January 20, 2007
Next on the endangered buildings list: The Arabia Shrine Center

I heard about this last week through a bridge e-newsletter, but didn't think to go looking for a link at the time: The Arabia Shrine Center on Braeswood near Kirby may soon be history.

The Arabia Shrine Center -- the venerable showcase for everything from social galas to flat-track roller derby events -- will likely be sold in February to make way for a high-density residential development, an officer with the organization told the Examiner.

Jerry Gantt said the membership of the local Shriners temple that owns the land voted in November to clear the way for the sale because of property taxes that "will eventually get to be more than the Shrine can pay."

While not wanting to quote a price, Gantt said each of the three unnamed, prospective buyers are interested in similar developments.

No deal could be made final until Feb. 1, he said, because an affiliated group -- the Scottish Rite -- owns its building on the same property and has a 90-day right of first refusal.

The tracts of land, listed by the Harris County Appraisal District as 2900 N. Braeswood Blvd., cover 252,300 square feet and are valued at more than $2.5 million. Another almost $1 million is added to the Shrine's taxable value for buildings and improvements.

For 2006, the fraternal organization paid $100,175 in property taxes, Harris County tax assessor-collector records show.

The Shriners, who do a lot of charity work and have a hospital nearby on South Main, might be able to get an exemption on those taxes from Harris County, but it looks more like they'll move out to Fort Bend or Brazoria. Which is a shame, as the current location has got to be much more convenient for their charitable mission, as well as being an excellent venue for all kinds of things. (The reason I heard about this through the local ACBL chapter is because it houses numerous bridge tournaments during the year.) That immediate area is just teeming with apartments and condos, and I'd gripe about that except it's also a half mile or so from the Smithlands light rail station, so it really is an ideal location for that kind of density. It'll still be a shame to see the Arabia go away, though.

Here's a nice reminiscence about the place, with some wistfulness about the decline of the Shriners in general. Apparently, when the place was dedicated in 1975, the local chapter thought it'd last 100 years. I guess for Houston, 32 is close enough.

(My thanks to Charlotte Aguilar of the Examiner for helping me unearth the story links.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 20, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston