San Antonio – May 2019 – The Missions

There are 5 Spanish frontier missions in San Antonio, four of which make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The fifth is the Alamo.

We were able to visit two of the missions on our day in the city. Up first is the Mission San Jose.




The mission was founded in 1720, with work on the current buildings beginning in 1768 and completing in 1782.



The community’s life was fully supported within the walls of the mission, including this oven.




There are many homes contained along the perimeter walls.




Massive stone arches frame walkways near the church.





Mission San Jose has had more restoration than the others in the area, resulting in a more ornate interior.



The south wall of the church features the ‘Rose Window’. This window is considered one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in North America.



There is evidence of the earlier exteriors on one of the walls.



The main gate to the compound.



The church is holding up remarkably well for being 250 + years old.




Additional views of the Mission San Jose.










Just a few miles away is Mission Concepcion.



This mission dates from essentially the same time as Mission San Jose, however the grounds are much smaller.



Some restoration has occurred here as well.



Mission Concepcion is known for the fresco’s on the interior and exterior of the building.



The interior of the church is not as ornate as Mission San Jose, but elegant in it’s simplicity.



The missions we were able to visit in San Antonio are national treasures. We look forward to a return trip to the area to check out the others we missed.







Houston – May 2019 – The Beer Can House

The website Roadside America is one of my favorites, and easily one of the most ‘classic Roadside America’ is the Beer Can House of Houston!

As you arrive you are greeted by a fence of (of course) beer cans.





In the late 1960s a retired upholsterer named John Milkovisch started inlaying thousands of marbles and rocks into concrete and wood to make landscaping features because as he said at the time ‘he was tired of mowing grass’.



For the next 18 years he flattened beer cans, that supposedly he and his friends emptied, and attached them to his house. Today the estimated 50,000 beer cans cover the entire house and former garage.




The early morning sun shining through the beer can top fence made an interesting pattern on the driveway.




It is owned today by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, who have the interesting exhibit next to Smithers Park.




The stringers on the front of the house sing in the wind. It is said that the beer cans actually help keep the house cooler in the hot Houston summers by reflecting the sun rays away from the house.




The Beer Can House – a Houston classic!






Houston – May 2019 – Modern Skyscrapers – Updated

Believe it or not there is a rating system for skylines, and in most of these rating systems Houston’s comes in 4th place in the country (behind New York, Chicago and Miami). Houston’s is a bit interesting in that not all of the tallest buildings are downtown.

This posting features some of the more interesting perspectives of the modern Houston skyline. After realizing I missed the 2nd day’s photos this posting has been updated with additional photos.














































Houston – May 2019 – Vintage Buildings

As noted on the previous post the vast majority of the buildings in Houston are new, built in the last couple of decades, much as a result of an area that has grown from a metro population of 2 million in 1970 to 6 million + today.

But in downtown Houston there are a few architectural gems from the early to mid 1900s that are worth checking out.

An interesting block is on Main Street. For this one block it looks like you are in small town America (if small town America had 60 floor buildings in the background).





The Great Southwest Building was for many years home of the Texas Company, better known as Texaco. Built in the Art Deco style in the late 1920s, today it is high end apartments.





The Rice Lofts was formerly a hotel. This location is famous as it once was the home of a national capital – the Republic of Texas! The current building was completed in 1913.





Completed in 1929 as the Gulf Building, the current JPMorgan Building, with a Chase Bank branch in the lobby is the finest architectural building in the city.














The Julia Idelson Library is part of the Houston Library system. Dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, it provides an oasis in the sea of glass.



Dating from 1926, the Spanish Renaissance style building houses Texas an local history archives.






Houston City Hall is one of the city’s few Art Deco style buildings.





The ceiling of the lobby has a relief of the world, with Texas standing out in gold and an X marking the spot (for Houston).



The murals add to the majesty of the room.




Even the water fountain has style, and a well state quote – build it to last forever. With the unchecked growth for the last 60 years or so I am not certain how much of Houston is built to last forever, but it is an impressive city nonetheless.





New Orleans – May 2019 – Residential Architecture

New Orleans is a city with a lot of history, from many different places, resulting in one unique culture. They like to refer to themselves as living on ‘the island of New Orleans’.

Their residential architecture and style reflect that diverse environment as well. There are a number of different residential architectural styles prevalent in the Crescent City. Perhaps the most common one is the duplex ‘shotgun’ house.

So named because if you had all the doors open in the house you could fire a shotgun straight through the house and out the back door without hitting anything. Note while they all started out the same, the owners have given their own unique style to each.















The bungalow is another style commonly found in New Orleans.



