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Market Square's storied past reflects Houston's own boom, bust and boom again history.
THE PAST

The Historic District is Houston's original town center. It’s where the Allen brothers landed, determined to create the city of the future in 1836. Just two blocks from Allen's Landing at Market Square (orginally named Congress Square), they located the civic center of  the new city,  and for 100 years it served as a home to four City Halls as well as a buzzing open-air produce and fish market.

Market Square burned through three City Hall buildings, with fires in 1876, 1901 and 1960, when the space finally settled as a parking lot for Houston’s party scene.  In the mid ‘60s and early ‘70s Market Square was Houston’s soul – full of the day’s hottest nightclubs and restaurants and the place to be for visiting celebrities such as Liza Minnelli and Johnny Carson.
 
The Junior League of Houston campaigned for the space’s revival in the mid 70’s, turning the parking lot into a green space. Not long after, in the late 1980’s, the art non-profit, DiverseWorks coordinated a renovation of Market Square Park, planting local artists’ work throughout the space.
 
And while the oil bust of the 80s and the demolition of some of its most beloved historic buildings left the square (and the Historic District itself) almost forgotten for years, it is making a real comeback today.
 
Read David Theis' article Back to the Future for more!
THE PRESENT

Houston Downtown Management District, Downtown Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ #3 and the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department redeveloped Market Square Park in August 2010, after lending their ears to downtown residents, business and property owners.  With these stakeholders in mind, the park has been transformed into a destination for residents and visitors alike, while preserving the park’s historical and artistic roots.

The goals for the redesigned Market Square Park were to acknowledge the history of the site; to provide an active, urban green space adapted to the needs of a diverse neighborhood; and to conserve its existing artwork while incorporating new works of art.

Today, a visitor can follow a black granite band through the park for a tour around the footprint of their foundation. A rectangular lawn sits at the foundation’s center, and the park cafe and James Surls’ Points of View occupy the spaces where the buildings’ towers once stood while framing the present day dining trellis, performance stage and plaza. On the west side of the lawn, a crescent-shaped dog run provides a welcoming place for the canine contingent to play off-leash. Lauren’s Garden, a space dedicated to the memory of all who were lost on September 11, 2001, is named for Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, a Houstonian and passenger aboard United Flight 93. Offering a respite for meditation and remembrance, this tribute garden of seasonal plantings, flowering trees, plaza and fountain is a gift to the city from the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation.

Much of Market Square’s art collection was featured in the park’s previous design coordinated by DiverseWorks in 1991, with the unified message of embracing our city’s history. These works by Richard Turner, Paul Hester, James Surls and Malou Flato are preserved or reconfigured in the current design. Newly commissioned artwork includes sculptures by Ketria Bastian Scott and Sharon Connally Ammann in Lauren’s Garden and James Phillips’ carved pup near the dog run.

To create a truly diverse park that can accommodate a growing and diverse community, many great minds came together. Lauren Griffith Associates, a Houston-based landscape architect, led the design and  Kerry Goelzer and  Ray + Hollington Architects and Tribble & Stephens all consulted on the project and designed a park that was in keeping with history and embracing of the future.

PARK CHRONOLOGY

1836     Site Platted at Congress Square

1839     Renamed Market Square

1840     First Market House built

1841     First City Hall built

1873     Second City Hall and Market built; destroyed by fire in 1876

1877     Third City Hall and Market House built; destroyed by fire in 1901

1904     Fourth City Hall and Market House built

1929     City Market moved to a new site on Buffalo Bayou at Prairie Avenue 
              and Smith Street

1939     City government moved to a new City Hall in Civic Center at McKinney
              Avenue and Bagby Street;  the 1904 City Hall Building converted to a
              bus depot

1960     1904 City Hall burns; site converted to a parking lot

1961     Site designated a park, but continues to serve as a parking lot.

1976     Fred Buxton & Associates wins competition for design of new park;
              park presented to the city as Bicentennial gift by the Junior League
              of Houston

1983     Site listed in National Register of Historic Places

1985     Diverse Works, Inc., a nonprofit art center, proposes a redesign of
              the park by artists in collaboration with the Parks Department

1986     Artist team selected by panel process; design approved by the
              Municipal Art Commission

1987     Phase 1 site preparation coordinated by Downtown Houston
              Association, a nonprofit civic organization

1988     The Houston Market Square Park Project, Inc., a nonprofit corporation,
               formed to fund and construct Phase II, the artists’ design

1990     City Council approves Phase II of Design and designates Main
              Street Market Square Historic District as the first historic district;
              groundbreaking held

1991     Park dedicated improvements given to the city by the Houston Market
              Square Park Project, Inc.

2007     Downtown Redevelopment Authority brings in Project for Public Spaces
              (PPS) to study the park ; outreach to the community ensues

2008     Downtown Redevelopment Authority approves funding for the park
              renovation; Houston Downtown Management District enters into an
              interlocal agreement  with the City of Houston Parks & Recreation to
              manage the construction /renovation of the park and to operate the park
              once open

2009     Final design presentation to the community; park breaks ground

2010     Grand re-opening of the park on August 28

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301 Milam Houston, Texas 77002 | Open Daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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