Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ghost bike, ghost warehouses

I came upon two eerie sights this week near one of Houston's most iconic intersections.  This was the first one.

Where a single road is torn asunder, so too was a human being.  
It's a ghost bike.  It stands for this January incident in which a man was struck dead on the nearby bridge and thrown into the confluence of Brays and Buffalo Bayous.   
Tap to expand.  Ghost bike explainer screengrabbed from
The Houston ghost bike map confirms the identity of the person and the hit-and-run circumstances of his death.

I wonder why none of the deaths on the southeast side of town have been memorialized?

Also see Bike Houston for information on local efforts to reduce fatalities such as these.

Screengrabbed from Google. 
The other eerie sight was located almost within eye-shot of the Harrisburg ghost bike, and was this:
Those ghostly old warehouses that are sandwiched between the train tracks and the Houston Ship Channel are being torn down.  View from East Navigation Blvd., which is lined with live oak trees such as the one in the shadowy foreground here. You can see a yellow excavator behind the tank car, as the end of this warehouse is removed.    
One wall still standing.  I was sorta hoping that at least one Jackie Chan-type movie would be filmed here before these unusual warehouses met with their demise.  
What are (or were) these buildings?  It might be nice to learn something about them in the thirty-six remaining seconds that they have here on earth.  I know from casual conversations with folks that they are informally referred to alternately as "the old coffee warehouses" or "the old cotton warehouses" (I suspect the latter is closer to the truth), but I can find very little of their history on the internet, other than some nonspecific references and old aerial photos that include them.
One thing is clear - they are older than old, older than most other development in this area.  This is a public domain pic of the Houston Ship Channel (available via the UH archives). The warehouses are those solid masses roughly in the center of the photo.  That straight diagonal line you see to the left of the warehouses is East Navigation.  
Unfortunately, the curator hasn't done such a great job of estimating the age of that photo, narrowing it down to a period of 106 years (duh).  But with the north side of the channel still being partially forested (!!), the actual age could be closer to the first date than the second.  This reference has a similar photograph (partially view-able in Google Books) suggesting it was taken around 1930. 
Very roughly what the same view looks like today, showing full development all along Rio Buffalo.

Tilted, screengrabbed, and rotated from Google Earth.  
Warehouses (center of photo) as seen in a recent photo on Google Earth.  
Anyway, unless an investigative source such as @HoustoniaMag decides to look into it from a history / human interest perspective, we may never know the story of what is now crashing to the ground in a poof of ghostly dust.
Well, you could, but you wouldn't be very successful.

Chan had a talent for identifying movie scene locations that were as exotic as they were decrepit.  These old warehouses would certainly have fit that bill.  

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