Heritage, 2011, Volume 2 Page: 22
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Houston Lost and Unbuilt
By Steven R. Strom
Reviewed by Jane Hayman
The University of Texas Press, 2010. Pp. 188.
ISBN 978-0-292-72113-5, $45.00
Take it from one who knows, having Houston as a hometown isn't always easy. You can either
take on the challenge of defending the city against judgmental outlanders who focus on climate,
trafic, and the high levels of carcinogens emitted by nearby petrochemical plants, or you can
choose the easier route: give up the fight and concede that Houston is just a stifling toxic, sprawl-
Houston Lost and Unbuilt doesn't help that image much. On
one hand, the book serves as a reminder that for decades
Houston has been a destination offering hope and attainable
opportunity for independent thinking, hard-working, risk tak-
ers. To millions, Houston has been a place where the American
dream could be. Unlike many other cities, Houston welcomes,
embraces, and celebrates newcomers.
Sadly, though, the book also emphasizes, with painful clarity,
that the city hasn't cared enough to protect the tangible evi-
dence of where it came from or the stories of its people.
The author's goal was to "impart some idea of loss and dis-
ruption that's been inflicted on residents...by the steady and
systematic destruction of the city's built environment over the
past century." He has succeeded. In this book of archival pho-
tos and histories of civic and commercial buildings demolished
during the past century, the reader is reminded of how many
of Houston's beloved landmarks have been destroyed.
Strom includes several structures that were gone before my
time and, as a baby boomer reading the book, I didn't feel
depressed until I came to the section on Theater Row. It was
then that I was reminded of what happened to downtown
movie theaters like the Metropolitan and the Loew's State on
Main Street, and the Majestic around the corner on Rusk. All
Another casualty, The Village Theater, was closer to my
home and, therefore, even more familiar. A tsunami of memo-
ries and images came flooding into my consciousness, includ-
ing the recollection of how the theater smelled. When I read
that The Village had been demolished in 1994 by its owner
Rice University, it was hard not to feel angry.
The book also made me mourn anew the loss of the Sam
Houston Coliseum and Music Hall, both built in 1937 as
part of the Public Works Administration, and designed to be
significant elements in Houston's downtown Art Deco Civic
Center. These historic venues were demolished in 1998. I
saw The Beatles perform at the Coliseum twice on August
Downtown stores couldn't withstand Houston's relentless
drive toward newness either. The original Sakowitz department
store was located at 311 Main, but by 1951 it had relocated to
a new building at 1111 Main. That beautifully designed struc-
ture has since been gutted, but the exterior edifice still stands
as a reconfigured parking garage.
Iconic hotels like The Shamrock and the Rice also fell prey
to the city's taste for the modern. The Rice Hotel was spared
the wrecking ball but lost much of its historic interior. The
Shamrock Hotel bit the dust on June 1, 1987. Built in 1949
by wildcatter Glenn McCarthy, the structure personified
22 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 2 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 2, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254221/m1/24/: accessed April 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.