In Houston, repurposing and renovating old buildings hasn’t always been a priority. That’s because empty land seems to be infinitely available, always ready to build on.
Historically, when a new apartment complex or retail spot has been needed, developers have looked to building a new structure.
But in recent years, that’s been changing. As architectural and design trends have placed greater emphasis on the use of historic structures, the redevelopment of old warehouse and industrial facilities has been on the rise in Houston. This is particularly evident in inner Loop neighborhoods like EaDo, The Heights and the Warehouse District, where vacant land is becoming increasingly scarce.
We have a long way to go before we can boast of the kind of sustainable, population dense development common in cities like London and New York, but we’re making progress. In celebration of Houston’s changing architectural landscape, here are five favorite buildings that are currently serving purposes very different than the ones they were originally built for.
Many apartment developers have harnessed the new shift towards the historic by building new apartment complexes and calling them “lofts.” The reality is, however, that most of these are not actually lofts.
Real lofts are buildings that were converted from warehouses into living quarters, and attract creative types who desire natural light, open floor plans, and antique hardwood floors and exposed brick. First popular among artists and bohemians in neighborhoods like New York’s Meatpacking District, the loft craze has now spread across the country.
As architectural and design trends have placed greater emphasis on the use of historic structures, the redevelopment of old warehouse and industrial facilities has been on the rise in Houston.
The Alexan Lofts are not imposters: in 2002, a group of architects and developers worked with the Texas Historical Commission to transform six abandoned warehouses in EaDo into a 244-unit complex that boasts modern amenities like a pool and high speed Internet. The one of a kind units boast original antique pine floors, exposed brick walls and 16-foot ceilings.
Down House lands a spot on the list for a number of reasons: the food is awesome, the coffee program is strong and it’s housed in a former bank. But what really qualifies the latest Heights hotspot to be counted as a great repurposed building is the stunning interior design that pays tribute to both the restaurant’s name and the building’s history.
The beautiful pieces from Installations, curated by interior designer Joel Mozersky, showcase the elegance of mid-century European design. But rather than being themed and kitschy, it’s fitting, and that’s the key when it comes to repurposing historic structures.
Crisp & Raw Studios
When entrepreneurs Zachary Hunt and Yvonne Boustany needed a new place to create and live, they chose to refurbish the former Isaacson Chain & Belting headquarters in EaDo. The ultra-contemporary and ultra-chic space is now home to Crisp & Raw Design Lab, the business partners' creative agency.
Unique architectural features include a courtyard Zen garden, 12-foot corrugated ceilings, original industrial details and exposed vents. The white walls, concrete floor and open floor plan allow Hunt and Boustany to move things around based on their ever-changing art installations. Not to mention that the red-tinted lights and massive projection screen make for a great party spot.
Anvil Bar & Refuge
Anvil has a reputation for serving up some of the best cocktails in town, but some patrons not be aware of the cozy cocktail bar’s unique history. In fact, 1424 Westheimer was built as a Bridgestone-Firestone tire store in the late 1950s.
The bar’s focus is on craft cocktails, and naturally, the owners wanted to reflect a certain sense of artisanship throughout the bar. That’s why most of the interior is composed of locally salvaged objects.
The bar’s foot rail is from a train track that once ran from Houston to Eagle Lake and the steel shelving came from the piano store that owners Bobby Heugel and Kevin Floyd worked at in high school.
Elder Street Artist Lofts
How would you feel about living in a former hospital located on top of a former graveyard? The residents of the Elder Street Artist Lofts don’t seem to mind.
In 2005, the former Jefferson Davis Hospital was converted into rent-controlled artist housing. After completing an application process, artists can live in the restored loft units rather inexpensively
But the low rents may have something to do with the building’s supposed hauntedness, which isn’t that surprising considering the land the building sits on was once a mass grave site and the hospital itself was most recently a psychiatric ward. But maybe the vaulted ceilings and original floors make it all worth it …
What do you think about this latest shift towards repurposing older buildings? Would you prefer that developers make better use of pre-existing Houston structures or build news ones?