Monday, January 30, 2012

What to do with Houston's Cistern

Hope you caught Lisa Gray's great Sunday Chronicle article and amazing pictures of Houston's very own unused, underground Cistern.  It's next to the Jamall Skatepark west of downtown along Memorial.  Check out this incredible photograph where the water reflects the columns and the ceiling.


In 1927, he told me, the City of Houston built its first underground drinking-water reservoir - a concrete holding tank roughly the size of one and half football fields on Sabine Street, near Buffalo Bayou. But after decades of service, the reservoir sprang a leak that couldn't be found, much less stopped. So the reservoir was drained, and for years it sat unused: just an odd hill topped with hatches behind a Public Works building.
...
But when the partnership's consultants climbed through the hatch, they were stunned. When their eyes adjusted to the steamy darkness, they saw row upon row of slender concrete columns, 25 feet tall and reflected in about 6 inches of water at the reservoir's floor. From the hatches, light fell in dramatic shafts. The enormous old reservoir, never intended as anything more than efficient infrastructure, turned out to be stunningly, startlingly beautiful: an industrial cross between a cavern and a cathedral.
The place is simply amazing, echoing the beauty of Istanbul's Cisterns (check out how they light them), a major tourist attraction.  The question is what we should do with it...
The question now, of course, is what to do with the Cistern. Hagstette says that everyone now agrees it won't be used for parking or storage. But what should it be? How should the public have access to it? And how will it be paid for? (The Cistern was discovered after the Buffalo Bayou Project had budgeted all its Shepherd-to-Sabine money for other projects.)
...
"Basically, it's a cathedral of light and sound," he said. "Can you imagine the right concert in here? Or art or sound installations? Different lights could change the look completely. Sometimes you might have water on the floor, but sometimes not."
My own idea?  Sure, have art and music, but wrap a major, signature, tourist attraction bar/nightclub/dance club (and restaurant?) around it to generate steady attendance and revenue, not unlike what Studio 54 used to be for NYC.  The kind of place we would all take our out-of-town friends when they visit (just like we take 'em to our favorite restaurants).  To get maybe a bit of a visualization, check out two scenes in this trailer for The Last Days of Disco, at the 0:50 and 1:29 points:



The next big question would be how to pay for it and who would run it. Coincidentally, the answer was on the front page of that very same day's newspaper: Landry's and Tilman Fertitta. Like me, you probably have mixed feelings about his developments, but despite Hair Balls' objections, he's got the deep pockets and the experience to make this an... um... experience - like what they've done with their restaurants, Kemah, and Vegas casino.  It may not be perfect or high art, but at least it would get turned into something interesting with a lot lower chance of dying from a lack of funds or attendance.

Thoughts/ideas/feedback welcome in the comments.

UPDATE: The Chronicle editorial board picks up on this, including a mention of this post.
UPDATE 8/13: Update story and very cool 3D fly-thru video.

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