September 01, 2004
The Orange Show

The Orange Show is doing some repairs on their headquarters and on the Beer Can House.

For the Orange Show, wind and dust attack its fragile sculptures and painted surfaces constantly, while one of the wettest Junes on record compounded problems like peeling paint and rust, and forced the popular East End attraction to close last month for repainting and other repairs.

For the Beer Can House in Houston's West End, the threat is partly weather-related, too, but it stems from multifamily development on either side of the popular house.

"We normally close the Orange Show for maintenance three months in the winter, but we had to do it (last) month because all the rain we've had complicated things," said executive director Susanne Theis. Bigger preservation issues include a cracking foundation and failing plumbing.

Adrian de la Cerda, in charge of general maintenance and surface restoration, has worked four years for the Orange Show. " The biggest challenge is keeping up, chasing after the weather," he said. "We paint one area, and three years later we're back where we started.

"Most is relatively easy work -- scraping, sanding, repainting. I don't do anything that is not reversible. Things like plumbing -- we had a leak in the men's room -- and foundation repair, is left to the experts."


Two years ago, the organization raised $194,000 to acquire its second art environment, the shimmering Beer Can House. The foundation also renamed itself the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art last fall to reflect its broadened role and physical expansion.

Beneath its sheath of glittering aluminum, the Beer Can House at 222 Malone in the West End is a traditional pier-and-beam bungalow built in the late 1930s. Over decades, its late owner, John Milkovisch, transformed it into a mirage, with streamers made from the tops and bottoms of his emptied aluminum cans. Milkovisch hung the streamers from eaves all around the house and dangled them from trees. He also flattened the dissected cans to decorate his fences and planters and to use as a substitute for commercial aluminum siding.

The aluminum streamers are losing their shine as pollution and rust from their steel wire links take their toll. Trees on adjacent lots that once protected the house and shaded the garden have been replaced by townhouses on one side and cut down in advance of more building on the other. Runoff is creating drainage problems, and the loss of trees has promoted an invasion of weeds that is wreaking havoc on the hand-made concrete walkways.

"We've been trying to come up with a solution," Theis said. One scenario is to restore the house on site and prevent development from harming it, she said. That would entail buying the now denuded adjacent lot (or at least a portion of it) to accommodate parking and protect the house's environment. The lot in question is slated for five, three-story townhouses. The developer is willing to sell it -- for $450,000.

A second scenario is to move the house to the East End near the Orange Show and restore it there.

I drove past the Beer Can House on my way home from work today (only slightly out of my way) to see if I could determine who the developer in question is. There's no sign on the lot, but I have no idea how they plan on squeezing in five three-story townhomes on it. This is not a big plot of land - it didn't even look like a double lot to me. Two, maybe three if they're connected, but five? Where are the people who buy these townhomes going to park? Malone is a narrow street, and it's already pretty tightly developed (hence the runoff problems). This is a big part of the reason many of us longtime Inner Loopers have such an intense dislike for Perry Homes and its ilk.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 01, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

It could be worse. On parts of Staten Island, the developers would probably look to build a dozen homes on a similar plot of land. ;-)

Posted by: William Hughes on September 2, 2004 7:39 AM