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A Building Worth Saving: Houston Light Guard Armory

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

Here is one of the finest buildings in Houston, Texas falling into disrepair. Completed in 1925, the Houston Light Guard Armory building has been abandoned, hurt by vagrants, vandals, and Hurricane Ike.

Behind a corner gas station and in the shadow of luxury apartments of Midtown Houston sits one of the finest buildings in Houston, falling into disrepair. Designed by Alfred C. Finn and completed in 1925, the Houston Light Guard Armory building has been abandoned for quite some time.

Vagrants and vandals have had their say, as well as Gulf Coast weather and its most recent envoy, Hurricane Ike. The history of the building is regrettably full of misfortune. After only 13 years of service to the Houston Light Guard, the armory was deeded to the state. Attempts to rescue the building have come in fits and starts, so far without success.

The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum has plans to restore the Armory and give it a purpose that relates to its original use. This young non-profit, founded in 2000, began with the private collection of Captain Paul Matthews’s memorabilia and is rapidly expanding beyond the confines of their current residence on Southmore. As the only nationally recognized museum celebrating the African-American soldier it is poised to become a national destination.

The Buffalo Soldiers have a long and difficult past. The term itself began as a Native American description of these men’s bravery, was later used as a term of derision in newly desegregated units, and then embraced again as a symbol of selfless sacrifice and courage. As Chief Docent and Historian Richard Barefield exclaimed, “this is not black history, this is American history,” this is our history.

The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum has a real vision for the building. Circling the exhibition space, there are steel trusses rapidly approaching 100 years old. Gaps between plywood and brick openings give a hint to the daylight that will flood this grand hall. Ceremonial stairs, as all ambitious buildings once had, lead from grand double doors past anterooms with empty fireplaces. One will become a multi-media theater, the other a greeting area and gift shop. Even through the dust, these rooms evoke the stately air that we all share in our visions of the past.

As this story was originally written by Jesse Hager, architect, for “Cite Architectural Magazine (March 26,2009), one notices that the rectilinear mass of the Armory building belies the complexity of the nested interior. The simple span of the open exhibition space is plainly the show-stopper, but the secondary rooms are nearly as exciting to explore. A stair branches off the formal entry and with a Loosian turn tucks an ideal office and conference space above, overlooking future exhibits. Two further flights are secreted to descend back to the ground level inside the building. Here concrete columns support the floor above and will become the boundaries for a reference library, coffee shop, and adjacent learning space of the Houston Community College. Service doors are to be retrofitted as the primary entry to the museum, addressing Alabama Street to the north facing the campus across the street.

As Sergeant Major James Williams and Richard Barefield, laid measuring tapes straddled across empty windows in anticipation, both men shared their hopes that this institution would “saturate the neighborhood” and teach the youth. Their goal is to see history brought up to date, that these soldiers are given “recognition not [yet] received.” Both building and soldier have a past that has been shamefully neglected. In the establishment of this new vision, I can think of no more fitting pair.

Renovations of the Houston Light Guard Armory are estimated at upwards of $4 million dollars. Though initial clean-up and minor demolition is getting underway, the Buffalo Soldier National Museum and friends tell others that “This Place Matters,” and asks all veterans and others to help in reaching their goal. You can make your contribution to the reconstruction effort at: www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com by leaving a memorial brick or granite paver to honor someone in your family, club, business, or other organization.

The Buffalo Soldier National Museum is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Currently located at 1834 Southmore Blvd., Houston, TX 77004, the museum is opened daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., closed on Sundays. The museum also does private tours by appointment, as well as hosts receptions in the evenings.

National Trust Member: Ed Udell, Sr.

Ready and Forward!

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