I’m reading this interesting book, How Buildings Learn : What Happens After They’re Built, and a chapter about the building preservation movement struck a chord with me. I’m not talking about historical preservation when great pains are taken to keep a building as close to its original state as possible. I’m talking about a more general type of preservation when a building is kept close to its original state, but has been repurposed for whoever occupies the space currently. In this sense, there’s a respect for the past, but there’s also innovation or evolution at the same time.
I sort of touched on this concept in a previous post, Retro Shopping Facade. My limited exposure to “preserved” buildings tends to be older properties that have been converted into retail shopping spaces. In Baltimore, an old power plant in the Inner Harbor contains a bookstore, sports bars, restaurants, and office space. In San Antonio, old rock quarry buildings make up a shopping plaza with tall smoke stacks now used as signage. In San Francisco, an old chocolate factory and iconic building is now a posh set of stores and restaurants. These are all places I’ve been and think are particularly cool precisely because they retain much of the original appearance and character, but now are used for something completely different than intended when they were built.
One building in Houston that I frequently visit is the Bookstop on South Shepherd. Bookstop is owned by Barnes and Noble so it’s not unique in terms of product offerings. What is unique about this Bookstop is that it is housed in what used to be the Alabama Theater and virtually all of the interior was retained (not the seats, of course). The magazine rack is cleverly positioned where the screen was. The coffee bar is up on an upper balcony providing a view of almost the whole store. It’s not the most convenient arrangement for shopping (some books are on the lower level, some are on the lower balcony, some on the upper balcony, and others are in different alcoves along the way), but I usually don’t go here to buy anything anyway. I usually go here to kill time, relax, chill, or walk off a large meal (often Mission Burritos) before continuing on for dessert or coffee.
Sorry about the poor photo quality as I took these with my old cell phone.
Houston has a tendency to tear down the old to make room for the new. Word is that Barnes and Noble is building a new store from the ground up a few blocks down Shepherd at River Oaks. At best, Bookstop will close its doors to drive customers to the new store. At worst, the property owners will lose primary tenant and will raze the old theater to build something new with more revenue generating ability. It would be a shame if that happened. They don’t build ’em like they used to.