Good, Better, and Some Ugly
August 15, 2020
The best part about Memorial Park’s new Eastern Glades is the boardwalk through the woods.
Visitors to the popular park on Buffalo Bayou in the middle of Houston can now easily wander and wonder at our native woods and wetlands, complete with dead trees or snags, a vital part of the forest ecology. (Perhaps some signage will be coming along to explain the snags and wetlands to city slickers.)
There are also vast expanses of thick green exotic Zoysia grass for picnicking or just lying around, a Live Oak Court for events, and some lovely pavilions and picnic areas for outdoor grilling and dining, though the pavilions are currently closed due to the Covid.
The 100-acre Glades, on the east side of the park north of Memorial Drive, opened at the end of July. The $35 million project, including $10 million in public funds, features a 5.5-acre artificial lake for detention and water re-use, 2.5 miles of new trails, and environment-friendly dark sky lighting. It’s the first phase of a long-term renovation of the 1,464-acre park, about 40 percent of which is the 600-acre plus golf course (until 1995 the course occupied only 260 acres), recently redone with $13.5 million in private funds to support the PGA Tour’s Houston Open. Sadly, this redoing involved the removal of large numbers of trees so that crowds of spectators can have a better view of the professional golfers during tournaments.
More Green, Less Gray, Some Bad and Very Ugly
The Eastern Glades is part of the long-term Master Plan for the once heavily forested park. Next comes the controversial Land Bridge, which will cover Memorial Drive and connect the north and south sides of the park. This too involves the removal of a great many more trees, although the current design looks greener and less industrial than previous drawings.
Although many trees were removed for the Eastern Glades and a thick carpet of exotic grass laid down, as built the area also seems somewhat gentler, greener, wetter, and wilder than the original plans, allowing at least for a less manicured, more natural experience of the remaining woods. We, and many others, are thankful for that, as Memorial Park was always meant to remain in as natural a state as possible. Let’s hope this aesthetic influences treatment of the rest of the park.
And maybe those bright purple irrigation lines snaking through the woods near the boardwalk are only temporary.
Big Depressing Mistake
The design of the formal Oval Promenade of the Eastern Glades is loosely based on the 1920’s Hare and Hare plan (p. 21) for a formal entry into the park at Blossom Street. From 1917-19 the land which became the park in 1924 was part of Camp Logan, a World War I military training facility and hospital that at the time extended past what is now Westcott Street. See note below. (Ed. Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the original entrance to Camp Logan was at Blossom Street. The camp entrance was at what is now Washington Avenue and Arnot.)
Alas, the massive, newly built stone entrance into the park at Blossom Street is preposterously ugly, jarringly out of character in material, color, texture, style, and scale with the surrounding natural scenery and the airy, restrained architecture of the cabin-like pavilions. Built of depressing gray and blindingly bright hot white, beige-y Central Texas limestone or shellstone, the design intentionally evokes the 1920s or 30s. Why? Does it have to look dated? Can we not move forward?