Most streets have a mix of architectural styles side by side.



While the term townhouse is used for this style, it is not what is commonly found in northern cities where they are a row of attached houses, rather they are the two story ‘boxy’ look that is detached from the neighbors.





There are even modern variations of the townhouse scattered throughout the city.



Some of the new construction seems out of place.



In this new construction the traditional courtyard was replaced with a pool.



With the damage from Hurricane Katrina, many sections of the city had numerous properties that the structures were no longer habitable, so the new construction is welcome.



There are a few cottage styles found as well – again with the owners unique take on style.



As noted previously courtyards are a very common use of the small space behind the home.



While not common, there are some examples of larger duplexes often found in American cities.



Another unusual structure for the city are more traditional rowhouses.



This unique home appears to have once been a firehouse.



Easily the most unique houses in New Orleans are found in the Holy Cross section of the lower 9th ward. They are known as the Steamboat Houses.

In the early 1900s a steamboat captain designed and constructed the first of the two homes, adding the second in 1913.

Built to resemble a steamboat, they even use steel stacks instead of chimneys.

New Orleans is a fantastic city for architecture fans, just make your way to any neighborhood and you will find examples of multiple styles.






Birmingham, Alabama – May 2019 – Civic Culture

For more than 100 years Birmingham was the center of manufacturing for the southern United States. It was often referred to as Pittsburgh of the South in reference to all of the steel mills. As with Pittsburgh, the industry has for the most part left town.

As with the northern industrial cities there was significant investment in civic culture, and in Birmingham there is none better than the main library.


While the primary entrance is a modern building, across the street is the Linn-Henley Research Library. Built in 1927 it reflects the art deco style of the period.



The building is most known for the Ezra Winter murals. Most depict historic events such as below left – Dante and Virgil. On the right is Don Quixote.



In addition to the murals, the main reading room has a fantastic ceiling.



The west side of the room shows the interesting mix of the murals with the art deco balcony railings.



Ezra Winter was raised in Michigan, but spent his early adult years in Europe where he was classically trained in painting. Interestingly they were completed in New York City and applied to the Birmingham Library walls with white lead.



The Children’s Library has a mural depicting fairy tales.



A seemingly out of place modern art piece is also present.



The library, county courthouse and city hall all frame a public park. As they were all built about the same time all reflect the art deco style.

The courthouse was designed by the famed Chicago firm of Holabird & Root.



Reliefs high up on the building reflect local history.



Outside is the Statue of Liberty – well a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.



Murals depicting the history of the region are in the lobby of the courthouse. This mural, entitled Old South, has caused great controversy as it depicts slaves picking cotton. A multi racial committee of 16 reached a consensus that they would create a retractable cover that would obscure them except during educational tours.

They apparently haven’t yet decided to cover up their history as it was available for us to see.



The accompanying mural entitled ‘New South’ depicts the industrial work. As previously noted, the industry is gone, so I suppose they will have to come up with a ‘New New South’, depicting Birmingham’s current major employers including Education, Finance and Engineering firms.



As part of the agreement on the Old South mural, a new mural entitled Justice Is Blind was added with a modern collection of symbols that show, among others, a black lady justice along with a white lady justice.



Less controversial is the scales of justice relief as well as the art deco clock.



The final building in the area is Birmingham City Hall.



City Hall has a gallery of noteworthy city residents over the years.



While not a Birmingham resident, Martin Luther King was instrumental in bringing social justice to the city, and is honored with a portrait in the gallery.

Birmingham turned out to be far nicer than I was expecting. It is a city that is recognizing it’s past (good and bad), and moving forward into the future.





Frankfort, Kentucky – May 2019 – Bourbon Valley

A narrow valley south of Frankfort, Kentucky was the home of a couple of bourbon distilleries for more than 100 years. In the 1970s they closed.



Their remnants remained unused in this valley for 40 year.



Nature was taking over.




But recently two startup distilleries have moved back into some of the buildings and began bourbon making again. One took over the Old Taylor facility, whose office building looked like a castle.



They have named their bourbon Castle & Key. More on the ‘key’ in a moment, but you can see where the Castle portion came from.



They have invested significant amounts of money into the facility.



The steam towers remain but unused.



There is a great mix of old and new.



The ‘key’ portion comes from their water source – which inside is shaped like a keyhole.



The control for the small dam still functions.



Overall it is a great location for bourbon making.



The massive 4 floor aging warehouse is once again in use.



Just up the road is Glenn’s Creek – another bourbon maker who took over an old abandoned facility.



Tours of bourbon distilleries is a very big tourist business in Kentucky, and there are no settings better than here.