Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some Potential Good News

If you support preservation of historic structures, here is a small ray of sunshine for The Heights:

Museum idea could save threatened Heights church
By ALLAN TURNER Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

On-again, off-again plans to raze Houston Heights' historic but long unused Immanuel Lutheran Church may be in limbo again today as preservationists float a plan to convert the striking Gothic Revival sanctuary into a museum for Texas art.

Ken Bakenhus, president of the church's governing body, which overwhelmingly favors demolition, said the 1932-vintage building at 1448 Cortlandt St. likely will be torn down this summer unless feasible plans to save it are proposed.

Today's presentation will be made by Houston art gallery owner Gus Kopriva, who said he will propose obtaining a long-term lease and creating a nonprofit organization to raise money for renovation. Kopriva owns Redbud Gallery and recently oversaw renovation of West 19th Street's Heights Theater for use by the Gallery M Squared.

Aware of cost

“I wouldn't make the proposal if I didn't think I could do it,” Kopriva said Monday. “I've just done the Heights Theater and I know what these things cost.” Kopriva said the theater project cost less than $250,000.

Bakenhus, who once advocated saving the old church, said a 2001 estimate placed the cost of renovating the building at $600,000. Today, he believes the cost might approach $800,000 or more.

“It's been my long-term dream to create a Texas arts mecca,” Kopriva said. The museum, which he would call the Heights Arts Museum (HAM), would also house art archives, he said.
Backing Kopriva's proposal are the Houston Heights Association and the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, both of which have struggled to save the church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A ‘win-win situation'

The preservation alliance's David Bush called the proposal a “win-win situation.”
Neighborhood association president Chris Silkwood declined to discuss the plan before its presentation but stressed her group's support for saving the building, whose basement dates to 1918.

“It's a magnificent piece of architecture,” she said. “Our hope is that it's repurposed, that it becomes a place where the general public will be able to visit it.” The old church was replaced by a newer structure in the 1960s. Until the late 1970s or early 1980s, it was used for church classes. It since has been vacant.

Bakenhus said the church explored the cost of renovating the building, a process that would include upgrading plumbing, heating and air conditioning and electrical wiring, but were unable to raise the needed money. The church also had planned to level the sanctuary floor, which Bakenhus says is slanted like that of an auditorium.

Kopriva, a structural engineer, said basic repairs to the building “would cost a lot less” than the church's estimate. “I'd leave the floor sloped,” he said. “That makes no difference to me.”

Favoring demolition

Bakenhus said the church's governing body is “99 percent” in favor of demolishing the building — a process that would cost about $60,000.

In October, the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission rejected the church's plan to demolish the old building. But that rejection only delays demolition 90 days and the church has signed a contract to tear down the structure this summer.

But Bakenhus said the church can cancel the demolition contract if a workable renovation plan develops.

Today's presentation by Kopriva will constitute the neighborhood association's first report.


I really believe in projects like this. They do so much good. The maintain a piece of the past for the future, they add value to the neighborhood and they repurpose structures, saving a building's worth of rubbish from going to the landfill. And I have seen it work!

In my small, blue collar hometown in Western MA we have the nation's largest contemporary art museum, MassMOCA. It is housed in an old mill- a large, industrial structure from the 19th century that was as run down as anything you have ever seen. The main building is actually a part of a larger complex of 26 buildings which dominates the downtown of the small community of 12,000 residents. The building had been vacant since Sprague Electric Company left the town with no major employer in 1985. After life originally as a textile factory and then as an electric components plant, the buildings were used hard and underwent much more structural abuse than any church could. Still, they were worth saving and are now something very special. Immanuel Lutheran can (albeit on a much smaller scale) be that for The Heights as well.


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  1. We love Mass MOCA, and we are stoked that Gus would take this on! Hooray for making a difference!

  2. ^^Anon,

    I am thrilled whenever I find out people have been to North Adams. It's a special place and, having been there, I am sure it gives you some insight in to why I love the Heights!