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Menil, the millionaire collector, had to walk around his posh neighborhood with a baby stroller when he and his wife Dominique first settled in Houston, because no one would talk to a stranger unless he had an infant along as a conversation-starter. \(Later they made up for this slight by establishing a court of liberals around them which was every bit as snobbish and chilly, but that’s There seemed, in that Heroic Age, an attractively naive dynamism of limitless expansion in the economic sphere, while the cultural institutions attempted mightily and, for the most part, successfully to keep pace. Just to hear the old-timers talk about the fabulous James Johnson Sweeney installations at the MFA, or the groundbreaking exhibits organized by Jerrie McKagy and the Menils, is to imagine a time when one could do something in and to the city that really made a difference. I myself may find the Pennzoil Building by Philip Johnson a dreary, all-too-familiar variation of corporate architectural narcissism; and yet, the Pennzoil’s sliced pyramid was obviously a sensational symbol of Houston’s can-do brashness and audacity when it first appeared along the freeway vista of downtown. I recently watched a film made in 1977 by Lois Start, We Are What We Build, about the architectural and city planning choices facing an expanding Houston. In it, our distinguished local architect, Howard Barnstone, declared, with a slightly mischievous look in his eyes, that the Pennzoil skyscraper was “the most important building of the 20th Century.” Barnstone seemed perfectly aware that he was violating conventional architectural wisdom; but the statement was in keeping with his enthusiastic defense of the new Houston. It was Barnstone more than anyone else who helped evolve an unapologetic aesthetic for a city meant to serve cars. There are those, like myself, usually from older cities, who associate urbanity with pedestrian circulation; we cannot help regarding the replacement of Houston’s old, walking downtown with a glasswall 9-to-5 corporate environment as a mistake. But Barnstone’s position had to be taken seriously, because he had such personal intelligence and integrity. The irony is that you can no longer even see the Pennzoil’s profile clearly from the highway, so thoroughly has it been shunted aside by more recent darlings \(including Philip Johnson’s own Howard Barnstone’s own buildings are much more sensitive than Johnson’s to the preservation of the streetwall and the promotion of a civil urban environment. He was a master of small, connected townhouses, executed with lively and loving detail. I use the past tense, regrettably, because Howard killed himself last week, with an overdose of sleeping pills. He was 64. TOWARDS THE END of his life, Barnstone was having trouble attracting enough work to keep his office open. In one of those twists almost too gruesome to contemplate, two days after he committed suicide, a letter arrived announcing that his proposal had been chosen for a major project. Might he not have staved off self-destruction long enough to go through with the commission? and by then, might not his mood have changed? We all knew that Howard was a manic-depressive. I had only a halfdozen difficult conversations with him over the years; and each time he seemed to be under a stress of intense inner pain. You wonder why a person who has lived so long with such anguish will suddenly decide, at X-point, that he has had enough. Fatigue, maybe. He was a short, dapper man, with a formal air which hid \(as those who knew him well acter. Sometimes I like to imagine him married to Gertrude Barnstone in the old days the fiery statuesque, activist/sculptress Gertrude before they got their divorce and he settled into being gay. An interesting couple they must have been, as they raised three children together. Howard, a Jew from Maine, had gone to Yale, migrated to this Southwestern city and tried to blend in. His hero in some ways was John Staub, another transplanted Yankee who moved down here in an earlier age and became the mansion-builder for Houston’s high society. Howard wrote an excellent, admiring book about Staub. But Howard himself always remained something of an outsider, even though he managed to get himself listed in the Social Register and converted to Episcopalianism. In any event, one of his most brilliant commissions was a society residence: the stunning Maher house, which has the modernist-classical austerity of a Japanese temple amid the romantically landscaped site of a jungle. If Philip Johnson is well on his way to becoming the PostModernist Monster That Ate The World, for which Houston must bear some responsibility, having let him have his way with the city first, then Houston should also take pride in having fostered a Howard Barnstone, who represented a decent, complex alternative. Barnstone could never rid himself of the stigma, “local Houston architect;” on the other hand, he intentionally gave his energies to the local scene, both as builder and teacher \(he was professor at the University of Houston’s School of Architecture for obituary, and I don’t mean it to be. The point I had wanted to make was that Howard Barnstone represented a big chunk of old Houston to me, and his death saddens me in more ways than one, as I desperately try to hold onto that sense of a past, in the face of the city’s insouciant amnesia and spreading anonymity. Who has seen the wind. .. . Bob Kaufman SOMEONE HAS. The answer. The question is: Who needs to know? For whose eyes only? That is the way things seem to be discussed these days. Everything is, of course, a matter of perception; ‘and, currently, our perceptions are more a matter of direction than explanation or exploration. Henry Miller suggested back in the 1940s that, because of Balzac, “Realism has taken the place of reality.” So it should come as no surprise that media-istic concepts rule our minds. No one, for example, can imagine .New York City without some dimly remembered low-budget file footage aerial photo flip-flopping into mind. Our cities of the hinterland, no matter how splendid, must somehow suffer in comparison. I mean, floating in on the Hindenburg above glittering spires glittering out of a glittering polluted bay and silver rivulets could not possibly compare to the vista seen by sweaty motorists churning along an endless Interstate to suddenly confront a batch of skyscrapers coming up like irradiated cactus out of mud or sand. CrossCurrents By Lorenzo Thomas 10 MAY 29, 1987