Real Estate Round-Up

The Prudential Building's death-row lesson: The Astrodome should stand for a 1,000 years

The Prudential Building's death-row lesson: The Astrodome should stand for a 1,000 years

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Horn Elementary in Bellaire was flattened and a gleaming new model is there now.  Photo by Ralph Bivins
News_Ralph_Horn Elementary School
The place where the old school stood has been scraped clean. After the bulldozers did their deed, one of my teammates quipped: “Hey, looks like they missed a couple of trees.” Photo by Ralph Bivins
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Newcomers may not realize that the Astrodome, built at a cost of only $35 million, was the nation’s first domed stadium and the Eighth Wonder of the World. Courtesy of SixHundredSquared
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The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Center is going to demolish the old Prudential Building, 1100 Holcombe Blvd., to make way for a new building in its cancer fighting institutional campus in the Texas Medical Center. Photo by Ralph Bivins
News_Ralph_Horn Elementary School
News_Ralph_Horn Elementary School
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News_Ralph_Prudential building_statues_fountain

Want to “Get a Piece of the Rock?”

Hang around M. D. Anderson and you may be in luck.

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is going to demolish the old Prudential Building, 1100 Holcombe Blvd., to make way for a new building in its cancer fighting institutional campus in the Texas Medical Center.

Preservationists hate to see the remarkable Prudential building go. The 18-story tower, built in 1952, is appreciated as a fine example of modern architecture by Houston architect Kenneth Franzheim.

It’s already been partially dismantled, fenced-in and is sitting on death row, awaiting its final collapse.

Right now, M.D. Anderson’s Facilities Steering Committee, is deliberating its demolition, says the hospital’s director of external communications DeDe DeStefano. Will it be quicker, cheaper and more efficient to dismantle the building piece-by-piece or do an implosion?

Dismantle or implode? It’s kind of like having to decide if you want the electric chair or death by injection. Some choice.

Either way, the Prudential Building (partially neutered long ago when M. D. Anderson renamed it the “Houston Main Building”) is going to go down.

And its native Texan materials — red granite and limestone — are going to get broken up. For decades, Prudential’s ad slogan was “Get a Piece of the Rock.”  So there’s a lot of irony as we watch to find out how the building’s remains will be re-purposed. No landfill, please.

One thing that will be saved is the fountain sculpture (the “Wave of Life” by artist Wheeler Williams) that’s in front of the Prudential building.

“The fountain is not going to be demolished,” DeStefano says. “We do plan to keep it and if it is in peril (during the demolition) we will move it.”

 For decades, Prudential’s ad slogan was “Get a Piece of the Rock.” So there’s a lot of irony as we watch to find out how the building’s remains will be re-purposed. No landfill, please. 

Of course, M.D. Anderson’s ad slogan: “Making Cancer History” is a memorable marketing message. And as the world’s best cancer hospital, there’s no doubt that M.D. Anderson doctors are making great contributions to the history of cancer research.

It’s just a shame that M. D. Anderson couldn’t make cancer history inside of a historic building. The Prudential Building was a vital part of Houston’s early suburban growth. It will be missed.

Save the Dome

Demolition is a too common solution in Houston. And it’s painful to hear folks call for the Astrodome to be demolished.

We barely got 30 years of use out of it. There are folks living in mobile homes that are older than that.

Houston newcomers may not realize that the Astrodome, built at a cost of only $35 million, was the nation’s first domed stadium and the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The Astrodome’s replacement, Reliant Stadium, cost 10 times as much to build. What a waste of money. I would have rather used that $350 million to help disadvantaged children. 

And what did we get for $350 million? A home for the Houston Texans — a boring football team that rarely wins. People would rather hang out in the parking lot with beer and barbecue than go inside to watch the game.

The Astrodome represents a time when Houston was the premier “can-do” city in the world.  It was in Houston that President Kennedy, in 1962, challenged America to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. And with NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, we met the president’s challenge.

Our Astros, our AstroTurf, and our trend-setting domed stadium were part of what made Houston evolve into a great city of entrepreneurship and advancement.

 May the Astrodome stand as a symbol of our city’s greatness for a thousand years. 

In the aftermath of catastrophe, when no federal agency or charity could get the job done, the Astrodome emerged as the place that could provide shelter for thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Our local leaders cut the red tape and cared for the storm victims in the Astrodome. It was the Dome’s finest hour.

May the Astrodome stand as a symbol of our city’s greatness for a thousand years.

Goodbye School

My old school disappeared over the last year.

Horn Elementary in Bellaire was flattened and a gleaming new model is there now. The new red brick school looks good and I am sure it will be a more efficient venue for the important task of educating children.

The new Horn was completed Aug. 1 and there were some teachers there that day, hauling in stuff from their cars to their classrooms.

Last year when I wrote about Horn, it was painful to see the new school being constructed on the practice field where my Little League team practiced. That was a great team, a first-place outfit led by coach Brent Patterson. My teammates included Dennis Quaid, who went on to become a tremendous actor, Phil Schawe, Rusty Tamlyn, Larry Johnson, Hap Ehlers, Steve Gibson and some other real good players.

The CultureMap column I wrote about the team is still circulating around the Internet and I’ve been hearing from the guys lately.

The place where the old school stood has been scraped clean. After the bulldozers did their deed, one of my teammates quipped: “Hey, looks like they missed a couple of trees.”

Even with an oak or two remaining, it looks barren.

The Horn demolition was instructive for me. Buildings are about more than square footage. Buildings contain our memories and our emotions. People care about places.

I hope the people who decide the fate of the Astrodome take that into account.

Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.