Wrecking Ball

Historic downtown school building slated for demolition despite protests by former students

Historic downtown school slated for demolition despite protests

2 Incarnate Word Academy 1905 building March 2015
The Nicholas J. Clayton-designed building on the Incarnate Word Academy campus is meeting the wrecking ball very soon. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
3 Incarnate Word Academy 1905 building March 2015
The cross, along with salvageable bricks, are to be included in the new $8.5 million structure. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
4 Incarnate Word Academy 1905 building March 2015
A look at the landmark structure through the chain-link fence. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
Save Incarnate Word's 1905 Building bricks Facebook page March 2015
The "Save Incarnate Word's 1905 Building" Facebook page featured this photo in its overlapping campaign with Change.org. Save Incarnate Word's 1905 Building/Facebook
Incarnate Word Academy Houston 1905 building in 2009
The structure as photographed in 2009. Photo by Patrick Feller/Flickr
2 Incarnate Word Academy 1905 building March 2015
3 Incarnate Word Academy 1905 building March 2015
4 Incarnate Word Academy 1905 building March 2015
Save Incarnate Word's 1905 Building bricks Facebook page March 2015
Incarnate Word Academy Houston 1905 building in 2009

Salvageable bricks and a cross above Incarnate Word Academy's "1905 Building" are all that will likely soon be left of one of downtown Houston's most historic structures. The last of the city's architectural landmarks totally designed by famed 19th-century Texas architect Nicholas J. Clayton faces the wrecking ball soon.

Despite protests and an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures from former students and preservationists in support of saving the structure, the five board members of Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, the organization that owns the building, said an estimated $300,000 rehabilitation project would not provide "a structure adequate to the school's needs," the Houston Chronicle reports.

Rather, the three-story red-brick building at 609 Crawford St., cited by Rice University architectural history lecturer Stephen Fox as just one example of Clayton's "late-19th century architectural exuberance," will be demolished and replaced with a new, $8.5 million, six-story structure expected to open for the 2016-2017 school year. 

 "This building, along with two wood frame houses, the Foley and Cohn homes, represent the only surviving remnants of a vital area of the city once known as Quality Hill," anti-demolition spokesperson Catherine McDonald writes in the Change.org petition.  

Renderings of the proposed facility have not yet been released, but officials said they plan to include some bricks and decorative features from the demolished building into the design.

Workers placed a chain-link fence around the property last week. Scaffolding surrounds the structure as crews gut the insides of the building.

Sister Lauren Beck, president of the teaching order and of the school, did not respond to numerous calls from CultureMap seeking comment, but she told the Chronicle, "We do appreciate that this is an older building, but we have to look at the needs of the school. There is no more land down here and we are landlocked. While we loved having some of the old and some of the new, we decided that the building could not drive the mission of the school. The needs of the school come first."

Clayton designed three buildings for the Houston school, the oldest Catholic high school in Houston: A 1873 convent, which was razed in the 1940s; a 1899 auditorium, which was demolished in 1970s; and the current classroom building.

"This building, along with two wood frame houses, the Foley and Cohn homes, represent the only surviving remnants of a vital area of the city once known as Quality Hill," anti-demolition spokesperson Catherine McDonald writes in the Change.org petition. "Movers and shakers in business and politics lived there, and those who were Catholic sent their daughters to Incarnate Word. The history of the school, the neighborhood and the city are interwoven."

McDonald says construction of the ball park, which involved blasting two stories below ground level and continuous pumping out of ground water, "has impacted the surrounding blocks, particularly those buildings not sitting on modern foundations, which includes the 1905 Building."

"Foundation issues exist, which are getting worse because nothing is being done to correct them. Neglect, even benign neglect, can be as deadly to an old building as a wrecking ball. We need to act now to repair this architectural gem."

The Change.org petition suggests an endowment be established "that would address ongoing preservation without putting a financial burden on the Sisters."