3400 Montrose: Piece of Houston History Going...Going....Gone
The parking lot of Disco Kroger at the corner of Montrose and Hawthorne has been an ideal vantage point from which to watch the two-month-long demolition of yet another curious piece of Houston history. While the ten-story building at 3400 Montrose is little more than twisted girders and concrete rubble now, in its day it was one of the swankiest business addresses in the city and a night-time hot spot for several generations of Houstonians.
photos by William Michael Smith Early stage of the demolition of 3400 Montrose Boulevard
It will soon be replaced by a Hannover Group 30-story glass apartment tower with all the personality of a corporate headquarters, scheduled to open in 2016. But the building had in fact outlived its design and utility. One former renter of space in the building described it as "a dump."
But over the course of its history since the first two floors were built in 1952, the building served as home to Montrose National Bank, Southern States Life Insurance Company, and a plethora of insurance-related companies and other businesses. The Houston Blues Society even officed there for a few years.
The tenth-floor penthouse, which was operated as a club up until the building closed due to its dilapidated state in 2010, offered a spectacular view of downtown that made it a major social hotspot for decades. In various incarnations, it was Top of the Mark, the Palace Club, Cody's and finally Scott Gertner's popular jazz rendezvous, Sky Bar.
The building would never have existed except for Houston's strange aversion to zoning. Original developer J.W. Link and his Houston Land Corporation platted the subdivision and began offering lots for sale in 1911. Montrose was designed as a planned streetcar residential community with stately Montrose Boulevard as a main artery. The street quickly became lined with palatial modern homes such as Link's own property, the Link-Lee mansion, which is now part of the University of St. Thomas property.
But in 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression, the deed restrictions for the area lapsed. In the following year, a zoning ordinance that might have allowed Montrose Boulevard to continue as a residential avenue was put before the City Council, but it failed to pass.
Rice University architecture historian Dr. Stephen Fox notes that the effort to pass a zoning ordinance in 1937 was "fueled in part by the anxieties of Montrose residents fearful of what would happen once the restrictions were no longer in effect."
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