By Eva Read-Warden, AIA
(Left to right) Eva Read-Warden, AIA, Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski, 2014 AIA Brazos President Andrew Hawkins, AIA, and members of the Bryan City Council - photo courtesy City of Bryan
During the 74th Annual Convention and Design Expo in Fort Worth this past November, the Texas Society of Architects presented a Citation of Honor to the 1999 – 2010 City Council of Bryan for its members' cohesive vision resulting in a rebirth of historic Downtown Bryan. Although the award was accepted in Fort Worth by former city council member Ben Hardeman, on January 14, AIA Brazos chapter members had an opportunity to locally and publicly present the award to the 23 people whom it was intended to recognize.
Hawkins and Read-Warden present the Texas Architects 2013 Citation of Honor Award to Mayor Bienski (left). - photo courtesy City of Bryan
The Citation honorees included: Lonnie Stabler, Greg Rodriguez, Annette Stephney, Dan Galvin, Kenny Mallard, Kandy Rose, Mike Bela, Russell Bradley, Mitch Morehead, Jay Don Watson, Joe Marin, Paul Madison, Ernie Wentreck, Boyd Sheffield, Ben Hardeman, Mark Conlee, Jason Bienski, Mike Southerland, Al Saenz, Art Hughes, Ann Horton, Chuck Cinderella, and Richard Cortez.
Those honored were chosen not only for their vision of a revitalized Downtown Bryan, but also because of their strength in choosing to invest in the area at a time when it was not popular. In the nomination letter for the award, 2013 Brazos Chapter President Steven Schloss, AIA, praised the council members' "continuing and committed work in maintaining the historic fabric of this quintessential Texas city," that resulted in “a remarkable renaissance.” As a result, Downtown Bryan has transformed into a safe, beautiful, and sustainable environment that continues to grow economically.
Historic Downtown Bryan today. The area's desolate state was documented in the Lyle Lovett video “This Old Porch.” which when viewed today really underscores the improvements that have been made. - photo by Eva Read-Warden, AIA
Revitalization efforts began in the 1980s after the decline of Texas downtowns due to the influx of shopping centers along highways and bypasses. The process started with a re-envisioned master plan that began public infrastructure improvements, along with the public-private partnership that transformed the La Salle Hotel and the area into destination.
Downtown Bryan's Howell Building, before and after. - before photo courtesy City of Bryan; after photo by Eva Read-Warden, AIA
The Lighting of the Queen Theatre ceremony celebrated the ongoing restoration project to bring the 1939 theater back to its former glory. - photo courtesy City of Bryan
Today, Downtown Bryan has experienced tremendous growth as businesses have begun relocating themselves within the city center and opportunities for downtown living have increased. The area boasts First Fridays, Art Step, live music, and theater as part of a burgeoning arts and cultural scene. Though downtown has come a long way from those vacant streets and buildings of the 1980’s, there is more work to do. The north portion of downtown awaits new buildings and businesses; however, the new infrastructure has already been provided by the city... another example of the faith in the vision of what can be.
Eva Read-Warden, AIA, is a principal at The Arkitex Studio in Bryan, and chair of the Society's Historic Resources Committee