Fueled by in-your-gut, fuzz-toned guitar, three chords and cheap sunglasses, the “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” is one of America’s indisputably influential power trios, but it was a guy backstage with the potent clout of a stack of Marshalls cranked up to 10 that helped ZZ Top conquer the globe’s airwaves, racking up $50 million-plus worth of record sales in the process.
American music impresario Bill Ham passed June 20, 2016 – a Texas music titan with the management, production and image-making chops to make Billy Gibbon’s boast true: “I’m bad, I’m nationwide.”
Before this Houston legend left earth, he and The Energy Corridor District began collaborating on an idea for what could become Ham’s parting encore: a pocket park under the graceful Live Oak trees in Grisby Square, on land Ham owned.
“What better way to pay tribute to one of Houston’s musical legends than to build a park and draw attention to his powerful impact with artwork,” says Clark Martinson, executive director for The District. “Grisby Square is one of Houston’s most unique and memorable areas. It’s iconic. As was Bill Ham.”
The park, explains Martinson, could be an incubator for Grisby Square, with narrow, tree-lined streets that beckon for a chance to host a farmer’s market, pop-up vendors and events.
“Before Highway 6 was widened, there used to be a fruit stand under the Live Oaks there,” reminisces Martinson. “It was a summer destination, a regular stop for many folks. Imagine a Grisby Square that embraces its rural, agricultural roots by preserving grand trees and embracing its unique vibe.”
At the August 2016 District public meeting, board members took the first steps toward making a park with a Bill Ham tribute possible. The board approved a plan to amend an easement for what could become the park area; provided funds for Houston design firm Asakura Robinson to prepare a concept plan; and gave the green light to fertilizing and pruning those curvaceous Live Oaks.
Unlike ZZ Top’s straight-ahead tunes, this project is a bit more complicated.
Hospitality USA (HUSA) owns Watson’s Pub in Grisby Square with a 20-year lease on what is now the Bill Ham estate’s property. HUSA has agreed to enter into an agreement with The District to amend the Ham easement and not charge The District to use the land for a public park. In return, The District will prepare a plan for the park, conduct a survey to define the easement tract and then take care of tree preservation, maintenance, construction and operations.
Like Top’s reach yonder Texas borders, the Asakura Robinson proposal goes beyond designing a pocket park. It would be a concept plan for the pocket park plus a Grisby Square streetscape and possibly a community garden.
Asakura Robinson designed The District’s woonerf at Grisby Square – a shared street with permeable pavers that has earned accolades in the press and awards from trade associations.
The pocket park and streetscape plan could be the first verse in a magnum opus master plan that The District envisions for Grisby Square, one “that celebrates its rural roots by conserving it, enhancing it and making it more of what it is,” says Martinson.
As a tribute, the park could pay homage to a legacy that extended well beyond the bearded ones. Bill Ham’s Lone Wolf Productions discovered multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter Clint Black and managed renowned Austin guitar-slinger Eric Johnson, blues-rock guitarist Van Wilks and others. Ham also founded some of the most successful country music publishing companies in America, with songs that often reached top-10 country chart status.
For more on The District Grisby Square master plan vision, visit here.