Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston

Photo of Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston, Texas
Photograph Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston, Texas
Photograph of ghostly "orbs" courtesy of Nick Pearls.
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Photo of Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston, Texas
Photograph of ghostly "orbs" courtesy of Nick Pearls.
Photo of Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston, Texas
Photograph of ghostly "orbs" courtesy of Nick Pearls.
Photo of Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston, Texas
Photograph of ghostly "orbs" courtesy of Nick Pearls.
Photo of Elder Street Artists Lofts in Houston, Texas
Photograph of ghostly "orbs" courtesy of Nick Pearls.
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Elder Street Artists Lofts
Formerly:Jefferson Davis Hospital

1101 Elder Street, Houston, Texas, Downtown 77007
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What was once the poster child for urban blight has become a symbol of the re-birth of downtown Houston. Jefferson Davis Hospital sat empty for decades, attracting vagrants, vandals, and worse. It stately columns and broad form looked out onto a busy Pierce Elevated freeway as the world rushed past at 70 miles an hour. But eventually, the world would recognize this architectural gem and bring it back to life as the Elder Street Artists Lofts.

Jefferson Davis Hospital started out as an ordinary hospital on the outskirts of the city. It led an unremarkable existence except for the fact that thousands of people were buried on the site. These graves were dug from the 1840's to the 1890's and are the final resting places for Confederate soldiers, former slaves, and city officials. In front there are several low rock walls in squares that might mark grave plots, or were possibly once flower beds. For a time there were actually two Jefferson Davis Hospitals in Houston. The original which opened in 1924, and a second just a couple of miles away on Allen Parkway. The 1938 Jefferson Davis Hospital was demolished in 1999. When the second one opened, the original was used for storage from the 1960's until the 1980's. The last gasp of activity came during the shooting of the film Robocop 2, when the hospital was featured as the location where the ficticious drug "nuke" was made.

After that, the hospital fell into serious disrepair, violated in just about every way vandals could imagine. Some believe the building, and those buried on the grounds, would not rest. While not exactly reliable sources, some of the junkies and vagrants who occasionally called this place home say the saw unexplained shadowy figures in the front yard and in the hallways. Whether they're seeing the spirits of the thousands buried here or just each other through a drug-induced haze is unclear.

In 2004, a Minneapolis-based group called ArtSpace USA was given permission to turn the abandoned building into cheap living and working space for local artists. It's a concept the organization has worked rather successfully in a number of other cities. By 2005 the transformation was successful and the building began a new life.

Quick Facts
Timeline
  • March, 2002: The Houston Chronicle reports the city's Archeological and Historical Commission approved the notion of declaring the building a city landmark. That would be a first step toward preserving and possibly rehabilitating the property.
  • 20 June, 2002: The Harris County Commissioners approve selling Jefferson Davis Hospital to Avenue Community Development Corporation and ArtSpace Projects. The non-profit groups plan to turn the hospital into 31 lofts for use by low- and medium-income artists. The groups pledge to spend $6,200,000.00 for the land, renovation, restoration, environmental cleanup, and a monument to those buried on the site.
  • 20, June, 2003: The legendary Jefferson Davis Hospital just outside of downtown Houston will, finally, definitely, get a new life. The Environmental Protection Agency is giving $200,000.00 to an organization called Jefferson Davis Artists Lofts to turn the relic into -- you guessed it -- artists lofts. A press release from Senator John Cornyn's office describes the building as, "a magnet for gangs and the homeless, as well as an attractive nuisance for youths." Cornyn says, "This effort will help remove the blight and dangers created when the hospital was abandoned, and will help spur investment and renewal in the surrounding neighborhood, creating new jobs."
  • 31 July, 2003: A group of college students looking for ghosts is robbed at Jefferson Davis Hospital. KTRK Television reports that the robbers fired gunshots at them, but no one was hurt.
  • 23 September, 2004: Work begins on turning the abandoned hospital into a place for low-income artists to work and live.
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