HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet for Realty News Report) – Amid the new townhomes and other recent construction on and near Houston Avenue, a small-scale reminder of the First Ward’s first commercial corridor has been quietly rehabbed to highlight its Art Moderne architectural origins.
Jazzy and streamlined when built in 1940 as a temporary Knapp Chevrolet showroom, the 2,646-square-foot building at 1230 Houston Ave. is a showroom again, this time for art.
In the 80-plus intervening years, the brick veneer commercial building saw use as an appliance repair shop, print shop, repository of reusable craft materials and a small theater. At times, it also sported a series of murals and even time beneath black paint.
Urbano Architects tackled the redo after Houston Dart LLC purchased the property, located about a mile northwest of downtown, in late 2021.
Houston Dart is a partnership of The Deal Co. and Urbano Investments. The former has restored, renovated and repurposed commercial properties into new environments for Houston’s creative community, such as Sawyer Yards located slightly north and west of the small-scale showroom. The latter focuses on urban real estate developments, with an emphasis on historic buildings.
“1230 (Houston Ave.) is a great old building and a big part of the history of the neighborhood,” said John Deal, founder of DealCo in an emailed response to questions. “We consider this project as an extension of Sawyer Yards and the Arts District we helped to create.”
And speaking of reviving older properties, he said “If we can make economic sense of it, we restore these old structures to save them, preserve history, and to realize the satisfaction of making it all work and making a profit. We don’t really pay attention to what everyone else is doing,”
Modifying the Moderne
The redevelopment project took a year. Early assessments of the building determined “the character was untouched. The condition was the issue,” said Laura Carrera, a partner in the practice.
Renovations and repairs took more work, more collaboration — and more money than expected, she said. ”State and federal historic tax credits were an incredible incentive for the success of this redevelopment.”
The project’s scope included repairs and “painstaking” cleaning of the exterior of the brick (that followed federal guidelines for historic properties to do so, meaning no sand-blasting); roof repairs, new storefront windows in the style of its day, and removing a metal corridor that connected the small building to a warehouse behemoth elsewhere on the small, urban lot.
Inside the former showroom, any previous buildout was removed, including a small stage used by the previous tenant. Now, the open plan space is full of natural light and incorporates the original concrete flooring and wooden columns supporting the exposed ceiling framework.
Key to the project’s success was the research into the property’s historic significance, Carrera said. That deep dive enabled getting the building state and federal landmark status designations that supported the project getting tax credits.
The property’s pedigree included its initial use by automobile juggernaut Knapp Chevrolet before it moved into a much larger showroom nearby and construction by Montalbano Lumber Co., both businesses still operating in the area.
Pointedly, 1230 Houston Ave. is one of only a handful of small-scale Art Moderne business structures around town, Carrera noted, citing several building surveys of the past half-century. “There’s an urgency to save these buildings.”
Meanwhile, the former warehouse has also been repurposed and now houses four tenants.
April 24, 2023 Realty News Report Copyright 2022
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Photo credit: Houston Dart LLC/Urbano Architects
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