Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chelsea Market, Manhattan

In the 1990s, a syndicate of investors bought the National Biscuit Company ("Nabisco") buildings between 15th and 16th Streets bordered by 9th and 11th Avenues and very cleverly converted the ground floor of the 6-story bakery complex between 9th and 11th Aves into Chelsea Market, now with two upscale anchor restaurants Morimoto and Buddakan. The owners have done a spectacular job of decorating the long central hall with historic photos and artifacts, including machine equipment (supporting glass tables), torches, gears, an illuminated waterfall, etc.
A sliver of the original New York Biscuit Company's 1890 Romanesque facade (see dappled-light photo showing upper level columns gracing arched windows) exists midway on 16th St., designed by Romeyn & Stever. In 1898, several competing companies merged to form what would become Nabisco (animal crackers, oreos, fig newtons, saltines, etc.). The 15th St. side entrances have the "NBC" logo in the floor tiles and the logo also appears prominently on the taller 1913 building at 85 of 10th Ave. By the way, that building has a spectacular lobby with portholes, and a bank of TVs, plus other industrial archaeological detritus, but is off limits to visitors. Two architecturally significant walkways across 14th St. and 10th Ave. connect the buildings. An entrance to the High Line, the levated walkway is near the 10th Ave. entrance.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rosharon, Texas

Remember the lyrics "Deep in the heart of Texas" in Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Sixteen ? Well, I was there....deep in the heart of Texas ! In Rosharon, about 30 miles southwest of Houston. Rosharon, also known as "Buttermilk Station," is an unincorporated area in Brazoria County, Texas at the intersection of Farm to Market Road 521 and Farm to Market Road 1462.

Nothing there except run down trailer parks, a bar, and rice and wheat fields. Well, is there something there ? Schlumberger has been located there since 1953 to do explosives testing.

Bayou Bend, River Oaks, Houston, Texas

Bayou Bend is an estate owned by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts since 1957. It is a Georgian Revival house with a Southern Plantation flair, designed by John Staub, and built in 1928 by the Hogg family. Ima Hogg, daughter of a Texas Governor, was a serious collector of period furniture spanning Colonial times to her own era and has bequested a home filled with decorative arts second only to H.F. DuPont's Winterthur in Delaware. Entry to the estate grounds is across a funky foot bridge spanning the bayou.

Museum District, Houston, Texas

To the casual visitor, Houston is an endless matrix of freeway flyovers and frontage roads (spelled "frge" on my GPS), legal "U"-turns, and LA-style traffic. Beneath the radar though, there is a compelling cultural beachhead, resulting from the tastes created with vast wealth since oil first flowed at Spindletop in Beaumont in 1901 and more recently from the huge legions of foreign born workers imported to span the Oil & Gas infrastructure. Much of this hidden ambience is to be found in the museum district, southwest of downtown, which includes Rice University and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts as well as a wealth of restaurants in the area, especially on Westheimer Ave. Montrose is lined with the remnants of old mansions including the neoclassical 1912 Link-Lee House (purchased by oilman Thomas Lee in 1916), designed by Sanguinet, Staate & Barnes, and part of University of St. Thomas since 1947.

Spectacular residences line Sunset Ave., especially at Hazard St., live oaks lining the streets, these evergreens providing shade year round. The Houston MFA has a considerable French Impressionist collection and 2 Picassos as well. Across Binnosset St. is a sculpture yard. The Contemporary Arts Museum is more interesting as an architectural statement - it is a stainless steel Kunsthalle, the exhibits are very cutting edge.

Rice University, Houston, Texas

Rice University, an arborist's oasis in the museum district of Houston, combines spectacular regional architecture with perhaps the nation's best preserve of southern live oak trees. These beautiful evergreens dominate the campus ambience. The Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum, consisting of more than 4000 trees and shrubs (giving birth to the legend that Rice has a tree for every student), is spread throughout the campus.

It is reminiscent of Swarthmore College, Haverford College, and Vanderbilt University, whose campuses are conferred with national arboretum designations. The campus opened in 1912 with Lovett Hall. Nearly every building on campus is Byzantine in style, with sand and pink-colored bricks, large archways and columns.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

San Jacinto Monument, La Porte, Texas

Just east of Houston, the San Jacinto Monument commemorates the site of the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texas Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just 18 minutes. About 700 of the Mexican soldiers were killed and 730 captured, while only 9 Texans died. The monument, completed in 1939, is the world's tallest monumental column and is part of the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. A small free ferry provides car access from the north. The 567-foot art deco tower made of Texas Cordova shellstone, is taller than the Washington Monument. The bronze doors which allow entry into the museum show the six flags of Texas. At the top of the monument is a 220-ton star, representing the Lone Star of Texas. The USS Texas battleship is nearby, the only surviving battleship that served in both World Wars.