Demolition plans announced for two historic buildings

The Houston Chronicle is reporting demolition plans for two significant historic structures: a section of the River Oaks Shopping Center on West Gray Avenue and the modernist Americana Building downtown.

River Oaks Shopping Center plan, showing the area proposed to be demolished for a 30-story residential tower

River Oaks Shopping Center plan, showing the area proposed to be demolished for a 30-story residential tower

Weingarten Realty Investors, the owner of the River Oaks Shopping Center, has announced preliminary plans to replace a section of the Art Deco center with a 30-story residential tower. The proposal calls for the demolition of the east end of the retail building on the north side of West Gray between Driscoll and McDuffie; the building and its companion on the south side of West Gray were designed by Houston architect Raymond H. Brogniez and built in 1948. Construction could begin early next year and wrap up in 2021. Gerald Crump, a senior vice president at Weingarten, told the Chronicle's Nancy Sarnoff that the company may also redevelop other parts of the historic shopping center, which it has owned since 1971.

The River Oaks Shopping Center, including the building slated for partial demolition, is a City of Houston landmark. Landmark status requires that Weingarten's plans be reviewed by the city's preservation office before a demolition permit can be granted. Preservation Houston will keep its members updated as this matter moves forward.

Americana Building (1957, 1961, Lloyd & Morgan) /  photo by Jim Parsons

Americana Building (1957, 1961, Lloyd & Morgan) / photo by Jim Parsons

In 2007, Preservation Houston publicly opposed Weingarten's plans for the original section of the River Oaks center (1937, Nunn & McGinty with Oliver C. Winston). The developer demolished one of the historic structures and replaced it with a new retail building. In 2011, the two 1948 buildings were altered with EIFS and sandstone panels that hid much of their Art Moderne detailing. 

The Chronicle also reports that Hilcorp Ventures will demolish the office tower section of the Americana Building (right) at 811 Dallas Avenue downtown while retaining the building's parking-garage base. Local firm Lloyd & Morgan designed the base of the building in 1957 and added the ten-story office tower in 1961. The Americana was one of the first modernist office towers downtown; the series of fins and louvers shielding its glass south façade from the sun was an early example of the type of sun shading found on many Houston buildings constructed in the 1960s and '70s.

Hilcorp president Doug Kelly told the Chronicle that the company had considered refurbishing the Americana Building, but felt that doing so did not made financial sense.

A few blocks from the Americana, another mid-century Lloyd & Morgan-designed office tower, the 1952 Melrose Building, is being restored as a Le Méridien hotel using state and federal preservation tax credits that help offset the cost of the project.