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Nightclub A Tourist Lure

Historic swinging nightclub's transformation into a tourist center is a win for Houston — and nature

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Allen's Landing Sunset Building January 2014
The historic Sunset Coffee building will be redeveloped with facilities for renting bikes and kayaks. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Allen's Landing Sunset Building Kevin Staley of SWA Group January 2014
Kevin Shanley, SWA Group, an advocate for bayou improvements, stands in front of historic Sunset Coffee building. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Allen's Landing Sunset Building January 2014
Built in 1910, the Sunset Coffee building is located at Allen's Landingoff Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Ralph Bivins
Allen's Landing Sunset Building January 2014
Allen's Landing Sunset Building Kevin Staley of SWA Group January 2014
Allen's Landing Sunset Building January 2014
News_NEW HEAD SHOT_Ralph Bivins

For the bayou mariner, it’s 29.7621 latitude; 95.3598 longitude.

For old hippies, it’s the location of Love Street Light Circus, a 1960s nightclub where you could score a matchbox full of Mary Jane and listen to new psychedelic bands, like the fledgling ZZ Top.

And if you go waaay back, to 1910, it was the Sunset Coffee Building, a coffee roasting factory — an industrial structure at the early-day port of Houston on the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

The vacant three-story brick building has been wasting away for years, mostly a home for downtown’s pigeons and a bathroom for street people.

The Sunset Coffee building deserves to be a lot more. It’s built on Houston’s Plymouth Rock — the place where entrepreneurs John and Augustus Allen came ashore in 1836 and established the city. The Sunset Coffee Building sits on a patch of bayou frontage Houstonians now call Allen’s Landing.

So the Sunset Coffee building is going to be redeveloped and it will become a place of tourism and a recreational focal point for the ongoing enhancements and park improvements and trails underway along the bayou. Construction work on the building, located on Commerce Street between Main and Fannin, has finally begun (as previously reported on CultureMap).

The redevelopment of the Sunset Coffee Building will be more than just a place where people can enjoy the trails, rent bikes and kayaks, says visionary bayou advocate Kevin Shanley, principal in SWA Group, a major landscape architecture and land planning firm.

Although restoring historic buildings is a great thing, this project means a lot more.

 The vacant three-story brick building has been wasting away for years, mostly a home for downtown’s pigeons and a bathroom for street people. 

“For visitors and people who live in Houston, this is the center of gravity for learning about the bayou,” Shanley says. “People, in the last 10 or 15 years, have woken up and realized the city doesn’t have 2,000 year-old redwood trees or snowcap mountains or white sand beaches, but we have this bayou system. The people are really proud of it.”

The Sunset Coffee building redevelopment will add to Houston’s tourism package by offering a diversion for people visiting downtown Houston for conventions.

“It’s Allen’s Landing. It’s the founding place. It’s where the city started. White Oak and Buffalo bayous come together here. The trail systems all coming together here, “ Shanley told me as we stood outside the building. “It’s right on the water. It represents the reason why Houston is here.

"This is the original port of Houston, right here at the Landing, so we want to recall that and remember that.”

Shanley has been a leader with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership organization, which has raised much of the money for the Sunset Coffee building redevelopment through private donations.

The $5.3 million construction project is a joint public-private partnership with other funds coming from a $500,000 federal grant and nearly $900,000 from the downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 3.

Houston First Corp., a local government corporation that manages the convention center, Jones Hall and other city facilities, is providing $2.5 million. Houston First will own and operate the Sunset Coffee building and grounds upon completion in about one year.

The project will have an outdoor plaza, ground level rental facilities for bikes and canoes, office space for Buffalo Bayou Partnership and a rooftop terrace for parties and other events.

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