Today is January 1, 2010 and I thought it appropriate to spot-light a history-related amenity on the streets in downtown Houston. The Historic Markers, as they are called, are on Texas Avenue between Smith and Avenida de las Americas (map). Each one is a very heavy cast iron structure made up of several components stacked on top of each other around a street light pole with historical information panels at eye level.
The design of the castings is, at least for me, reminiscent of the train industry. That is appropriate as the center of Texas Avenue hosted a freight rail track in the early days of Houston. In fact the track is still there as we tried to install a water line under it but found the 2-foot think concrete base still held there–with the rails. It was far too much trouble and expense to remove.
At eye level the markers present three panels that provide the story and original photos related to the history of that block.Therefore each marker tells a different story. As you walk along Texas Ave. you begin to understand how it was different in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That understanding contributes to the creation of the sense of a historic place. There are not many old places in Houston and this area is the oldest.
The Installation – The markers are great but they are not maintenance free. And, there is no one under contract to maintain them or replace them. One was hit by a car late one night and a wrecker hauled away the shattered parts. Scenic Houston, who funded, commissioned and installed the markers was very disappointed as they would have like to save the informational panels if they were intact. That marker has not been replaced.
Specifically the issue with the installation is the roughness of the castings that hold the historical markers as some of them do not fit together snugly and are easily pushed apart. How, I do not know, as each part is very heavy but you will find many of them show some level of misalignment between the three main parts: the base skirt; the section holding the historic panels; and the cap. Those sections are not connected although the halves that make up each are firmly connected with large screws. The fact that the poles are secure and the halves are securely connected there is little danger of the parts falling even though they do not stay stacked evenly. The historical markers themselves are in good shape and very well made.
The skirt was built to be the same size at the ground level as the concrete top of the drill pier for the street light foundation. As long as the skirt is centered on the pole and the parts above that base are straight then all looks good and the concrete based is a neat light gray line. But the design was for no connection with the pole to avoid long and likely unsuccessful negotiations with CenterPoint Energy–the owner of the poles. A connection to the pole could require a redesign of the pole and that would be no small task. Nonetheless, if an entity wanted to do so (with help from the City of Houston), better castings could be designed and built with the existing markers reinstalled.
Conclusion – I occasionally see people scanning the plaques so the intent to share the history of the location has been achieved. Now we need someone to spend time regularly pushing the parts back into an even, vertical stack and touching up the paint. If you decide to try a similar design and installation then email me for ideas on how to avoid the misalignment issues.
As an aside — the City of Houston has learned from experiences other than this one that having someone contracted to maintain on-street amenities is mandatory. Therefore, before approval is given to add a non-standard amenity, they require a Maintenance Agreement to address responsibilities after the installation and the City’s rights if the addition is damaged and not repaired. [Maybe that would make a good topic to relate how those controls are mandated and managed.]
Happy New Year!