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Wednesday, December 6, 2023


Book highlights heyday of Deco

When one thinks about Houston, a city once abundant with the cutting edge of architecture isn’t exactly the first idea that comes to mind. And it’s no wonder, because as a city largely made up of commuters Houston offers little more than miles and miles of strip malls and urban sprawl for those driving along its highways.

However, Author-photographers Jim Parsons, the Production Manager of The Daily Cougar, and David Bush propose this was not always the case in Houston Deco: Modernistic Architecture of the Texas Coast.

"Houston is often described as having no history, but much of the city’s architectural heritage is hiding in plain sight," the authors write in the book, which documents in photographs the Houston-area buildings that were designed in the styles of Art Deco and Art Moderne.

Inspired by the French artists’ collective La Soci’eacute;t’eacute; des artistes d’eacute;corateurs, the craze for Art Deco swept the country during the years between World War I and World War II. The style reflects the architecture of the ancient Middle East, Greece and Rome in structure and emphasis on geometrical shapes and patterns, but the modern architects reinvented old techniques, made them more efficient and carved the buildings out of brick and stucco instead of stone.

"Although modernistic architecture, which encompasses Art Deco and Art Moderne design, arrived in Houston comparatively late in the 1920s, it came at a critical time in the city’s development. Houston was beginning the transition from medium-sized Southern city to major American metropolis," Bush writes in the introduction.

Houston Deco thoroughly surveys the remaining Art Deco buildings and presents them in sections of Commercial, Theater, Institutional, Residential and Industrial buildings. In the section "Institutional," many prominent University of Houston buildings are featured, including Roy G. Cullen Memorial, the Science Building and Robertson Stadium.

Some of the most notable types of buildings that took on the Art Deco style were the great movie palaces of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Art Deco provided movie patrons with a glimpse of the exotic and the sense of luxury to which Americans were quickly becoming accustomed. The publication of Houston Deco could arrive at no better time, as many of the city’s historic buildings are in danger of being demolished. Both authors are involved in the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, a non-profit organization that aids in the maintenance and protection of Houston’s buildings, neighborhoods and communities.GHPA stirred public sentiment in 2006 when it added the Alabama Theater and the River Oaks Theater and Community Center to their Endangered Buildings List.

"The resulting media coverage and outpouring of public support for preserving these local landmarks marked a turning point in Houston’s historic preservation movement," Ramona Davis, GHPA Executive Director, wrote in the preface to Houston Deco.

All three of the buildings were constructed in the style of Art Deco. They are still being threatened with demolition, even in the case of the Alabama Theater, which has already been successfully renovated for commercial use once before. The River Oaks Theater is the only remaining Art Deco theater still in operation.

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