My visit to the Freeport Historical Museum last Sunday was quite pleasurable, despite the lack of air conditioning in the Civil War era “Bayman’s Cottage.” I was heartened by the all-volunteer (seemingly all female) staff, and their endurance of the heat and the low ceilings. The Museum Curator, Cynthia Krieg, helped me find the postcard below of my parent’s house in its earlier incarnation as The Wind Mill Inn, and a former Our Holy Redeemer classmate of mine, Regina Feeney, talked with me about Nikola Tesla’s Long Island Lab in Shoreham, and other architecture deserving of preservation.
I have a recurring dream that I discover a hidden room, floor or entire wing in my existing home. The expansive imaginary space defies Newtonian Physics, and the ornate architectural styles vary as wildly as Hearst Castle’s. Ambling through these cavernous rooms in my sleep leaves me craving for secret passageways in my waking life, which is why the fabled “Celestial Suites” at Crowne Plaza Hotel near Reliant Center have become my own Holy Grail.
A few weeks ago I left a message for the manager of Crowne Plaza inquiring about their penthouse suites, and secretly hoping to arrange a private tour. No one called me back.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly known as Astroworld Hotel) was built in 1969 by the late, great Judge Roy Hofheinz, mastermind behind the Astrodome. The entire top floor of the original hotel encompassed the Judge’s own apartment, known as “The Celestial Suites.” For reasons that defy bottom-line logic, the hotel chains that succeeded the Astroworld Hotel have kept the penthouse intact. This act is highly commendable (go Crowne Plaza!) given Houston’s wrecker-ball history.
Judge Hofheinz and his wife, Mary Frances spent over one million dollars creating the most expensive suite in the world to house all of their many treasures collected over the years. Harper Goff, art director for Disney’s Academy Award winning, live-action film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, designed the Judge’s million dollar suite. In 1978 the Guinness Book of World Records listed the Celestial Suite as being the most expensive suite in the world (from the Crown Plaza website).
Like the box seats at the Astrodome, each room in The Celestial Suites was named and furnished in a different theme. The entrance to the suites was known as The Foyer of Fountains, named for Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth. Suites included The Acapulco Patio, P.T. Barnum Room, The Fu Manchu Room, The Adventurer Suite, and The Roman Bath, to name a few. Continues on glasstire.com.
One of the potential hazards of moving to a small town is that you may end up the Mayor. Such is the case with Travis Whitfield, an artist who was so enamored with the rural town of Keachi, Louisiana (pronounced Kee-chi), that he settled there, and inadvertently became the town’s appointed archivist, preservationist, historian and finally, Mayor. In the late 1960s, Keachi caught Travis’s attention during his regular drives between Shreveport and Houston (where he was an art student at U of H). If you recall the episode of The Twilight Zone, “A Stop at Willoughby,” Travis was like the commuter on that train who longed to get off at Willoughby, “a peaceful, restful place, where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure.” Fortunately for Travis, stopping at Keachi was just the beginning of his adventure, unlike the fate of the poor sap on The Twilight Zone. Read the rest of this post on We Have The Technology, Glasstire.com.
Houston, TX—The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston hosts a two-part lecture series based on one of Houston’s earliest cultural institutions, The Houston Lyceum. Organized by artist/curator Andrea Grover for No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston, this program invites contemporary experts to lecture on identical topics to those of the early Lyceum, but from a contemporary vantage point. Dr. Mike Fain, Director of Forensics, University of Houston Forensic Society will present Eloquence on September 10, 6:30 p.m. The Cause and Laws of Storms is presented by Lew Fincher, President of the Houston Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, and Lance Wood, the Science and Operations Officer at the National Weather Service (NWS) League City, TX office, on October 1, 6:30 p.m.
“I wanted to create a series of public programs for No Zoning that would give insight into the development and character of Houstonians. By exploring these topics from a contemporary perspective, we can ask ourselves how these interests informed Houston’s first citizens, and continue to be visible in today’s culture,” says organizer Andrea Grover.
“The objects of this association shall be to diffuse knowledge among its members, intelligence, and information, by a library, lectures on various subjects, and by discussion of such questions as may elicit useful information and produce improvement in the art of public speaking.”
