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Union Station and Minute Maid Park (Enron Field)
In the last quarter of the twentieth century, Houston lagged behind other U.S. and Texan cities in promoting the preservation of its historic architecture. An important exception, and part of an encouraging countertrend of the 1990s, was the rehabilitation of the defunct Union Station (passenger service was discontinued in 1974) and its conversion into the front door to the 40,950-seat Enron Field, home of the Houston Astros, a National League baseball team. Enron Field was built on what had been the track yard and freight station of Union Station.
Warren and Wetmore of New York City designed the combined passenger terminal–office building for the Houston Belt and Terminal Railway Company, a consortium of rail lines that banded together in 1905 to construct a union station. The ground floor of the station was gutted, but its porte-cochere retains its Guastavino tile vaulting.
Enron Field followed the architectural lead of Camden Yards in Baltimore and other neo-traditional baseball parks in its red brick facing and downtown location. In contrast to the awesome scale of the Astrodome, it is spatially intimate. HOK Sport's neo-modern detailing of the stadium's exposed steel components, especially at public entrances where the stadium meets the city, keeps the Postmodern architecture from seeming too retro or stagy. The giant steel trusses of the retractable roof proclaim the stadium's identity as a monumental work of public infrastructure, like the convention center. Enron's chairman Ken Lay led the civic effort to build Enron Field; the stadium's name was sold to the Minute Maid beverage corporation in 2002 after Enron's bankruptcy.
Almost as surprising as the preservation of Union Station was the City of Houston's program of sidewalk and street improvements along Texas and Prairie avenues, carried out by the Houston Downtown Management District in 2001–2002 to provide pedestrian links between Enron Field and Market Square. Widened and improved sidewalks, public landscaping by SWA Group, and improved street parking demonstrate how simple the means can be for producing a more generous and inviting pedestrian environment.
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