June 23, 2007
Historic Status on tap?

I'd call this a step in the right direction, if nothing else.

The Houston Planning Commission recommended Thursday that two iconic shopping centers be designated as landmarks, making them eligible for tax breaks intended to discourage their expected demolition.


The landmark designations, if approved by the City Council, will apply to the Alabama Shopping Center in the 2900 block of South Shepherd -- including the Alabama Theater building that now houses a bookstore -- and the crescent-shaped River Oaks Shopping Center at the northeast corner of Shepherd and West Gray.

Both areas, along with the River Oaks Theater across the street from the River Oaks Shopping Center, have been listed as endangered by the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance. Weingarten Realty Investors, which owns all three properties, has asked tenants to vacate the River Oaks Shopping Center and may legally begin demolition on Aug. 8.

Weingarten representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Miya tried to find out about that awhile back. Short answer, Weingarten is playing it close to the vest.

About a dozen speakers, including leaders of every major Houston preservation organization, two City Council members and architectural historian Stephen Fox, urged the commission to approve the landmark designation even though it might not save the buildings from the wrecking ball.

"Even though this doesn't ensure that the buildings will be preserved, it does send a message that this city really cares about its history and the built environment," said Councilman Peter Brown.

That and a fiver will get you a fancy coffee at one of the two Starbuckses next to the Theater. The gesture is nice, and I applaud that it may be made, but it's just a gesture.

There is one thing historic designation, and the accompanying tax breaks, could do, however, and that's to make the River Oaks/Alabama Center properties appealing to a buyer who'd want to keep them as they are - or at least, to keep the Theater and the BookStop as they are. It's probably not enough, but who knows? It's something, and until something else better comes along, it's what we've got. Keep hope alive, y'all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston