Houston’s Buried Treasure

The city recently unearthed a man-made marvel.
by | July 2016
(Katya Horner)

Buried treasures are kind of rare in Houston. The city’s clay soil and high water table make digging there -- let alone hiding away valuables -- difficult. Nevertheless, a treasure of sorts was recently unearthed: Houston’s first underground drinking water reservoir, built in 1926 and decommissioned in 2007 due to an irreparable leak, was “rediscovered” by a company developing parkland in the area. The cavernous structure, dubbed the Cistern, is as large as one-and-a-half football fields -- the longest recorded echo measured down there was 17 seconds -- and features 221 25-foot-tall, slender concrete columns. In May, the man-made marvel opened to the public. For $2, visitors can take a 30-minute tour along a narrow catwalk halfway between the Cistern’s ceiling and floor, which is covered in 2 inches of water. Those who are reluctant to go underground can have a peek through a periscope above. The city had initially planned to demolish the Cistern, or use it for parking, but ultimately opted to leave the site mostly as it was. In addition to featuring the magnificent public space, officials hope to use the Cistern to house temporary environmental art installations.