Saturday, September 26, 2009

part two: Paintings by Milby High Students at Local Bank

Here's the other painting by the Milby High students that hangs on the walls of a  bank on Lawndale Avenue in Houston's East End.

The lush vegetation reminds me of Michoacan.

Sometimes I read a line in a book and say, gee, I wish I'd written that.
Sometimes I see a design, and say gee, I wish I'd designed that.
Whenever I see that moon in the grasp of the wrench, in this painting,  I always say, 
gee, I wish I'd thought of that.  
It's one powerful image inside a larger captivating scene.  

Anyone want to take a stab at the "theme" of this mural?  Just a guess, a feeling?
Help me out here.

What strikes me each time I'm in front of this painting is the strong Mood emanating from it.  That's difficult to achieve.    And this was painted by a group of  high school students. 

I hope the new bank owners continue the tradition that Laredo National Bank started by commissioning local students' artwork.
The results here are world class, and straight out of the East End of Houston.  
Laredo National Bank was always a good neighbor and business partner in our barrio.
They will be missed.

and a reader emailed me this morning (Sunday) that in yesterday's Chronicle there was an article about BBVA Compass:  wow, the guy was really steamed in his note to me.
Here's a snippet of the piece: 
BBVA Compass is the latest bank to catch the ire of customers and attorneys because of overdraft fees.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this week, Houston-based restaurant company Fat Butter accused the bank of deceptive trade practices, claiming the bank posted debits out of the order they were made so it could increase overdraft fees.
For example, the lawsuit claims the bank pushed the largest debit through its account first, creating an overdraft, and then posted other smaller debits so a fee could be assessed for each transaction.

Paintings at Laredo National Bank

I've waited so long to bring this photo to the blog, and to you.

If  I was the official tour guide to  Houston's East End, one of the must-see sites on my route would be the two (2) paintings in the lobby of Laredo National Bank on Lawndale street.

The first one, shown here in the photo, was painted by a group of students at Milby High and commissioned by the bank.  I just want to hug each and every one of those kids.  And I'm not the hugging type.  I want to say to them, "Yes! THIS is our neighborhood, isn't it?!"  They captured the ubiquitous chemical tank cars on the railroad tracks, the white stucco of the community center at Mason Park, the ever watchful Orange and white striped burn-off towers at the refinery, the bayou, the lush greenery, and the view of and from the commanding ship channel bridge.  This is our visual mix.  This is Houston's East End.

In the tradition of great muralists, like Diego Rivera, look at the command of symbolism in this painting.
That graphic body on the far left of the painting  is an artful nod to DuChamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, but here, it's Ascending!  With the help of english, history, and science, the steps rise all the way back to the future, to the top where sits the Mayan, with his pre-conquest grasp of mathematics.
Can you make out the temple/pyramid at the top of the steps?   These kids are good!

So I went to the bank this morning, with my camera in pocket. They had just opened and tellers were otherwise occupied with no guard on duty yet.  I snapped the photos quickly, and didn't ask permission.
They would have invented some kind of security type reason to say no!

reference to previous link:  Babs descending her staircase, post on this blog dated Saturday, August 22nd.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting Slaughtered on Harrisburg

Along Harrisburg Road, near Eastwood Park in Houston's East End, Metro's new light rail line construction is tearing up the road and diverting traffic. Media coverage has been plentiful, including an editorial in the Chron about the the preservation of an Art Deco landmark building.
According to the paper, the former Sterling Laundry building with its clock tower and streamlined shape will have its facade saved and perhaps even moved across the street to a site in Eastwood Park.
Built in 1935, the stylish one-story building was designed by local architect, Sol R Slaughter, who also designed a home in Idylwood that same year.
That's a curious last name, Slaughter. It brings to mind a special drink that's served at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen on West Gray. It's called the Slaughter Special and it's named after former regular customer and patron lawyer, Arthur Slaughter. Could he have been a son, or grandson of Sol Slaughter, the architect with the East End connection?
If you need a cool drink on this last day of August, here's the recipe for the Slaughter Special:

the Slaughter Special
from the bar of Tony Mandola's, Houston TX.
Fill a snifter glass with ice
Add a shot of Pimm's Cup
Top off with Good Champagne
Finish by rubbing the lip of the snifter with a lemon twist
And throw the lemon twist into the drink
Maybe someone could order it at Harry's in San Miguel de Allende, in memory of Arthur.
Gone but not shaken.

photo credit:
Love your site!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Best Drinks in Town

"Keep writing and connecting my two favorite places.", writes Billie of Billieblog & of San Miguel de Allende.
Here's one the East End of Houston, we come right out and tell you where to get the finest mixed drinks in Houston.

