Humble Building. Photo: Allyn West.

Stephen Fox: Plan for Humble Building Could “Save the Modern Landmark”

The police, we hope, save lives. But can they save historic buildings?

Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle reports that “the city may move its police and courts operations into the Exxon tower downtown.” In recent weeks, City Council has struggled with how to accomodate a large police department housed in “crumbling” facilities. Instead of building expensive new facilities that would require a city-wide vote, the new proposal is to lease space in the Exxon tower.

Also from the Chronicle, Lisa Gray celebrates this plan as an alternative to an earlier proposal by the building’s owner that would have removed distinctive features from the 1962 building, originally called the Humble Oil Building.

In November 2013, Matt Johnson wrote for OffCite about that earlier proposal to give a facelift to the Humble Oil Building. “The building was once the tallest tower west of the Mississippi and is a great example of what might be termed climatic modernism: that is, architecture attempting to deal with Houston’s hot-humid climate through passive means,” Johnson writes. “Its most characteristic feature — a series of 7-foot-deep brise-soliel shades — will be stripped off and the floor plates extended to add ‘new rentable area’ and ‘lease-depths of 42 feet.’ Instead of the passive shades that currently shield and cool the building from Houston’s sun, we’ll get a high-performance glazing system (as well as roughly 100,000 new square feet to be air conditioned).”

On the recent report from the Chronicle, Stephen Fox, a Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation and respected architectural historian, shared the following thoughts with OffCite:

Mayor Annise Parker’s proposal that the City of Houston lease the 44-story Humble Building and rehabilitate it as a city justice complex could save the modern landmark from the destructive remodeling proposed by its owner, Shorenstein Properties. Were the building listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Shorenstein would be entitled to use both the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program (20 percent income tax credit) and the Texas Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program (25 percent tax credit) to carry out a certified rehabilitation of the Humble Building. The two floors occupied by the Petroleum Club could be preserved as income-producing special event rental spaces, and the 44th-floor observation deck, closed since 1971, could be reopened to the public.

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The plan could also free up the city’s Riesner Street property, which was the focus of OffCite’s Minecraft competition, for uses other than a police headquarters, possibly allowing for the preservation of the 1950 building by Kenneth Franzheim, another modern landmark. The site is located between the Historic Sixth Ward and Downtown. Along with the Downtown Post Office site and a decommissioned Pierce Elevated, the Riesner Street complex offers an opportunity to do something amazing for a broad public with publicly owned land and architecture.

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    2 Comments

    1. 1

      […] City of Houston May Save Historic Downtown Office Tower by Moving In (OffCite) […]


    2. 2

      […] Humble Building. Photo: Allyn West.The police, we hope, save lives. But can they save historic buildings?  […]