It’s no secret that downtown Houston has gone from lived-in to lively, growing and evolving in a dramatic new way. Developers are breathing new life into historic buildings, bringing the past into the present.
Case in point: the dramatic rebirth of The Americana block at 811 Dallas. The early Houston structure, initially built in 1957, has been deconstructed to its bare bones, a blank slate for a brand new gateway street front retail development.
The forgotten block is poised for a creative comeback, geared toward both the daytime and nighttime downtown population.
The Americana building has been stripped down to its original, six-story podium to serve as the anchor of the development. Capital Retail Properties and Identity Architects have teamed up to bring this development dream to reality.
The Americana was among the earliest structures in the International style. It used to connect the Foley’s department store garage with additional parking and ground floor and basement space.
Now, it’s reborn. You’ll soon find the iconic signage restored and repaired, announcing its new lease — really, leases — on life.
“We wanted to highlight not only the growing downtown, but the growing residential population downtown. The proximity of the building creates something special and something that can be useful for those residents,” Capital Retail Properties’ Jacob Weersing tells PaperCity.
Capital plans to reawaken the dormant block with a carefully curated roster of tenants that will engage residents and employees who work nearby. A fitness park is underway, with amenities geared toward convenience and comfort.
“We’re really trying to focus on what would best serve people downtown,” Weersing says.
“If we do what we have planned for fitness and amenities, it will make it easy for employees to come during lunch or after work and make it a one-stop shop with options for different kinds of workouts. They can have a shower, maybe have a locker.”
Established, local restaurateurs have expressed interest, in keeping with Weersing’s emphasis on chef-driven concepts.
“We really want that cool restaurateur. The Star — Benjamin Berg, the old B&B Butchers. We want it to be something like that, make the new residents excited to live downtown. That’s kind of what our thought is,” Weersing says.
Other retail options Capital Retail is courting: a convenience store, dry cleaners, pharmacies, offices and more.
Honoring Houston History
This might be a brand new concept for Capital Retail, but it’s about revitalization, not starting completely from scratch.
“We really wanted the focus on The Americana, to have that be a huge part of the branding for this building,” Weersing says. “We wanted to keep the Brazilian or Latin culture and architecture that was known to be extremely precise.
“It was known as special. It stood out.”
Identity Architects honored to that original Brazilian modern-inspired design. “We paid homage by showing it off as it was initially,” Identity Architects design director Thomas De Froy says.
The first step was celebrating the raw materials from the design by removing the late 1990s metal cladding that hid all of it.
“We definitely took a few things from that. We looked to expose the terra cotta pieces that were around the garage perimeter. We wanted to show that off again. We gave them a warm, gray paint to refresh them,” De Froy says.
“It immediately brought more interest to what was a monotonous, forgettable block.”
De Froy believes the restored Americana brings a special touch to downtown Space City.
“In general, downtown has all kinds of variety, in the way that architecture both works from one building to another and from the general urban point of view,” he says. “Having that nice, let’s call it smaller, human scale of those existing terra cotta tiles helps with that human connection.”
The planned live green wall will add to that humanizing aspect. Living, growing vines will make up the façade facing Travis for future retail. It will go about 20 feet up, with vines weaving through the metal grid.
“It offers a way to soften an otherwise hardscaped area of the central business district,” De Froy notes.
The Americana is no longer a thing of the past, and these developers and architects aren’t letting its future pass them by.