Repair & preserve the 1905 N J Clayton Bldg at Incarnate Word in perpetuity. We are told no final decision has been made, but the lack of repair and continued deterioration tell a different story.
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Incarnate Word Academy is the oldest Catholic high school in Houston. The 1905 building is the oldest standing high school building, of any kind, in Houston. It is the last remaining of three buildings designed and built for the sisters by Nicholas J Clayton, the preeminent architect of the period. It is the only complete structure designed by Clayton that remains in the city of Houston.
As the oldest Catholic high school it is a piece of Catholic culture. As the oldest high school building it is a piece of city history. As the last complete Nicholas Clayton building it is a piece of architectural art. Any of these ought to be adequate cause for preservation. All together these represent an irreplaceable value to the Houston community.
This building, along with two wood frame houses (the Foley and Cohn homes), represent the only surviving remnants of a vital area of the city once known as Quality Hill. Movers and shakers in business and politics lived there, and those who were Catholic sent their daughter to Incarnate Word. The history of the school, the neighborhood and the city are interwoven.
When I attended school there in the 1960s the neighborhood had seen decades of decline that only started to turn around in the years since the ball park was built. Sadly, that same construction, which involved blasting two stories below ground level, and continuous pumping out of ground water, has impacted the surrounding blocks, particularly those buildings not sitting on modern foundations, which includes the 1905 building. Foundation issues exist which are getting worse because nothing is being done to correct them. Neglect, even benign neglect, can be as deadly to an old building as a wrecking ball. We need to act now to repair this architectural gem.
Repairs will be expensive. That is undeniable. The cold hard financial facts probably say that replacement is less expensive than repair. I look at the irrefutable fact that this building simply cannot be replaced. Nothing you put there would ever be comparable to the Clayton structure we have today. Nothing you put there would have the collective history of having impacted thousands of students. Nothing you put there would be the oldest high school building in town. The oldest person in the world is doomed to be replaced. The oldest building doesn't have to be.
I should mention the development going on around the school, the ball park as we know is a Craftsman style structure, and that is mirrored by the Westin Hotel, and Finger's 500 Crawford development follows suit. A block east of the school will be the Nau Center of Texas Culture is going for a neoclassical look. Louis A Macey is planning a mixed residential retail complex directly south of Incarnate Word. I haven't seen drawings yet, but I have no reason to think they will buck the trend of building to give an illusion of age.
This is to be a walking around neighborhood again. The City and developers are building a scenario in which visitors and residents stroll about while attending activities at the ball park, Discovery Green, the Cultural Center, and shop and eat in the establishments scattered about the area.
The presence of a high Victorian building in the midst of Craftsman and modern adds a pleasant texture to the neighborhood that enhances the experience in a way that a flat gray wall cannot.
Minimum repair of the building is not enough. We need long term foundation resolution. We need ongoing maintenance. We have a responsibility to see to it this building stands for another hundred years. I would like to see an endowment set up that would address ongoing preservation without putting a financial burden on the Sisters.
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