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Old World La Colombe d’Or gets update

Renderings reveal plans for modern residential tower to connect to stately hotel, also getting a makeover

The stately La Colombe d’Or was filled with Old World charm, both in the Fondren mansion fronting Montrose Boulevard as well as the Grand Salon ballroom swathed in French antiquities right behind it. But now, concrete trucks, scaffolding and massive steel beams mark the site where developers and architects are creating something dramatically new and different. Passersby likely look at the 34-story tower taking shape behind the 1923 mansion — the site draped in construction shrouding, scaffolding and fencing — and wonder, “What’s coming next?”

Now, the creative team of Munoz + Albin architects and Rottet Studio interiors architects have released renderings of their plans for the new La Colombe d’Or Hotel and Residences tower and outdoor spaces that will connect with the existing mansion, also getting its own $10 million makeover. Their task was to freshen up the old mansion while creating a new contemporary hotel/residential tower — in a way that the two work together. “A lot of times people try to make things transitional,” Lauren Rottet said of the term used for a contemporary-traditional combination. “You take the traditional and you up it, and you take the contemporary and you down it — and then you kind of have milquetoast.” “We said, ‘Let’s not do that,’ ” she continued.

“Let’s keep La Colombe d’Or as it was and make this (tower) contemporary, and the bridge will be the landscape. That’s something you would do.” Since much of La Colombe d’Or’s influence was French antiquities, architecture and decorative arts, Rottet and Munoz leaned on that style but with an American twist and 21st-century sensibility. “That was the challenge we had. How do you create architecture that is representative of the old traditions of the south of France, which both of these men, Gerald Hines and Steve Zimmerman, love passionately,” Jorge Munoz said of Hines, the project’s developer, and Zimmerman, who owns La Colombe d’Or. “That was on the table on Day 1.” (TIAA Global Asset Management is another partner in this venture; Urban Oaks Builders is the contractor.) For Rottet, the south of France translates to being outdoors and bringing nature to the project in the form of limestone and greenery, specifically, ivy. For Rottet, the south of France translates to being outdoors and bringing nature to the project in the form of limestone and greenery, specifically, ivy.

The outdoor space that bridges the two buildings will have dining and a bar, a fireplace, water feature and even a small park. A welcoming motor court and lobby will make you feel like you’ve arrived at a swanky place and entered a comfortable, contemporary living room.

Renderings show a woodpaneled wall behind a sofa and chairs with a fireplace set into a wall covered in sleek stone tile — all very much with a residential feel. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows offer a view to the outdoors. There’s also nearby “parlor” seating, though all of the furnishings are modern designs — not the traditional style you might associate with the word “parlor.”

A hallway from the outdoor space between the mansion and tower serves almost as an art gallery, with big open walls. One is reserved for a special piece being created by artist/designer Simon Heijdens from his Lightweeds series, video art of a digitally created tree that visitors will watch grow up the wall. The 10th floor — what they call the amenities level — has public spaces that hotel guests and apartment dwellers alike can use. There’s a pool and a big view of downtown, but inside are a kitchen and private dining area that anyone can use, and a living-room setting where people can watch TV, read, work on laptops or even play games.

“There’s a new cultural thing that we call ‘being alone together.’ People are tired of being alone; it’s them and their laptop, them and their laptop, all day long,” Rottet said. “They want to go somewhere and be with other people. They don’t want to be alone with their television.” For the exterior, Munoz played with materials to distinguish the first two levels of the tower as hotel space, then another section with floors for the parking garage holding panels that appear to float off the side of the building. At the 10th floor, windows are set back a couple of feet to mark a transition to the residential floors.

The tower itself will have 18 more hotel rooms — in addition to the five in the mansion — plus a parking garage and 265 apartments and penthouses ranging from 740 square feet to 3,100 square feet. Rents are expected to be $2,225 to $5,830 for apartments and $7,250 to $11,550 for penthouses. They’ll start preleasing in October, and the building is expected to be finished in third quarter 2020. Both Munoz and Rottet are known for their modern style and elegant touch. Two of Munoz + Albin’s more recent and recognizable projects in the area are The George hotel in College Station and The Southmore apartment building in Museum Park, across the street from the Asia Society.

Rottet Studio, known for its beautiful interiors architecture projects around the world, last year earned awards for its work on the glamorous Hotel Alessandra in Houston and for its work on the renovation of the New York Stock Exchange. The La Colombe d’Or project has some cachet of its own. The Zimmerman family poured plenty of personality into its hotel/restaurant/event venue for the 36 years they’ve owned it. Though the hotel and its upscale Cinq restaurant are closed for the duration of the renovation and construction, they’re expected to announce later what the new restaurant concept there will be. The event space — dubbed Le Grand Salon de la Comtesse after the Franco-Belgian La Comtesse Elisabeth Greffulhe, for whom it was built in the 1730s — was dismantled and is in storage somewhere, waiting for Zimmerman to decide what to do with it next. The panels of quarter-sawn English oak, gilded-frame mirrors and sparkling chandeliers that decorated the ballroom were acquired by Zimmerman in 1995 from John Mecom Jr., whose father originally purchased them in the 1960s, shipped them here from France and then stored them in a hangar in Hitchcock for 33 years. Zimmerman is also an avid collector of art and filled La Colombe d’Or with works by Earl Staley, Dorothy Hood, Lucas Johnson and others.

—HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Story by Diane Cowen