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The Belle of Bellaire
Lake|Flato and SWA turn beloved Houston-area nursery into a public park.
Evelyn's Park will be constructed in phases as funding becomes available.
Courtesy Lake|Flato and SWA

Bellaire, Texas, one of the many smaller cities engulfed within Houston’s metropolitan area, is set to get a new public green space. Evelyn’s Park, as it is called, will soon be built on the site of the historic Teas Nursery, formerly located on the 4400 block of Bellaire Boulevard. After years of complicated maneuvering, the project is slowly inching closer to fruition, with construction expected to begin by January 2016.

Edward “Papa” Teas established Teas Nursery in 1910. It continued operating on the same site until the death of his grandson, John Teas, just shy of its 100th anniversary. To make a long story short, in 2009, when the land officially hit the market, brothers Jerry and Maury Rubenstein, owners of Texas Pipe and Supply Company and residents and civic supporters of Bellaire since the 1980s, quickly began negotiating with the Teas family before they could sell to another developer. The Rubensteins and the Teas came to an agreement to sell the acreage to the Jerry and Maury Rubenstein Foundation for an undisclosed sum with the intention that it would eventually become a public park named in honor of their mother, Evelyn Rubenstein. In 2011, the Rubenstein family created Evelyn’s Park Conservancy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a board made up of members appointed by Bellaire City Council and the Rubenstein Foundation, to administer the park and coordinate its delivery to the city. The Rubensteins and the Bellaire City Council each gave $100,000 as seed money to Evelyn’s Park Conservancy to begin planning. Later that year, Houston-based landscape architecture firm SWA Group, along with San Antonio-based Lake|Flato Architects, were hired to design the park and supporting buildings.

The design for Evelyn’s Park includes a great lawn, a monumental shade structure, a creek and lake, as well as a café and event space.

The scheme for Evelyn’s Park is typical of the program-heavy small urban park model that was inaugurated in the 1992 rehabilitation of New York’s famously decrepit Bryant Park by Hanna/Olin and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer. In the Houston area, this model has been used extensively, notably for Discovery Green in 2008 and Market Square Park in 2010.

The SWA and Lake|Flato design transforms the oldest of several Teas family houses that once existed on the property—a two-story wood-framed bungalow ordered from a Sears catalog and built in 1910 as Edward Teas’ own residence—into a café. Directly behind the café is a barn-like annex that can be rented out for additional income. Behind it is the main parking lot. Just east of the café complex is a “stream fountain” that mimics, in miniaturized form, the many bayous that snake through Harris County. It drains into a small lake at the rear of the park. The lake faces a “Great Lawn” that extends almost to the park’s southern boundary at Bellaire Boulevard. This end of the lawn is demarcated by what the architects call the “Trevillion” (trellis + pavilion), a 200-foot-long, gently curved, steel framed pergola that is intended to be the park’s landmark. In addition to these features, there is a small plaza and water feature in front of the café, a children’s garden and play area, butterfly gardens, a donor wall and donor plaza, a bog garden, a memorial garden for Evelyn Rubenstein, and a “native restoration buffer” planted along the northern boundary of the park to screen views of the Lovett Homes houses.

Phase 1 site plan (left) and the full build-out plan (right).

After the schematic plan was approved by City Council in 2012, the citizens of Bellaire overwhelmingly supported a $5 million bond for improving the park site in November 2013. Although this is generous, it is not quite a third of the park’s total $16.5 million estimated budget. Construction will be completed in stages. The $4.9 million phase one omits the stream fountain, the lake, and the trevillion, but includes the café complex and great lawn.

Ben Koush