This story gives some idea of how far the idea of historic preservation has come in Houston over the last decade or so.
A year ago, Houston's small but passionate preservation community was galvanized by warnings that the River Oaks Theatre, the River Oaks Shopping Center and the Alabama Theater building could face demolition within two years.
By that time, Mayor Bill White had begun his administration's gradual effort to strengthen the city's preservation law, long regarded as among the weakest in the country. White and the City Council created a new "protected landmarks" category allowing owners to protect certain buildings in perpetuity and provided tax incentives for doing so.
White's efforts are expected to culminate Aug. 1, when the council considers a protected historic district for the Old Sixth Ward that would include the first unqualified ban on demolition of historic buildings ever enacted in Houston.
The mayor's incremental approach to the issue has been more successful than a bolder, more controversial effort that died in a City Council committee led by then-Councilwoman Annise Parker five years ago.
Parker, now the city controller, said Houston's preservation climate has improved since then for a number of reasons: White and several City Council members are more interested than their predecessors were in preservation. Stakeholders trust White to be an "honest broker" of their diverse interests. And business leaders increasingly recognize the importance of quality-of-life issues such as historic preservation.
Though preservation groups' leaders don't always get along, Parker said, they concluded that even small victories are better than none. "People see so much of our history being lost," Parker said. "They're willing to take a compromise that they wouldn't before, because they're so desperate for something to happen."
Serious efforts to curb destruction of the spaces holding Houston's collective memories began in the 1990s when preservationists lobbied then-Mayor Bob Lanier for an ordinance imposing some controls on demolition or alteration of historic buildings.
It was a tough sell in a relatively young city with a culture that revered individual property rights and the prosperity fueled by new development. But Lanier agreed to consider the idea.
The result was Houston's first preservation ordinance, adopted by the City Council in 1995. It created an Archaeological and Historical Commission to review applications for demolition or alteration of certain historic buildings; denial would require owners to wait 90 days before proceeding.
The ordinance was helpful, preservationists said, but its shortcomings soon became apparent as one property owner after another waited the required 90 days and then proceeded with demolition. Some particularly beloved buildings were destroyed in the dead of night to avoid protests.