. Kenny Smith’s record seven 3-pointers (including five in the third quarter alone, and one to tie the game at the end of regulation). Nick Anderson’s four –FOUR!! – missed free throws, any one of which would have sealed a win for Orlando if he had made it. And, finally, the Olajuwon tip in of a missed Clyde Drexler layup that put the Rockets up by two as time expired.

It was as exciting a game as the Rockets would play in either of their championship seasons, and it set the stage for what turned out to be a sweep of Orlando. Much as he had with David Robinson, Olajuwon had his way with Shaquille O’Neal. And like he had in 1994, Hakeem would win the Finals MVP Award to cap off another amazing playoff run.

Houstonians will often debate which title was more impressive. Was it 1994, where they had to overcome the CHOKE CITY label and where they won a first title for a city that was absolutely starving for one? Or was it 1995, when all odds were stacked against their repeating? When Clyde the Glide and Hakeem the Dream could finish what they hadn’t been able to 11 years earlier in college? Ultimately, it’s a fun bar conversation, but both championships are equally important to the city.

As Rudy Tomjanovich said at the end of the 1995 Finals, in the most famous quotation in Houston sports history, don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion:

Those Rockets championship teams are without question the highlight of Houston’s sports story. Here’s hoping they’ll be joined soon – and often – by other great Houston teams in the years ahead.

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Why Save the Astrodome?

We all know the story.  We’ve all heard about how a scrappy, ambitious, second-rate city without a professional sports team dreamt up a crazy plan to play baseball indoors, then lured a new, major-league team to town.  Dreamers like County Judge Roy Hofheinz and Bob Smith knew that playing any sport in Houston can be a challenge, but providing a game-changer like indoor baseball would be an irresistible gimmick for a baseball franchise.  Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Houston learned that anything could, and maybe should, be air-conditioned.  Both public facilities and private homes enjoyed escaping Houston’s humidity in the dry, cool air.  By the time Houston got its first air-conditioned shopping mall in 1961, the Houston Sports Authority had plans on paper for the world’s first enclosed, air-conditioned sports venue.  Harris County voters agreed, and in 1965, the Astros took to the mound under a canopy of steel and clear acrylic.  The boasting began immediately — not a foreign concept for any Texan.  The Eighth Wonder of the World was born.

Since its debut, the Astrodome has been an extremely versatile member of the community.  Rodeo, football, soccer, basketball, tennis, boxing, bullfights, concerts, circuses, monster truck rallies, movies, and even a political convention held events, to varying degrees of success in the Dome.  Just about anyone who lived or visited Houston since 1965 can recall at least one cherished memory.  But, be careful!  This is where many Astrodome naysayers lie waiting to pounce.  They love telling you that New York City tore down the nearly-sacred Yankee Stadium, The House That Ruth Built, where countless unforgettable sports memories were born.  If New York could tear down Yankee Stadium, then we could certainly nuke our own signature stadium.  Well, my fellow Houstonians, that is a false comparison.  How many landmarks does New York have?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Now compare that to Houston.  How many honest-to-goodness landmarks does the Bayou City have?  Not so many that we can afford to squander them.  Besides, the Astrodome is so much more than a sports and entertainment venue.  Sure, whether winning or losing, all hometown sports teams promote a local identity to a national and international audience.   Sports teams give us a great communal experiences.  But the Astrodome is so much bigger than a mere monument to past sports glories.

Look at how and why we built it in the first place.  Look at the bravado and ambition that produced it.  Look at how the City of Houston has since became a citizen of the world.  We built a world landmark, then the world came to visit.  We boasted, “Look at what Houston can do!”  Put simply, the Astrodome is the physical manifestation of the soul of Houston.

I’m not interested in reading anymore insulting, insensitive, and ugly articles calling for the demolition of the Astrodome, our beloved, erstwhile, and hopefully-future, signature landmark!  “Tear it down” is the laziest of attitudes.  Yes, we demolish frequently here, more than most cities do, but I have yet to hear any legitimate argument for the wrecking ball.  Sure, the Dome might be dingy-looking from a lack of a good scrubbing, but the original steel and concrete structure was built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, Texas-sized insects, and even rowdy sports fans.  It still stands proudly.

Houston is a creative, funky, do-it-yourself city.  We are tinkerers, dreamers, and innovators.  That tear-it-down attitude is a slap in the face to Houston’s preservation community and to the creative spirit pervading so much of Houston life.  Look at such projects as the Art Car Parade and Discovery Green, both of which emerged from leftover ideas to become institutions.  Both showcase what’s best about Houston.

When looking at some of the more ambitious projects we’ve undertaken as a community, I’ve noticed that the price tag is the first thing we all collectively forget.  Yes, finding financing for anything is tricky at best case, and impossible at worst case.  But I won’t let that limit my imagination for a potentially ambitious reimaging of Houston’s signature landmark.  To make my point, I ask you to consider Discovery Green.  Celebrating its 5th anniversary this month, this first-class Downtown park and destination is an unqualified success.  From the design to the programming, Discovery Green is a welcome destination for Houstonians and visitors alike.  It’s now impossible to imagine Houston without it.  I ask, “Who cares what it cost?”  If the idea captures everyone’s imagination, then we’ll just make it happen, we’ll find the money.

I imagine our revived Astrodome as a beloved destination for all — someplace that Houstonians and guests visit, and someplace that the Rodeo and football tailgaters can enjoy too.  Take the lessons we learned at Hermann Park, Discovery Green, and Market Square and employ them here.  Make it simple.  Make it open to the public year-round.  Make it a place for families, groups, or even the solitary pedestrian to wander around and marvel at this massive architectural wonder.  Let’s let everyone inside to behold the 640 foot span overhead.   Let’s bring back the 4-story scoreboard.  Let’s make it a monument to Houston’s innovators – we certainly have plenty to celebrate.  Let’s feel tiny underneath the massive structure and contemplate our own place in the universe.

As I’ve said before, the Astrodome is Houston’s Eiffel Tower and carries inside it the soul of Houston. We’ve never matched it, and should strive to imagine what else it could be, while respecting all the excitement, bravado, and technological innovation that it generated.  Remember the identity it provided young Houston in the eyes of the world.  And then, as long as naysayers get out of our way, we can do better than simply tearing it down.  What’s the rush?  Let’s get it right.  Why save our Astrodome?  Because we can!

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Defenders, Not Defensive

Yes, Houston is worth it.
Yes, I’m not moving to Austin.
Yes, it’s OK to love Houston.
And yes, I’m done being defensive about Houston.

As proud Houstonians, we’re all enjoying the latest round of good national and international press that’s come our way — notice how I didn’t say “long overdue?”  I never tire reading about how Houston is filled with world-class museums, theaters, restaurants, neighborhoods, schools, and healthcare.  And just like a proud Houstonian, once I finish, I dutifully repost it online for non-Houstonians to take a look, almost like a parent posting their child’s artwork on the fridge.  “See, look at us?  We’re not all cowboys, wildcatters, astronauts, oil & gas lawyers, or soulless commuters stuck in traffic!” 

Over the past few years, so many unofficial, underground ad campaigns and internet memes have popped up professing their love for Houston.  Some are right clever, some are snarky, some even mock other cities.  All of them are proud, but all of them make me grimace.  Each one has that dreaded “however,” which is either stated or implied about Houston — those things we try to forget (heat, sprawl, lack of a signature rallying characteristic).

Well, enough is enough!  No more of these tepid, conditional declarations of Houston’s greatness.  I am sick of that defensive attitude that passes for booster-ism.  You won’t see me apologizing, shrugging, pleading, comparing, or being the slightest bit sarcastic or ironic about my love of Houston, and our commitment to keeping it a great place to live and to visit.

I’m also done with copying other cities.  Yes, we’ll never be The Live Music Capital, but I don’t mind trying to book a few more concerts, festivals, and shows.  And we don’t need to “Keep Houston” anything.  Ok, keep Houston inscrutable, if you must.  And finally, we need to nix anything with HTX on it.  While I, again, like the pride, the branding is way too much like Austin’s ubiquitous ATX.  Anyway, we already have a perfectly awesome three letter abbreviation — HOU.

Recently, the Greater (Greatest?) Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau got it right.  Their new national ad campaign showcases our own rock star chefs and bartenders, our own innovative performing and visual artists, and our very own oddball dreamers and tinkerers who make Houston so funky and fun.  In contrast with their previous campaign, the new ads are filled with the famous faces that are still making a difference here in Houston, and not with those big-shots who split.  I’m ready for the ad that highlights our history.  I can easily see a photo shoot with Sam Houston, Howard Hughes, Ima Hogg, Jesse Jones, Michael DeBakey, Barbara Jordan, Patrick Swayze, and DJ Screw.  Houston is…historic?  You bet it is!

So, be proud of Houston.  Brag until you lose your voice.  Boast until your keyboard is pounded into dust.  Be more like those innovators in the new ads.  Try something weird and different, or dream up your own thing, but please stop apologizing for loving Houston.

Always be a defender of Houston, never be defensive about Houston.

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Is that Landmark Protected?

Confused by the markers on Houston’s landmarks?  More importantly, do these bronze plaques protect any historic property from the wrecking ball?  You might be surprised.

National Register of Historic Places
The National Registration of Historic Places is a list of sites, districts, buildings, structures and objects of national, regional or local significance.  Run by the National Park Service, this listing begins with a nomination by the State Historic Preservation Office (Texas Historical Commission) which reviews the property’s age, integrity, and significance.  The significance of National Register listing is diminished by the lack of protection from alteration or demolition. In fact, there are no restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of the recognized property, and listing does not automatically invoke local landmark designation.  Also, a National Register listed property will not be listed if the owner objects.  National Register designation may allow for federal tax benefits for rehabilitation and federal grant assistance.

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
Established in 1953, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) is the state agency for historic preservation which consults with citizens and organizations in preserving Texas’ architectural, archeological, and cultural landmarks, and awards Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (RTHL) designation to buildings at least 50 years old that are characterized by their architectural significance and historical associations. If approved, then an RTHL can receive an Official Texas Historical Building Medallion or an Official Texas Historical Subject Marker.  Owner permission must be secured prior to any designations and benefits include recognition, preservation assistance, and possible state preservation grant funds.  If alterations or demolition is decided, then any RTHL is subject to a meaningless 60-day waiting period to slow down the undesirable action.  RTHL is a permanent designation and is retained upon a transfer of ownership provided the property is not altered or demolished.

Historic sites can also be designated as State Archeological Landmarks and receive legal protection under the Antiquities Code of Texas. Listing in the National Register is a prerequisite for State Archeological Landmark designation of a building.

Houston Protected Landmark
In 2005, Houston City Council approved an ordinance to recognize and protect landmarks.  All landmarks must meet age requirements and possess historic and architectural significance.  The City CANNOT impose this on a property with out an application and permission from the property owner, and with the Archaeological and Historical Commission approval. Once Protected Landmark status is awarded, the property may only be altered externally, moved, or demolished with the permission of City of Houston.  Also, the City of Houston may grant a tax exemption to quali­fied property owners who improve designated City his­toric properties. In addition to the tax incentives, owners of designat­ed historic buildings may qualify for other benefits such as reduced building permit fees.  Most importantly, Protected Landmark status is permanent and transfers to subsequent owners.

Please note, Protected Landmark is not to be confused with the virtually meaningless “Landmark,’ which the City may designate (as in the case of The Alabama Theatre).  This provides no protection from the wrecking ball, but can slow it down with a mandatory waiting period for the Demolition Permit or Construction Permit for any interior or exterior alterations.

In 2007, Houston City Council designated Old Sixth Ward as a Protected Historic District. This enables the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission to prohibit the demolition of ANY structure within Old Sixth Ward

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Houston’s Dirtiest-Sounding Street Names

Here at Houstorian, we are committed to telling the story of Houston — its people, events, neighborhoods, and landmarks.  And in such a large city as Houston, there are countless stories to tell.  But just because we are serious about telling these stories doesn’t mean that all the stories are serious.  With that I mind, Houstorian presents:

Houston’s Dirtiest-Sounding Street Names

Ashmole Ln.
Avenue P
Bangs Rd.
Bullock Ln.
Curlee Rd. (off Shaver)
Dick St.
Dickey Place
Frick Rd.
Fur Market Dr.
Furray Rd.

[twocol_one_last]Hunkler Dr.
Kunz Rd.
Lipps Ln.
Manus St.
Manville St. 
Moorhead Dr.
Mosher Ln.
Mount St.
Purple Ridge
Shaftsbury Dr.
Shagwood Dr.
Shartle Circle
Shottery Dr.
South Blvd.
69th St.



And just outside of Houston, our neighbors have some humdingers.

Fudge St. in Channelview
Monkey Fist Dr. in Heritage Park
Ram’s Bottom Ct. in Spring
Sugar Bars in Heritage Park
Swallow Circle in Sugar Land
Vaglica Drive in Sour Lake


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What Was There?

We’ve all wondered it.  Maybe even more so here in Amnesia City.  Now, there’s a new way to combat amnesia – The What Was There Project.

This new, online service allows users to upload old photos of buildings and places, and then overlap them with a current photo of the same site – taken from Google Street View.  Google can get fairly close to the exact spot where the first photo was taken.   

The jump between now and then is heightened by a Fade Slide Bar that allows viewers to transition between past and present.

They claim proudly their service can “provide a new human experience of time and space – a virtual time machine of sorts that allows users to navigate familiar streets as they appeared in the past.”

And if you’re not satisfied with Google’s Street View, then the iPhone application allows you to go to the exact location and find the optimal view through your camera to match the original photo; then, fade between former and current.

The list of Houston sites is small, so check back periodically.  Houstorian is currently uploading old photos from around town.

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