In San Miguel, you might need to buy a book, or a guide, or take a tour or something.

The sorry-looking photo above was shot from my truck window today, somewhere on Telephone Road.
Here's the link for very good photos and commentary along the food and drink trails of both
SMA & Houston -
I love this Happy Go Lucky sign. It hangs over a squat, windowless, metal building on a dusty parking lot. It's the embodiment of the word pathos. During the day, without the neon, it's even more pathetic and less happy- go-lucky.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

El Zapa the shoemaker from San Miguel de Allende

In planning my second trip to San Miguel de Allende in 1997 I decided to find someone who could make me a pair of sandals. I drove downtown to the Houston Central Public library (pre-internet days) and researched footwear (calzado) in books about Mexican Folk art and crafts. I copied this black and white photo of shoes from one of those books, took it with me to San Miguel, and looked around for someone to do the job.

The Mercado de Artesanias seemed like the logical place. I found a leather goods shop there and bought a couple of belts, and a quirky pair of huaraches that looked like the ones in the top far left of the photo. The shopkeeper directed me down a side street and told me the guy I needed for custom made shoes was called, El Zapa. He said "You can't miss his shop, it has his name and a big swastika out front." So off I went, and he was easy to find. I didn't know if I really wanted to enter a shop with a swastika sign. It started to feel like a set-up, surely bad things were about to happen. El Zapa turned out to be a very lively, very skinny, very competent shoemaker. He listened to my ideas and told me in 2 weeks I'd have my shoes. Both pairs. We agreed that he would ship them to Houston. We also agreed to disagree about the swastika. He claimed that it was a symbol that predated Nazi Germany by thousands of years, and that they desecrated it, but he was reclaiming it. It's a beautiful graphic to him and why should it forever be associated with only Hitler. I couldn't shake him from that stance. He was a bit curious about a single gal walking the streets looking for a shoemaker, so he offered to show me around for the day. We went to Los Pozos in his black VW Beetle. He talked enthusiastically about healthy eating and munched on a raw cucumber like it was an apple all the way there. He swam in thermal waters while I wandered around the picnic area. Later, back in town, he showed me where he and his family lived, and the progress of his home remodeling. I was looking for that one on one connection with people that live in San Miguel, and I found El Zapa. I didn't have to pry information from him. He talked freely and proudly about his shop, his home, his town, his Mexico. He never came on to me or made inappropriate remarks. I think that we were kindred spirits in that he saw something different drop into his shop that day and he decided to look up from his work and check it out. Later that week, on my way out of town I checked back to see about the shoes and say goodbye. He stopped his work and accompanied me to the central de Buses. He carried a heavy box of tile for me, out of the taxi and into the cargo bin. Spontaneity and kindness, and no humidity. Ahhh...SMA. 2 weeks later my shoes arrived in Houston as promised. No contract, no Visa Card, just cold, rumpled pesos. And a note, with his address.
One of the pairs of shoes was similar to Ked's tennis shoes, but all in brown leather.
The other was a set of bohemian huaraches with a design based on the ones in the top right of the photo. Chepo always admired those sandals on me. (click on photo for leather details)
Today, in our own remodeling mess, I find the photo in a box marked "Mexico". There's no address or note from El Zapa. And the last time I was in SMA, I forgot to look for his shop, with
that damned sign.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oh Bois! My Best Idea for the East End

There is so much ground to cover, literally, that I can't concern myself with a lovely cohesive post. Babs of San Miguel once wrote on her blog, "I'm not a writer, I'm a chronicler." or something like that. That's so insightful, but not really true. She's a natural. Me, I run over my words trying to make a point. But some things are worth doing poorly until I get enough experience to be better. Writing about the Next San Miguel de Allende, Houston's East End, is one of those things.
Hidalgo Park has a 2 softball fields, one mini waterpark playground, paved walkways, and a large elevated bandstand/gazebo. The gazebo, given to the city by a group of Mexican-Americans, has railings made of lightweight concrete that mimick the form and texture of wood. Called "faux bois", and translated "false wood", the style adds a natural, organic touch to the bandstand. It's quirky and memorable but not a maestro level of execution of the craft.
But, I think we should take what we been so generously given, and run with it.
The Faux Bois should become the signature design element of the East End, the visual watermark, its unique visual identity.
(all polling is now closed.)
As mentioned previously, the Galleria has its chrome street jewelry, the Heights has
the Victorian Homes, Upper Kirby has the red London phone booths, Bourbon St has the iron balcony, and ....San Miguel de EastEnd could have the surprise and magic of faux bois, along with real trees in esplanades, in conical shapes a la Jardin style.
Obvious places for use of faux bois: "wood" park benches, "wood" bus and Metro stops, "wood"
arches to mark entrances to parks & trails, "wood" landscaping where traffic is heavy, "tree"
light poles. Here are some photos of these same ideas that I took in San Antonio about 15 years ago.

More on this in the next post.

Oh Bois! Faux Bois for the East End-cont'd

The funny thing is that TxDot is already trying to do a touch of faux bois
on its structural bridge columns. For 2 decades they've had an in-house policy that any new under/over pass columns need to be more artistic. You may have seen examples of this in Bellaire along 610, in SugarLand along new stretches of 59S, out in Katy along I-10. Columns have been
embedded with Texas Stars, Tx flags, recently, I saw some with sides of wood grain concrete along I-10E & Kelly Rd, and also west out 290, near the town of Hempstead. Nice cigar.
For the pleasure of all the pilgrims, retirees, GI Bill soldiers, artists and renegades that are sure to flock to the East End, we need a master to take us into a deeply funky, whole hog visual commitment of the art and the craft of faux bois. (We also might need an americanized version of the's getting tedious writing and pronoucing faux bois in my head as I post this. Suggestions?) And that master could be Carlos Cortes of San Antonio. Here's his website. I've met him. Very friendly. That's Carlo's work in the photo above, at the San Antonio Riverwalk. What a heritage! If he's too busy, maybe the guys at Taller Fence and Ironwork could dip their hands in the concrete. The man that can forge this door, couldn't he forge some concrete, too? Not yet!
more master quality faux bois can be found by clicking the link below.

Can you envision this for the East End?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Boat Launch at Forest Park Lawndale

This photo was taken at the new bike path, looking north from the
bridge at Lawndale towards the golf course.

I can understand that the industrial use of Ship Channel prohibits
its recreational use. But, here is Brays Bayou, about a mile from
its beginnings at the Ship Channel. What a scene! Couldn't we
have a small boat launch here? Canoes like on Austin's Town Lake? Along with rigourous patrol and clean up?

Couldn't we have this?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ramirez Hamburger - since 1944 in the EastEnd

Located at the heart of San Miguel de EastEnd is the old Ramirez Hamburgers store. Sadly, I found out this morning that Ramirez Hamburgers is no longer serving. They had simple griddle cooked commerical patty hamburgers, with those crinkly cut fries. The grandkids were running the place, and used no advertising. Just walkins from the neighborhood. Kids ate here after the game at the basketball courts across the street, mothers who were too tired to cook, came from the immediate neighborhood from behind that rises gently for about 6 blocks until it meets Navigation Blvd and the Houston Ship Channel.
Glad I got to eat there. Just for the history.
Looks like they're still renting out the apartments upstairs, though.'d make a great location for a BBQ place. Maybe Longhorn Smokehouse or something.
located at 912 76th Street, north of Harrisburg Rd near Ave H.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tender is the Morning Tortilla: Best Breakfast

