Learning more about Houston history has been on my to-do list for a while. We live in a fascinating modern town that is crisscrossed with reminders of our past that often go unnoticed. I realized just how much I’ve been missing when I went on the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) walking tour through Buffalo Bayou and Downtown Houston. The tour encouraged me to look up an down and notice all the details of the city that makes it unique.
My guide (Jim?) added to the authenticity of the tour with his genuine Houstonian-ness. Having grown up in town, he pronounced “bye-oh” (instead of “bye -you”) with an especially Houston twang and told stories of seeing the Beatles in concert at the Coliseum (we had one of those!?) in 1964. The tour was a little bit of history, a little bit of architecture, and lot of relaxing exercise. My tour lasted two hours and cost $10. Totally worth it.
I became a little more knowledgeable on Saturday. Here’s some of the highlights of what I learned:
- Allen’s Landing is where Houston was founded. It’s located under Main Street Bridge and was the first Port of Houston. When the bridge was built in 1913, it was the largest bridge in Texas. Back in the day (aka in Jim’s) lifetime, Main Street bridge and Shepherd bridge were the only ways to get across the Bayou to Garden Oaks neighborhood and anything north of Downtown. Imagine that traffic!
- ZZ Top performed at psychedelic night club on July 4, 1969. The building is now the Buffalo Bayou Partnership headquarters. Far out!
- Not all the windows on the jail are real. Some are fake and hung just for aesthetics.
- The Sweeney, Combs and Fredericks building is the center of the ward system (first ward, third ward, etc.). It’s also one of the few Victorian structures in the city.
- City Hall used to be at Market Square and the clock tower at Batanga used to be inside.
- Works of art decorate the way finding signs. Next time when you’re walking, look closely at the signs that direct you towards I-45 and 1-10.
- I finally learned where the glass bottom pool that hangs over downtown is. It’s at Market Square Tower where the rents range from $1,800 – $18,000. Sign me up.
- There used to be “Notsuoh” parades in the 1910s. The quirkiness of the current bar downtown dates back much further than I expected!
- Downtown Houston is built in a diagonal grid to take advantage of the wind. Back in the day there was no AC, and as we all know Houston can be a scorcher, so instead of structuring the grid to be aligned with true-north, it’s positioned at an angle. Also, even once AC was in invented, buildings were still built with extra concrete detailing to provide extra shade from the sun.
- The sky bridge connecting the Wortham Theater Center and the Ballet School is laser cut with ballet language. Apparently, dance has it‘s own form of hieroglyphics (like reading music) that describe the choreography.
I learned so much more than what I’ve written down here, but don’t want to ruin all of the AIA Houston surprises! Walking tours like these are full of locals and are a great excuse to meander around and spend a chill Saturday learning something new! The AIA of Houston regularly offers tours on Saturdays through popular districts like Buffalo Bayou, the Heights, and Rice University. Check out their full calendar of upcoming events. If I find the time, I’ll definitely be back for another one and encourage you to do the same!