A source tells CultureMap that the SSA "lost its lease" on the building, which dates back to 1940 and was renovated in 2001. Before the government offices moved in, CultureMap editor-in-chief Clifford Pugh remembers that the space housed a pet store, where llamas frolicked in a fenced-in space behind the building, facing Elgin.
"My understanding is that all of the employees are being re-assigned to other offices in the Houston area," says SSA spokesman Andrew Hardwick.
Once a sort of wasteland, the surrounding neighborhood teems now with development, restaurants, bars, mixed-use complexes and multifamily units like Pearl Midtown, which the Morgan Group is currently constructing just across Smith Street.
"The agency has found nothing to replace this rented building due to needing a freestanding building with certain parking [requirements]," explains the source, who doesn't know how soon the office will close.
Judging by the line out of the door on Thursday afternoon, it has nothing to do with the lack of need for SSA services in the area. The source attributes the closure to the current "austerity period."
"My understanding is that all of the employees are being reassigned to other offices in the Houston area," says Andrew Hardwick, metropolitan public affairs specialist for the Social Security Administration, who tells CultureMap that he first heard of the Smith Street closure on Thursday morning.
Inquiries to the building's owner were not immediately returned.
Before the building was converted into an SSA office in the mid-1990s, the owner of a popular Vietnamese restaurant had scouted it out, but decided not to move into the building because customers might recall the pet store atmosphere.
But now, with Midtown a hot spot for development, speculation that the building might be prime space for a restaurant or even torn down to make room for a mid-rise, is rampant.