La Victoria Bakery: 7138 Lawndale.
La Victoria Bakery - just south of the intersection of 75th and Lawndale. That's a photo of this taco/lunch plate/bakery this morning at 6 am. Just opening up. They'd already had their first customer. A young man with a red and white plastic molded igloo walked over from the neighboring Encanto Apartments to buy a pastry from the extra long bakery counter. But I'm here to talk about the food, not the pastries. What's unique about La Victoria is you can see who's preparing your food. And it's not a high school dropout with a cellphone in one ear. You walk in, under the awning, and immediately on your left is the order counter. And immediately behind that counter is the cooking line and there's a couple of tiny, energetic 60+ years old women, hopping to fill that order. Energetic, but not cloyingly sweet. They obviously love their, they're not so sure, yet. Not alot of chitchat. Younger girls are the helpers and order takers. The women do not appear to be the owners. Just dedicated and experienced. I think I'm commenting on this because it's like in a fabrication have the "maestros" and you have the younger guys who are learning and they're the welders, but not the Fitters. So for me, it has that feel, and I like it but for someone else maybe they wouldn't feel this. So basically the small kitchen has a center work island, with washing at one end, prep at the other. There's a large gas burner mounted on a low steel frame and on it sits a metal pot, big enough to hide a child inside of, and it's obviously today's charro beans. Off to the right in the back, I see small balls of fresh dough, piled on the stainless steel, so I know fresh made tortillas are coming. The lady already has my eggs in the pan before I turn and walk to the pastry counter to pay and get my ticket. The bakery area is also very clean, very organized, with shiny tiled walls all the way to the ceiling. There's a magazine cover on which their wedding cakes have been featured propped up behind the cashier. It's been blown up to the size of a soccer field and is obviously a source of pride. I can relate. When our ironwork was featured in Beautiful Home, we ran out and had those photos mounted like safari souvenirs. Back to the tacos. 2 minutes later, my potato and egg tacos are ready. The tortillas are al dente like a good pasta, and with charred spots from a gas flame. The eggs...not overcooked. Do you know how hard it is to find a place that won't cook an egg to death? And the potatoes browned and plenty of them. Sauce comes with the tacos...the green sauce seems housemade or maybe just a good brand like La Costena in the can, not too spicy but the red sauce is harsh and to me, tastes like Valentina's with bitter red pepper flakes floating in it. But this can't come close to ruining those 2 perfect tacos. I had (2) small tacos...each for $1.95, and they weren't small. Large ones are $2.50 each. No need for large unless you're a linebacker. Daily specials are available for lunch along with the taco menu. Today's special is Picadillo Plate. They had a plate on display under plastic wrap. Ground beef sauteed with chunks of potato, and also with chunks of carrot, and bits of onion, tortillas, rice, beans and a bit of lettuce and tomato and 3 slices of fresh avocado. $6.50. That's an okay price. I usually just go for tacos. On Sunday, the breakfast crowd starts early....but it's not a gentrified crowd. It's church goers, and kids from the apts., and couples from the neighborhood. During the week, it's more a working man's place. Martini's Hardware is across the street...full service and still standing up to Home Depot's invasion. At La Victoria, there's no funky charm factor, but remember....clean! They serve straight thru the day until 7pm. But not for dinner...catch 'em early because after 7pm, gray rolling hurricane doors are pulled over those charming french doors and it closes for the day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

High Class Graffitti

Good looking Murals in Public places abound in the EastEnd.
This is one very good example.
Another memorable mural at the intersection of Lockwood and Harrisburg has recently been painted over. It was on the
side of a pawn shop. The scene was of a peasant woman,
a migrant farm worker...with a hopeful scene of the future
surrounding her. A neighbor, a 25 yr old woman is the daughter
of migrant farm workers. Backbreaking work, unbelievably hard she said. Did not want to ever come close to a farm again. Worked each spring and summer with her parents, in the southwest, northwest, Calif, New Mexico...moving around. Returning each fall to Houston, just in time for school. Graduated from Milby High. Married with 2 kids. And when I met her, she was trying to figure out how to collect unemployment even tho she had quit her job, and not been fired. Also, she was trying to divorce her husband on paper, and continue to be happily together, so that her Earned Income Credit at tax time would be heftier. No joke.