Demolition planned for historic hotel

September 18, 2009 8:59:24 PM PDT
Big changes are coming to one of the oldest hotels in Houston's history. That's because a week from now, part of it won't even be there thanks to a massive crack. The old Savoy Hotel was built more than 100 years ago, Next Friday, it will come down. It's just not safe to keep it up anymore.

There are two buildings on the Savoy Hotel grounds: the newer tower was built in the 1960s and the old hotel being torn down is just to the north.

City officials were so concerned that they initially called for an emergency demolition first thing tomorrow. They've since pushed that back a week. More and more people have been reporting falling bricks damaging their cars. In some places, you can practically see right through it.

The barricades went up late Friday afternoon. Houston police officers began their 24-hour watch. An entire city block is now off limits. One of its buildings is quickly deteriorating.

"Looks like the whole corner of the building could fall over," said pedestrian Scott King.

The original Savoy is literally falling apart. There is a crack from its roof all the way to the ground. From the air you can see its insides exposed. After monitoring it for seven years, city officials say it must come down now.

"It's crumbling and we don't want anybody to get hurt," said Asst. Chief Mark Curran of the Houston Police Department.

That means within a week, the 100-year-old building will be gone. At the time it was built, it was state of the art as Houston's first high-rise apartment building.

"It was a luxury building. There were three apartments per floor, a rooftop terrace. It had 24-hour elevator service, built-in refrigerators, which were a big deal in 1906, and hot and cold water from its own private well. So it was really something when it opened," said David Bush of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

Bush dug up a postcard for us showing the Savoy in its heyday. Fast forward to now and the building has been vacant for years. Despite pleas from both the city and the alliance, the owner has let it go.

"It's another loss for Houston," said Bush.

City officials hope to start the demolition next Friday evening. It will affect Metro's light rail service. The newer Savoy and the parking garage will remain. Engineers have deemed those structurally sound. But their neighbor may be the reason why rooftop parking is such a good deal.

"Parking is so high down here. I just wanted to park somewhere cheap," said motorist James Calvin.

It is cheap, just $3 a day for rooftop parking. The garage is now closed to the public. We did try to contact the owner by phone. We've been told he's out of the country. He has 10 days to appeal this emergency order, but it will do him no good. The city will award the bid on Wednesday and take it down next weekend. It will put on lien on the property for the cost, which is estimated at several hundred thousand dollars.

The city hopes it will take only next weekend to complete the demolition. During that time, Metro's light rail service will not run down that stretch of Main Street. It will provide buses to bridge the gap.

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