PaperCity Magazine

December 2014 - Houston

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ART CITY RISING P H O T O G R A P H Y J A C K T H O M P S O N , M A X B U R K H A LT E R . P R O D U C E D B Y J E N N Y A N T I L L . A decade in the making and comprised of an extraordinary 35-acre tract just five minutes from downtown, the 267,000 square-foot campus of Winter Street, Spring Street and Silver Street Studios — joined by the just- inked acquisition of the 79,000-square-foot Riviana Success Rice Silos on Sawyer Street — comprises one of the most ambitious arts districts in America, the newly formed and State of Texas-designated Washington Avenue Arts District. In a city famously without zoning, how did a handful of developers come together to forge a complex whose raison d'être is anchored by photographs, sculpture, canvases and cappuccino? Catherine D. Anspon investigates. IN THE BEGINNING: WINTER STREET You could say this story started at Pig Stand. At least it did for me. In 2004, abstract painter and pal Sandi Seltzer Bryant (who's one of the staples of the McMurtrey Gallery stable) rang me up for a breakfast meeting at the since-shuttered greasy spoon. That Pig Stand confab introduced me to Jon Deal, a developer who had just acquired the 75,000-square-foot Winter Street property. Bryant was then as she is now: a smart, focused, ebullient Carnegie Mellon grad who lived and breathed art and maintained a professional studio practice. Deal was low-key, a direct-talking denim-clad entrepreneur who did business on a handshake and was not averse to walking rooftops and climbing ladders, but he had little experience in chitchat at a white cube. Together, they made an odd couple — but it worked. Bryant came on board to advise Deal from the buildout stage towards creating user-friendly artist studios, tapping into her considerable network to lease the new spaces and crafting a marketing campaign and branding. The idea of an artist-studio building — with unheard-of central air conditioning, no rodents and nice bathrooms — was more than novel. There was no category for it in the city code books, so they created one. "Jon invited me in late summer or early fall [2004] to meet him at what was then an old warehouse on railroad tracks on a street named Winter," Bryant recalls. "But it had no sign. He had not closed on it yet, so all this was just what ifs. As we talked, we walked a very dirty building for a long while. I even went up on the roof and said, 'This is where we need to celebrate Fourth of July,' and it has continued ever since. Immediately I knew if this was going to happen, I was all in." D eal, she says, knew everything about saving old buildings and construction. The Good Brick Award- winning developer's other projects range from the Deco-era Prospect Apartments and 13 Celsius wine bar to a well-trafficked eateries Beaver's and El Patio. "I knew what artists needed and deserved for studios, but he knew nothing about the art community," Bryant says. And so began Jon Deal's art education. "Every week, I would take him around to galleries and alternative art spaces. I had him change out of his jeans and T-shirt, and I took him to the summer Looking at Art party. We called Deborah Colton, whose edgy gallery space was across at Summer Street. Jon and I met with her; we were off and running and excited." T heir playing field was a vast, rambling brick-and-concrete fortress that had been dormant for several years — an elephant of a building in limbo. The imposing two-story structure had been built in 1928 by E.A. Hudson for the Houston Transfer Company. Harris Moving & Storage had taken over the building by the 1940s; a photograph from 1951 shows a fleet of Harris moving vehicles lined up ready to serve the carriage classes. (Harris would later relocate their operation to Spring Street and be involved in the second chapter of this story.) In 1974, Winter became home to a cultured marble business owned by Harvey Seigle and his brother. Seigle segued the property into uncoded artists' studios in the early 1990s — an under-the-radar, Wild West sort of complex — before selling it to Silver Eagle Distributors in 2002. And then came Deal. The developer brought on limited partners Todd Johnson and Avenue CDC (a community development corporation), whose initial contract on the building had fallen through; the initial 33 studios were carved out. Tellingly, 19 of those remain leased by the original tenants — artists celebrated in the upcoming 10- year anniversary catalog, The Originals. Today, Winter Street is at capacity, with 95 creatives working out of 75 studios. Other key players from that time were Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin, who mounted FotoFest exhibitions at the building since the mid-1990s and now are the arts anchor of Silver Street Studios, and Deborah Colton of Deborah Colton Gallery. The latter forged intriguing programming when she began in Silver Street Studios' triumvirate: Jon Deal, Paul Hobby and Steve Gibson. Cary Reeder, known for her take on Houston history, has one of Winter Street's smallest studios — "220 square feet, but I love it," she says. Her next series prophetically features the Success Silos. Michael C. Rodriguez was tapped by Fresh Arts to create the mural that lines Winter Street Studios. Fariba Abedin in her Spring Street studio, with recent paintings. The studio doubles as a galley for curatorial appointments and sales. Fariba Abedin in her Spring Street studio, with recent paintings. The studio doubles as a galley for curatorial ap- pointments and sales. Clockwise: FotoFest's Wendy Watriss, Fred Baldwin and Steven Evans. FotoFest mounted shows at Winter Street beginning in the 1990s and is now the anchor arts tenant at Silver Street Studios. At the Winter Street dock, Fresh Arts' Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, Washington Avenue Arts District's Susannah Mitchell and artist Sandi Seltzer Bryant, who worked alongside developer Jon Deal to lease the first studios, then moved in, in 2005. The latest jewel in the artist district. Our city's next art complex: The Silos on Sawyer.

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