January 4, 2018 Brien Straw

Can Graffiti Art Become A Historic Landmark In Houston






January 4, 2018

Can graffiti on a highway overpass be considered a historic landmark? A local man is hoping the answer is yes.

Coleton Emr, is the person behind the petition. In a brief interview he explains the reasoning behind his petition and his hopes for the “street art’s” future.

Since 2012, a painted sign proclaiming “Be Someone” has been displayed on a Union Pacific trestle above I-45 south, just outside downtown Houston. According to a petition on Change.org, the message should be protected as a historic landmark because it’s known as a symbol for the city.

There are currently more than 16,000 signatures on the petition. But the artwork becoming a landmark is unlikely. Union Pacific, which owns the bridge, is opposed to the designation. Jeff DeGraff, a spokesperson for the railroad said they support the message and the sentiment, but not the historic designation.

“Any application of artwork is a potential safety threat to both the artists, as well as the trains and the automobiles below it,” said DeGraff. He added that Union Pacific is aware of the petition and has no plans to change or alter the bridge.

Minnette Boesel, who chairs the 13 member Historic Commission for the city of Houston said no form of street art has ever been given historic status. In a statement Boesel says: 

“Thank you for contacting the Houston Archeological & Historical Commission (HAHC) re city historic designation of the culturally important urban artwork “Be Someone” on the I-45 railroad bridge located on the edge of downtown. While we applaud those wanting to preserve a symbolic urban artwork through city historic designation the possibility is challenging.  The online petition calls for designation as a “Protected Landmark” which requires owner approval/consent.   The city does not own the bridge and you may want to contact Union Pacific. The language in the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance provides for a process for the designation of buildings, structures, historic districts, objects and sites (such as archeological) that meet certain criteria stated in the ordinance.  The term “artwork” is not included in the language. The historic preservation ordinance does not have review over paint unless it is on unpainted masonry.  We hope this information is helpful. Thank  you.”

The state guidelines also don’t address the historic value of graffiti art.