Market Square Park: Historic Beauty in Downtown Houston
Downtown Houston’s Market Square Park
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 the intention of city fathers Augustus C. and John K. Allen to have permanent capital 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) “
Park Site Chronology
Visitors can view footprints of the foundations of the buildings that have previously been on this site.
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 a park site chronology.
New Design in 2010
In August of 2010, the park debuted its new design. New artwork has joined what was already present in older art projects. Diverse Works was engaged in choosing the artists who added new pieces of art to Market Square.
Artist Malou Flato
From all four streets which border the park (Milam, Preston, Travis, and Congress), those lovely mosaic adorned benches can be seen and enjoyed. Texas artist Malou Flato created them.
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 lovely. 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 sheet of water running over those round mosaic ornamented fountains.
The artist James Surls made this treated pine, and painted steel sculpture titled “Points of View” in 1991. This 25-foot tall sculpture has a water feature at its base. James Surls also created a similar type of sculpture titled “Tree and Three Flowers,” located on Kirby Drive in Houston. If you check out that post that I have written, you will see the similarity between them.
Dog Park in Market Square Park
Our canine friends are not 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 a leash. Separate areas exist for the large as well as small dogs.
History and art make an excellent combination in this downtown Houston park. A walkway next to the dog park consists of fragments from demolished buildings and historical remnants. Richard Turner is the artist who created this interesting art incorporating pieces of architecture into this “History Walk.” Many people strolling here may not understand the significance of this walkway.
Installed along the fence where the dog park exists in Market Square Park is a steel cutout form of Houston. Paul Hester created this sculptural form of art.
If you are looking closely at the two photographs above, you can also see more of the historical remnants by Richard Turner in the walkway in front of the steel cutout and fence of the dog park.
The Louis and Annie Friedman Clock Tower once stood atop the last city hall in this location. The first several city halls are no longer here due 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 timepiece ended up in storage. Somehow it ended up in a dump! Clyde E. Gray purchased it. It became located in a park in Woodville, Texas. When the mistake became known, Mr. Gray relinquished the clock, and the City of Houston once again had possession of it. Wound every eight days, it 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. The sculptures by Ketria Scott, fountain, surrounding landscaping plus the poignant story behind it has much meaning. It has to do with the infamous day of 9-11.
Photographic Art in Market Square Park
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 beautiful photographic art, including the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
It is interesting to see his many pictures of buildings in Houston, along with the old dates. Some of these buildings no longer exist except in images such as this.
Restaurant in The Park
Niko Niko’s is a Greek American Cafe located in Market Square Park. They also have two other locations in Houston. It is an excellent 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. Located in a historic building dating back to 1861, it has a fantastic mural painted on the side of the structure.
Numerous events such as free concerts, movies, bingo nights, and others happen 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.
Augustus Allen, one of the city founders, in 1854, gave this land to the City of Houston. If he was alive today, I am confident 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 beautiful downtown space offering much to visitors as well as residents and businesses.
If you are planning a trip to Houston 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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Peggy Woods