The hospital had been vacant for 20 years when a couple of non-profit groups, one local and one national, decided the location could meet the needs of Houston artists. Avenue Community Development Corporation Executive Director Mary Lawler says the First Ward historically has had a lot of artists.
"Because there's a lot of old warehouses here that artists naturally gravitated toward and used for studio space. And more and more galleries are opening in the neighborhood. We've started to have art crawls and that sort of thing in the area so I do see this area becoming a real center for the arts."
The Jefferson Davis Hospital, now called the Elder Street Artist Lofts, has 34 apartments. Lawler says residents started moving in last fall.
"We actually were finishing up the lease around the time of Hurricane Katrina and actually the last I think six units in the building were taken by evacuees from the hurricane from New Orleans."
The New Orleans artists were mostly jazz musicians as well as visual artists. The lofts meet a couple of needs for artists ... it provides both affordable housing and studio space. Each apartment's rent is based on income. The rents range from about $275 up to about $800 a month.
Painter Susan Goettsche moved in last fall. She says being in an artist community is inspiring.
"I think when you're an artist you want to be around other artists and it's kind of hard when you are not in a community where they are."
The networking opportunities have made a difference for Kameem Smith's career as a mixed media sculptor. She credits a gallery showing to living at the Elder Street Artist Lofts. It put to rest her one concern about moving ... and that was people's abilities to find the lofts, which are located on a dead end street just north of downtown Houston. Smith says living and working in the same space was a big draw for her because studio space can be expensive.
"If you can find the affordable ones you're really lucky but a lot of them tend to really get up there in price so I was trying to find a space to work and live. And when I found out about this space I said if I can get in here it would be a wonderfull opportunity for me to have a studio and live in that space as well."
Avenue CDC is working on adding more amenities for artists in the First Ward, including more affordable studio space. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.