Saturday, November 14, 2009

Houston Streets 17--Under the Elysian Viaduct

map of ride

This was a really brief ride, almost not worth mentioning. But as short as it was, it was interesting. My intent had been to try to cover a bunch of downtown streets on a Sunday when traffic is light. (Lots of other cyclists had the same idea. Downtown is a popular Sunday destination for the two-wheeled set.) I took a bus into town and got off at Franklin  at Crawford. I wanted to start in the extreme northeast corner and work my way south and west. But that's not what happened. I ended up on the Elysian Viaduct, a freeway-like elevated road out of downtown. (This will apparently be the location of the Hardy Toll Road extension into Downtown. It is my sincere hope that the residents of the Northside fight this abomination tooth and nail.) Once I was on the Elysian Viaduct, I had two choices--turn around and return downtown, or follow it until it ends. So I chose the latter.


This is a photo of a stable at Maury and Lyons. If you have ever taken a carriage ride downtown, this is where they keep the horses. The place looks pretty shabby, I have to say. After I came back down to earth, I shot this photo:

horse with dyed mane

You can see a horse feeding and it looks pretty healthy to me (it's hard to see from the photo, but its mane was dyed purple! This was the day after Halloween.) So even though the place looks a bit shabby, the horses seem well-taken care of. That said, looking at this urban stable made me think of the one in The Wire, the place where Bubbles buys a "hot shot" and where Dukey ends up. Brr.

I finally came down at Brooks and started heading back downtown on Maury. I was freaked out because the street was covered with literally thousands of caterpillars. They all looked like this:

caterpillar on maury

And they were booking! I've never seen caterpillars move so fast.

Then I stumbled across the most interesting discovery of this ride, Blumenthal Sheet Metal.  The official address is 1710 Burnett St., but it appears that their facility takes up a whole block--Leona on the south, Burnett on the north, Hardy on the west and Elysian on the east. Blumenthal is a sheet metal fabrication plant, which makes them on the face of it no different from hundreds of small industrial firms in Houston (the secret engines of our city's economy). Blumenthal has been in business for over a 100 years, which definitely distinguishes them, but what also distinguishes them is that a lot of the fabrication they do is for artists.

1709 Leona sculpture

Like this piece in the "back yard" of the facility. I don't know the artist or if it's even finished, but wow! A nice thing to stumble across when riding through a run-down industrial neighborhood.

Here is the "front" of the complex.
1712 Burnett

To the right of the door was this sheet metal column.

1712 Burnett metal sculpture

It is covered with lots of witty little details, like this one:

1712 Burnett metal sculpture detail

Then at Burnett and Maury, you see these lovely undulating screens.

Burnett @ Maury

On their website, they have a list of artists they have worked with, many pretty well-known locally (Hanna Hillerova, John Runnels) and even internationally (Carlos Cruz-Diez). I urge you to check out the site--you'll be surprised at how many well-known pieces around town were fabricated here.

I am convinced that Houston needs more "lawn art"--privately owned sculptures in people's front yards. We're a sprawling city with lots of big front yards which have little utility (we don't barbeque in the front yard, or keep a pool there, for example). But it is the entry, physically and visually, into your home. Therefore, a perfect place for a sculpture or other piece of lawn art. Pieces like the screens and the columns are perfect--tough and weatherproof, heavy (not likely to be stolen), attractive... All you homeowners with disposable income, about to redecorate your house for the fifth time--pay some attention to the front lawn and get some lawn art. I'm sure the metal-bashers at Blumenthal could hook you up with some excellent artists.

I made my way south, this time at ground level. I crossed I-10 on this pedestrian bridge that at first glance appeared completely derelict.

pedestrian bridge under elysian viaduct

Then I rode back downtown, hitting every street north of  Minute Maid Park (pretty boring--mostly parking lots and sports bars) and then swinging around to Discovery Park. Two things worth noting--Second Seating, an art exhibit in a space next to Irma's Restaurant (at Chenevert and Ruiz) and the Globes in Discovery Park. But I am writing about them on my other blog, The Great God Pan Is Dead (see here and here).

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