In-Town Travels

Bayou Wonderland

Pondering Houston's essence at Allen's Landing, where it all began.

By Nick Panzarella November 1, 2013

Excluding bars, of the many locations in Houston that I've been told to visit, few have left me fulfilled. The Beer Can House, the Williams Water Wall, the various Adickes statues—all nice sites, but none truly iconic.

Allen's Landing, however, fills me with awe. No, it's not the Grand Canyon, but the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo Bayou is everything that’s missing from almost everywhere else in this ever-expanding Houston.   

It has history; as the site of Houston's founding in 1836 by the Allen brothers, it is the original center of the city where cotton and timber entered and parted. It was the economic and cultural base for this developing port town. There is a particular view of Main Street from the water where one can imagine how Houston was once a tightly constructed pedestrian city like those of the northeast or Europe. Alone by the nearly stagnant water, the sense of history is palpable.

Second, the bayou is wild. Many look at our bayous and mock them for their muddy complexion or their pollution, but I find them inspiring. Their beauty is in their ruggedness, and the exotic feel that they maintain in the middle of an increasingly refined city. The overgrowth along the un-channelized bayous attests to the hot pulsing life force of the sub-tropical region. Less maintained sections of the city have signs of this lush vitality creeping up their brick walls with vine growth, but Buffalo Bayou is the pinnacle of the wilderness that still exists in Houston.

Finally, Allen's Landing is not a fabrication. Yes, it was constructed by man, and yes, it has been repaved and is in the process of an revitalization, but Allen's Landing itself is not an attraction designed by a housing developer or petrochemical company. We can build amusement parks and design landmarks, but it is history, natural beauty, and uniqueness that make a place worth visiting.

Plans are afoot to convert the old Sunset Coffee Building (also once known in a more psychedelic era as the Love Street Electric Light Circus Feel Good Machine) into a public venue/office space and a boat rental shop. In the Houston Chronicle earlier this year, Susan Keeton of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership stated that post-redesign "this beautiful slope ought to just attract people, too many, almost."

I cannot help but agree with her, especially with the recent revival of Market Square Park taking place a mere block away. But for now, this precious destination is left abandoned and unlit, appropriated by the homeless. It deserves to be recognized as the icon that it is, and if we'll let it, Allen's Landing can serve as the living heart of the growing cultural capital that is Houston, Texas. 

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