You can see all of Houston from POST

At least a few hundred of us found ourselves in early April on a rooftop above the city. Buildings on one of Houston’s six or seven skylines seemed close enough to hit. Children lurked and searched unabashedly, climbing over everything, their parents singing aloud to the deafening, inescapable music, only occasionally telling them to stop stepping on the plants. It was Sunday. The golden hour. Couples had taken over the shady corners to share ice cream. I sat down at a table to finish an espresso that I figured was the price of entree, and took it all.

I loved watching everyone pose and take pictures – of the skyscrapers, of the sky, of themselves. I wish I was the kind of person who could leave it there, enjoy it for a moment without thinking about all the things I couldn’t see. But I couldn’t help myself with such a panoramic view. A bend in the shoulders allows you to look out to Second Ward, Fifth Ward, Freedmen’s Town and beyond. The uniformed security guard I saw standing near the DJ’s pop-up tent made me realize that it was no longer a public space. I started to worry about everything being obscured as it was changed.

The Downtown Post Office, opened in 1962, is a 16-acre facility that sits at the crossroads of much infrastructure, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012, in Houston. (Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle)

Nick de la Torre, HC/Houston Chronicle Staff

It was once the Barbara Jordan Post Office, with a sorting warehouse whose roof was now a park and the modernist administration building in front where Houstonians had for decades sent tax returns or love letters or job applications.

The buildings are so far away from Franklin Street, on a slope at the north end of downtown, that I had barely noticed them, even though I had spent years walking and biking aimlessly all over the city. city. Maybe that was the point. The exterior of the 1960s administration building is a uniform row of concrete fins as straight as thorns, as serious as scratches on someone’s dark suit. They are efficient, effective. And the scale of the building is not so grand that it seems overbearing, but reassuringly present, there when and if you need it. Though designed by the men behind the Astrodome, Wilson, Morris, Crain and Anderson, the buildings never demanded attention. They were there to help.

Now the buildings are POST Houston, and they’re harder to ignore. That’s also the point. In 2014, in the wake of the recession, when the USPS was often said to be “losing money,” the federal government began looking to sell buildings it had once commissioned and celebrated. A year later, longtime local developer Lovett Commercial took advantage of that same government’s historic tax credits to purchase them and turn them into something more for our time.

What did they do? Top to bottom: Chicago-based Hoerr Schaudt, the company that created the whimsical McGovern Centennial Gardens in Hermann Park, transformed the wasted sorting warehouse roof space into a landscape I enjoyed. With raised planted mounds and springy synthetic lawns, the park also made room for a one-acre farm that looked freshly plowed and irrigated before planting season, a source of ingredients for chefs working in the food court below.

POST Houston, a redevelopment of the downtown Barbara Jordan Post Office at 401 Franklin, is set to open fall 2021. Lovett Commercial creates spaces for restaurants, offices, <a class=art installations, events , live music and a rooftop park and garden. Construction progress is posted on March 16, 2021.”/>

POST Houston, a redevelopment of the downtown Barbara Jordan Post Office at 401 Franklin, is set to open fall 2021. Lovett Commercial creates spaces for restaurants, offices, art installations, events , live music and a rooftop park and garden. Construction progress is posted on March 16, 2021.

Katherine Feser, HC/Houston Chronicle reporter

From here, three separate monumental staircases that glow at night lead up to the warehouse where there is a second floor of retail space (now available!) and a ground floor with art galleries to one side, a concert hall on the other. That’s also where the food court is, and it’s in Houston. It’s noisy, an abundant confusion of smells, logos, languages, clothes. The sorting facility, it seems, has become a blending facility. Together, the three floors of the redevelopment – ​​all designed by New York-based OMA’s Jason Long with Houston-based Powers Brown architecture – are awe-inspiring, adding a new layer of shapes, colors and angles to the just solidity facts from quirky concrete rectangles, about as glistening as paperwork.

These rectangles were built to last in the 60s. Wilson, Morris, Crain and Anderson were busy. They had designed the stadium at Rice University where President Kennedy reaffirmed the value of doing hard things. Even the sky was not the limit. The Moon was then the destination. They designed the Astrodome, which opened in 1965, making professional baseball and other national pastimes possible in this sticky, mosquito-filled city.

The United States was becoming a capitalist power, building for the future and getting big to prove it. A year later, in 1966, Barbara Jordan, born and raised just a few miles from the post office, would be elected as the first black woman in the Texas Senate. Later elected to Congress, she achieved national prominence with her lyrical oratory during the Watergate hearings, and in 1984 the post office in her hometown began to bear her name.

It was around this time that sitting US presidents began to openly mock the government they led. Soon their racist caricatures of who used social services and why would poison our discourse, and the erosion of trust in institutions, intentional misinformation and a dozen other things brought us here, to 2022, where cynicism is a winning platform. POST comes to us after all that. A public good, where a government agency served the people, is now private. The POST website does a good job of saying the right things about the history of the city and these buildings, the history of design and the genius of Barbara Jordan, but it’s a strange thing for it to state that their ambition is to forge new ground and breathe new life into the building, trying to honor Jordan’s pioneering heritage. Can you do that with a food court?

8/27/1984 - Former U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan addresses more than 500 people who gathered to honor her by renaming the downtown post office after her.  Seated with her at Monday's ceremony was U.S. Representative Mickey Leland.

8/27/1984 – Former U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan addresses more than 500 people who gathered to honor her by renaming the downtown post office after her. Seated with her at Monday’s ceremony was U.S. Representative Mickey Leland.

Carrie E. Tucker, HC/Houston Chronicle Staff

The summer of Watergate, Jordan addressed students at Howard University. She said, “Reaffirm what should be. Come back to the truth; it’s old, but come back to it. Come back to what is honest; tell the government to do it. Can we be honest? The shift in this ownership from service to commerce suggests that the power has been reversed and our government has become too dependent, too eager to rely on developers, public-private partnerships and capricious charity. It often means that the hard things are not being done. Things that can help people in need. The board agrees that it is not in the company’s interest to go to the moon at this time.

POST is the destination. The liveliness and ingenuity of the architecture and landscaping, the desire to do something great for Houston, is ultimately aimed at helping people satisfy the desires of a struggling city. meet everyone’s needs. The railroad tracks that served Grand Central Station and still ran behind the POST curve northeast toward Englewood Start Station, where creosote was used to preserve wooden railroad ties, in Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. Community members have reported for decades that chemicals in creosote have contaminated their soil and water. They watched family and neighbors die, one after another, of cancer – and they waited anyway. The government never forced Union Pacific to clean it up. The government never developed enough affordable, high-quality housing for people who decided they needed to leave, or reliable public transport to get around once they did. The government also never replaced the lead-poisoned water pipes there. As POST was being renovated with historic tax credits, the state confirmed two clusters of higher-than-expected incidences of the types of cancer linked to creosote exposure in the historically black communities where Jordan grew up. .

So what is the evolution? Where are we going now? Have we advanced? It’s not POST’s fault, and it’s not Lovett Commercial’s job to push for tax reform, but it’s not mine to claim that I’m able to separate the show from a painless consumption, dazzling as it is, of real pain.

Where these ambitious developments fail, almost without fail, is where they meet the street, where the city begins and where developer obligations end. The walk to get here is uncomfortable and dangerous. The same highways that stifle laughter on POST’s rooftop garden are under investigation for civil rights violations that Jordan has spent his entire life reaffirming. From here, I guess, you can really see Houston. It’s nice. You can take in everything — everything that has been done and everything that still needs to be done.

Allyn West is a writer, editor, and teacher in Houston.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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