—The Houston Lyceum constitution, 1854
The Houston Lyceum was a cultural organization founded in 1854 (when the city had a population of about 2000) as a precursor to the first public library, and a means to centralize educational resources. The Lyceum (which was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia based debating society, “Junto”) had several shorter-lived precursors including the Philosophical Society of Texas, and The Houston Mechanics’ Institute. Major activities of the Houston Lyceum took place between 1854-1886, and ceased after the first free public library was opened in 1904. During its heyday, the Lyceum held weekly evening debates at the Harris County Courthouse and later Market House (City Hall), structured as two teams of three that would be assigned opposing viewpoints to argue on topics such as “Is wealth more to be desired than mental culture?”; “Has the credit system been more beneficial than injurious to society?”; “Does the individual form his own character?”; “Are works of art more pleasing to the eye than works of nature?”; and “Is free trade the best policy of nations?”. At the end of each meeting, a decision was made (affirmative or negative) on the given topic and recorded in the minutes.
Houston Lyceum Schedule
All events are free and take place at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston located at 5216 Montrose Blvd. Houston, Texas 77006-6547. tel: (713) 284-8250, www.camh.org.
September 10, 6:30pm: “Eloquence” Presented by Dr. Mike Fain (Original lecture given W.T. Bond, date unknown) The New Oxford American Dictionary defines eloquence as “fluent or persuasive speaking.” Find out more about the art of public speaking from one of Houston’s leading orators.
Dr. Mike Fain has won more than 150 national speech awards. The former coach of the Rice University speech and debate team, he currently is Director of Forensics for the University of Houston. Mr. Fain holds a JD and an MBA from the University of Houston.
October 1, 6:30pm: “The Cause and Laws of Storms” Presented by Lew Fincher and Lance Wood (Original lecture given by C.G. Forshey in 1855) Weather is more than small talk in Houston, and its science has long been critical to residents of the Gulf Coast region. Join Lew Fincher and Lance Woods, two regional experts on hurricanes and forecasting to learn more about the science behind storms.
Lew Fincher is the President of the Houston Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, and co-founder of Hurricane Consulting, Inc. Lew is a hurricane specialist, and hurricane historian, who has assisted the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), with a focus on Texas Hurricane History. One of the most honored assignments he was asked to be part of was the 2005 National Weather Service Hurricane Katrina Assessment Team, as the lone non-government member of the 8-person team. Later that year, he also assisted the Houston/Galveston Area Council’s Hurricane Rita Evacuation Taskforce as its hurricane information resource, as it looked into the problem areas that occurred. He has taught workshops and been a Keynote Speaker at many conferences, including the Texas, Florida, and the National Hurricane Conferences, where he also serves as a member of the Planning Committee. Mr. Fincher also is a member of the Galveston County Historical Commission and a Life Member, and former Board Member of the Galveston Historical Foundation. He has served both as an information source and on camera spokesman on the subject of tropical cyclones and the history of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin for many different media outlets in print, and television.
Lance Wood is the Science and Operations Officer at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in League City, TX. Prior to this position, he was a senior forecaster at the League City office. He began his career with the NWS in El Paso, TX, in 1994. Lance became a forecaster at the NWS Lake Charles, LA, office in 1995, before coming to the Houston/Galveston area in 1998. In addition to his NWS experience, he worked for Duke Energy in Houston as a trade floor meteorologist, where he provided weather forecasts to support energy trading. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University; receiving both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Meteorology. He is married and has three children.
Image: Market House (1885) hosted regular meetings of the Houston Lyceum (courtesy City of Houston)
Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 8:30pm
Dia Art Foundation and The Hispanic Society of America present ‘Tuesdays on the Terrace’ @ Audubon Terrace at The Hispanic Society of America
Broadway between 155th and 156th streets, New York City
Lessons in the Sky: A Filmic Tribute to Audubon
Curated by Andrea Grover, founder Aurora Picture Show
John James Audubon’s New York farm, Minniesland, once occupied 40 wilderness acres of what is now the Washington Heights Neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. This cinematic tribute to the universal pastime of bird watching is a nod to the farmland that once comprised this region, Audubon’s life work with wildlife, and the timeless current of artists’ studies of the natural world. This screening will showcase short films and videos on birds and natural history in a variety of genres including film and video art, documentary, experimental, animation, found footage, historical and silent films.
Image: The realTime and Life of John James Audubon, Emily Kuehn, video and animation, 2009