New Bench to Offer Solace to Visitors at Urban Oasis

New Bench to Offer Solace to Visitors at Urban Oasis

by Deborah Mann Lake
Houston Chronicle
Thursday December 6, 2001

A new custom-designed, hand-painted bench awaits the trickle of people who hopefully will take the time to explore James Bute Park, established on the site of one of the earliest settlements in Houston.

Adjacent to the historic McKee Street Bridge and owned by the nonprofit group Art & Environmental Architecture, the park has almost been a holy quest for founder Kirk Farris.

And it is in Farris’ honor that the bench was donated by local furniture artist, interior designer and gallery owner Kelly Gale Amen.

“Anyone who has spent that amount of time, energy and dedication to create and save a public environment should be honored,” said Amen, who designed the stainless steel bench and commissioned local artist John Palmer to paint it.

Farris was standing in line at the post office months ago when he began pouring his heart out to Amen, a long-time friend, about his woes in trying to get the attention of the city of Houston and other government agencies to help save the park.

An oasis of green shaded by cottonwoods in the middle of a highly developed urban area located blocks away from Enron Field, the park includes benches, tables and a small gazebo, as well as the new, colorful bench.

Eventually Farris would like to add a dock along Buffalo Bayou, which borders the park, and more Amen-designed benches sponsored by interested Houstonians.

Situated in a grove of trees, the site of the bench was chosen to encourage quiet reflection. An old billboard that looms over the site was also commissioned by Amen and painted by Palmer as public art.

“Objects (of art) are informational, beautiful and permanent,” Amen says. “In cities, I believe we need to make art as available as we make fast food.”

When Farris first stumbled across the park, it was because of his interest in the McKee Street Bridge. he received permission to paint the structure in lively tones of purple and turquoise.

“I painted it to focus attention on it,” said Farris of the bridge, which has been placed on the National Engineering Record by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was cited because of its unusual design of a reinforced concrete girder bridge, the only recorded one of its kind in Texas.

Turning his attention to the nearby park, which he considered a “museum setting” for the bridge, Farris removed a four-foot layer of trash and tires and formed the non-profit group to begin purchasing land.

He hopes eventually to turn it over to the city for use as a park. In the meantime, it is already open for anyone to enjoy.

James Bute Park has a rich history. Once used for grazing cattle, the property was part of a purchase made by the Frost family in 1837 for a development that eventually became known as Frost Town. Home to Houston Mayor John T. Browne in the 1890s, it eventually became the victim of a railway line and the construction of U.S. 59.

The donation of the bench has strengthened Farris’ determination some day to have a wonderful park, he said.

“It really perked me up. I know it was a good thing (the donation) for the right reasons. Kelly is very well-known and things just pivoted off of him. I’m really enthused by it,” Farris said.

For more information about the park or Art & Environment Architecture, call 713-521-9453. In the meantime, Farris plugs along.

“I’m in the 100-year business,” he joked.

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