Market Square Park | Historic Beauty in Downtown Houston
Market Square Park in downtown Houston covers an entire city block. It has been transformed from its original purpose over the years to the scenic beauty that it is today. It is a part of the downtown historic district. A sign erected by the State Historical Survey Committee of Texas tells the following story.
“OLD MARKET SQUARE
Platted 1836 by surveyors Gail Borden, Jr., and Moses Lapham as “Congress Square”. It was intention of city fathers Augustus C. and John K. Allen to have permanent capitol of Republic of Texas located here. However, this was never realized and almost immediately it became center of commerce for this flourishing city.
Residents, farmers, peddlers and Indians all crowded here daily with wagon loads of goods to trade. Soon merchants were vying for permanent sites for stores. One early observer noted “Reason for its popularity was that the municipal government was conducted in Kesler’s Arcade, a saloon only a half block away”.
In 1840 Houston’s first municipal market house was built here. Before it was completed, city officials voted to enlarge it and include a city hall also. For 30 years building served dual role – the market overflowing till it reached the streets. Many items, including household and farm goods, were sold here.
It was here, the Houston Independent Light Guard mobilized after Texas decided to invade Mexico, 1842.
Several municipal buildings occupied the site following original market – city hall. However, the seat of government was eventually moved to a new location and this became a park. (1970) ”
Footprints of the foundations of the buildings that have previously been situated on this site can be viewed by visitors.
A four sided concrete pillar has sculptured faces near the top. Those faces depict various emotions ranging from serious to happy. Written below each face is interesting park site chronology.
In August of 2010 the park debuted its new design. Old art was preserved and art lovers can readily appreciate all of the new art that has been added. Diverse Works was engaged to choose the artists who added new pieces of art to Market Square.
From all four streets which border the park (Milam, Preston, Travis and Congress) those lovely mosaic adorned benches can be seen and enjoyed. They were created by Texas artist Malou Flato.
Malou Flato spends half of her time in Texas and the other half in Montana with her husband who is a writer. Her drawings, paintings, sculptures and other forms of art are truly beautiful. She incorporated scenes into her mosaics which would have been common when Market Square in Houston was operating primarily as a marketplace as well as a center of local government.
There is a thin sheen of water running over those round mosaic ornamented fountains.
The James Surls treated pine and painted steel sculpture is titled “Points of View.” This 25 foot tall sculpture is centrally located in the park with a water feature at its base. It was created in 1991. To read more about the artist James Surls and to see another one of his sculptures titled “Tree and Three Flowers” located on Kirby Drive in Houston click here.
Numerous events such as free concerts, movies, bingo night and others are held in Market Square Park. The green spaces are perfect for accommodating many people. They have an online calendar to keep people informed of upcoming events.
Our canine friends have not been forgotten when it comes to enjoyment in this urban downtown park. They can be allowed to run off leash in this doggie play area near Milam street while in other areas of the park they must be kept on leash. Areas are divided for large as well as small dogs.
The Louis and Annie Friedman Clock Tower once stood atop the last city hall in this location. The first several city halls were lost to fires. The tower also houses an 1876 2800-pound fire bell. The four faces of the clock are each 7 1/2 feet in diameter.
There is an interesting story regarding this clock. When the last city hall at this location was demolished the clock was put into storage. Somehow it ended up in a dump! It was purchased by Clyde E. Gray and ended up in a park in Woodville, Texas. When the mistake was discovered, Mr. Gray relinquished the clock and it was returned to the City of Houston. It is wound every 8 days and adds its bit of history to this downtown historic district.
Lauren’s Garden located in Market Square off of Congress street is a touching memorial already featured in another post. Click on the Lauren’s Garden highlighted link to learn more about the sculptures by Ketria Scott, fountain, surrounding landscaping plus the poignant meaning behind it. It has to do with the infamous day of 9-11.
History and art are certainly intermingled in this downtown Houston park. Fragments from demolished buildings and historic remnants are installed into a walkway next to the dog park. Richard Turner is the artist who created this interesting art incorporating fragments of architecture into this “History Walk.” Many people strolling here probably do not understand the significance of what they are now walking upon.
Paul Hester is the founding President of the Houston Center for Photography. He also teaches photography at Rice University. Many people and institutions collect his wonderful photographic art including the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
It is interesting to see his many photographs of buildings in Houston along with the dates that they were taken. Some of these buildings no longer exist except in photographs such as this.
Installed along the fence where the dog park is situated in Market Square Park is a steel cutout form of Houston. Paul Hester is also credited with creating this sculptural form of art.
If you are looking closely at the two photographs above you can also see more of the historic remnants by Richard Turner in the walkway in front of the steel cutout and fence of the dog park.
Niko Niko’s is a Greek American Cafe located in Market Square Park. They also have two other locations in Houston. It is a great addition to the park for people who wish to purchase something to eat or drink while in the park.
With the shade of trees, umbrella tables and this shade structure with fans plus a mister, hot days are made more comfortable. There are many nearby restaurants if one wishes to get something different to eat. Treebeards is one such restaurant across the street from Market Square Park. It is located in an historic building dating back to 1861. It has an amazing mural painted on the side of the building.
This square was first donated to the City of Houston by Augustus Allen, one of the city founders, in 1854. If he was alive today I am certain that he would be pleased with the evolution of what has taken place here. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places it is a wonderful downtown space offering much to visitors as well as local residents and businesses.
If you are planning a trip to Houston and/or if you live here and have not yet visited Market Square Park, put on your happy face and come on down! Daily hours are from 6 a.m to 11 p.m. The address is 301 Milam Street, Houston, Texas 77002.