December 10, 2007
"Demolition by neglect"

Lisa Gray gives a downer update on the Alabama Bookstop, which is not what I needed after a great weekend.

"Well, there's one," says David Bush, wearily eyeing a two-foot discoloration on Bookstop's high ceiling -- one of several such blotches he's noticed in the historic Alabama Theatre, home of the Barnes & Noble-owned Bookstop.

Concerned that the blotches indicate a leaky roof, the building's fans have been calling Bush, the programs and information director of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, to see if anything can be done to protect the already endangered building.

The Preservation Alliance can't do anything, really, but now and then, Bush drops by to take a look. "Over there," he says, pointing his chin. "Two more spots, over the balcony."

Bush worries that the blotches are early signs of "demolition by neglect," the bane of historic preservationists everywhere, but especially a problem in Houston. Too often an owner, intentionally or not, allows a historic building's small problems to grow into large ones, until the building becomes shabby and sometimes structurally unsound -- and thus, less likely to arouse public anger when it's demolished.

Most cities prohibit demolition by neglect, requiring owners to keep historically significant buildings in reasonably good repair. But in Houston, except in the city's one tiny "protected historic district," no laws protect even a city-designated landmark like the Alabama Theatre. "All we can do is make them feel bad," says Betty Chapman, head of the Houston Archaeological and Historic Commission.

I think we've pretty clearly established that Weingarten is utterly indifferent to public opinion on this matter. They just don't give a damn, and they don't care who knows it. Oh, they're smart enough to realize that tearing down beloved landmarks and replacing them with snooty high-rises is something that must be done carefully, but they appear to be prepared to wait it out. I wish there were something that could be done about this, but I'll be damned if I can think of anything. It's very depressing to contemplate.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 10, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston