Market Square Park, the original heart of community activity in downtown Houston, is once again the place to be. Combining live entertainment, tasty temptations by Niko Niko’s, shady walkways and dog runs to rival all dog runs, Market Square Park is reminiscent of another era where neighbors gather and enjoy the space they call home.

Market Square’s storied past reflects Houston’s own boom, bust, and boom again history.
The Past

The Historic District is Houston's original town center. It’s where the Allen brothers landed, determined to create the city of the future in 1836. Just two blocks from Allen's Landing at Market Square (orginally named Congress Square), they located the civic center of the new city, and for 100 years it served as a home to four City Halls as well as a buzzing open-air produce and fish market.

Market Square burned through three City Hall buildings, with fires in 1876, 1901 and 1960, when the space finally settled as a parking lot for Houston’s party scene. In the mid ‘60s and early ‘70s Market Square was Houston’s soul – full of the day’s hottest nightclubs and restaurants and the place to be for visiting celebrities such as Liza Minnelli and Johnny Carson.

The Junior League of Houston campaigned for the space’s revival in the mid '70s, turning the parking lot into a green space. Not long after, in the late 1980s, the art non-profit, DiverseWorks coordinated a renovation of Market Square Park, planting local artists’ work throughout the space.

And while the oil bust of the '80s and the demolition of some of its most beloved historic buildings left the square (and the Historic District itself) almost forgotten for years, it is making a real comeback today.

The Present

Houston Downtown Management District, Downtown Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ #3 and the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department redeveloped Market Square Park in August 2010, after lending their ears to downtown residents, business and property owners. With these stakeholders in mind, the park has been transformed into a destination for residents and visitors alike, while preserving the park’s historical and artistic roots.

The goals for the redesigned Market Square Park were to acknowledge the history of the site; to provide an active, urban green space adapted to the needs of a diverse neighborhood; and to conserve its existing artwork while incorporating new works of art.

Today, a visitor can follow a black granite band through the park for a tour around the footprint of their foundation. A rectangular lawn sits at the foundation’s center, and the park cafe and James Surls’ Points of View occupy the spaces where the buildings’ towers once stood while framing the present day dining trellis, performance stage and plaza. On the west side of the lawn, a crescent-shaped dog run provides a welcoming place for the canine contingent to play off-leash. Lauren’s Garden, a space dedicated to the memory of all who were lost on September 11, 2001, is named for Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, a Houstonian and passenger aboard United Flight 93. Offering a respite for meditation and remembrance, this tribute garden of seasonal plantings, flowering trees, plaza and fountain is a gift to the city from the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation.

Much of Market Square’s art collection was featured in the park’s previous design coordinated by DiverseWorks in 1991, with the unified message of embracing our city’s history. These works by Richard Turner, Paul Hester, James Surls and Malou Flato are preserved or reconfigured in the current design. Newly commissioned artwork includes sculptures by Ketria Bastian Scott and Sharon Connally Ammann in Lauren’s Garden and James Phillips’ carved pup near the dog run.

To create a truly diverse park that can accommodate a growing and diverse community, many great minds came together. Lauren Griffith Associates, a Houston-based landscape architect, led the design and Kerry Goelzer and Ray + Hollington Architects and Tribble & Stephens all consulted on the project and designed a park that was in keeping with history and embracing of the future.

Site Platted at Congress Square
Renamed Market Square
First Market House built
First City Hall built
Second City Hall and Market built; destroyed by fire in 1876
Third City Hall and Market House built; destroyed by fire in 1901
Fourth City Hall and Market House built
City Market moved to a new site on Buffalo Bayou at Prairie Avenue and Smith Street
City government moved to new City Hall in Civic Center at McKinney Avenue and Bagby Street; the 1904
1904 City Hall burns; site converted to parking lot
Site designated a park, but continues to serve as a parking lot
Fred Buxton & Associates wins a competition for design of a new park; park presented to the city as Bicentennial gift by the Junior League of Houston
Site listed in National Register of Historic Places
Diverse Works, Inc., a nonprofit art center, proposes a redesign of the park by artists in collaboration with the Parks Department
Artist team selected by panel process; design approved by Municipal Art Commission
Phase I site preparation coordinated by Downtown Houston Association, a nonprofit civic organization
The Houston Market Square Park Project, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, formed to fund and construct Phase II, the artists' design
City Council approves Phase II of Design and designates Main Street Market Square Historic District as the first historic district; groundbreaking held
Park dedicated improvements given to the city by the Houston Market Square Park Project, Inc.
Downtown Redevelopment Authority brings in Project for Public Spaces (PPS) to study the park; outreach to the community ensues
Downtown Redevelopment Authority approves funding for the park renovation; Houston Downtown Management District enters into an interlocal agreement with the City of Houston Parks & Recreation to manage the construction / renovation of the park and to operate the park once open
Final design presented to the community; park break ground
Grand re-opening of the park on August 28