08/24/16 2:15pm

HOW A FORMER ENRON TRADER BROUGHT HI-RES AERIAL SURVEILLANCE TO BALTIMORE Persistent Surveillance Systems sample screen captureA report from Monte Reel this week reveals that the Baltimore police department has been running a secret surveillance-by-Cessna program since January, with funding from the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the philanthropic organization owned by former Enron trader and Centaurus Advisors founder John Arnold and his wife. The couple, which has put funding toward causes ranging from pension reform to the KIPP charter schools to police body camera use studies, contacted Ross McNutt, whose company Persistent Surveillance Systems developed out of his plane-based surveillance projects intended to investigate roadside bombings in mid-2000s Iraq. After the company was featured by Radiolab, McNutt “got an e-mail on behalf of [the Arnolds, who] told McNutt that if he could find a city that would allow the company to fly for several months, they would donate the money to keep the plane in the air.  . . . ‘We settled in on Baltimore because it was ready, it was willing, and it was just post-Freddie Gray,’ McNutt says.” The plane, which can grab images over a 30-square-mile area, has been secretly flying over Baltimore for up to 10 hours per day, sending back photos at a rate of 1 shot per second. [Bloomberg] Capture of PSS law enforcement support system: Persistent Surveillance Systems

08/24/16 12:00pm

205 E. 5th St., Houston Heights

205 E. 5th St., Houston Heights

The home at 205 E. 5th St. in the Houston Heights is sponsoring this site today. Swamplot appreciates the support!

The main living spaces in this home in the Houston Heights South Historic District are on the second floor. The ground-floor entry leads to a gated yard. Up the front stairs from that yard is the second-floor front door, which opens to a screened porch. From there follow the formal living room and dining room (seen in the photo at top); a bookshelf-lined library or study connected by a pair of French doors to the dining room has a gas-burning fireplace and a window seat tucked between shelving units. A breakfast room with custom china cabinets (pictured above) sits between the kitchen and a den.

The master suite, on the first floor, has private access to the side porch and yard and includes a flex room suitable for an office or workout space. A walk-in closet includes built-in cabinets and shelving; the master bath has sinks incorporated into 2 separate antique vanities, along with a claw-foot tub and separate shower. The 2 secondary bedrooms on the third floor each have vaulted ceilings.

The entire 3-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath, 3,888-sq.-ft. home was transformed from an original bungalow by Heights renovation specialists Bungalow Revival. It’s sited just less than 2 blocks away from local dining favorites Coltivare, Revival Market, and Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts. If you’d like to see more photos of the home’s unique spaces, do check out the property website, where you can also find additional information.

Become a Swamplot sponsor and show us your historic transformation! Find out how — here.


Sponsor of the Day
08/24/16 10:30am

La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77098 La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77098

The Richmond Ave branch of La Tapatia at the corner of Woodhead St. is back in operation this week after the late summer toasting of its 1969 building, a few readers report. Up top is a shot of the July 22 response from the Houston Fire Department (whose Station 16 is located a convenient half-block away across Richmond at the corner with Dunlavy St.). That’s Fairmont Museum District looking on worriedly from the background; the poop-scrutinizing Richwood Place apartment complex’s older half would have had a clear view of the action from the western turret. 

Photos: Marcie Newton (top), James Glassman (sign)

Where There’s Queso, There Was Fire
08/24/16 8:30am


Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

08/23/16 5:45pm

1403 McGowen St., Midtown, Houston, 77004
Variance request at 1403 McGowen St.

Signage up on McGowen between La Branch and Austin streets heralds the property owner’s recent request for a few variances approvals from the city, include reduced building line setbacks on the site. Plans submitted with the request show cross sections of an 8-story midrise (arranged as 3 levels of parking topped by condo units above), which the application says was planned back when the owners were under the impression that the lot already had reduced building setbacks following city approvals of a previous owner’s project on the land that fell through.

As was discovered during the city’s permitting review, the previous variance approval was only applicable to the scrapped project, though the application claims that caveat wasn’t noted with mentions of the variance attached to the property’s plat records. City planners purportedly told the developers (which appear to include Knudson and Allied Orion Group) that they could get the same reduced setback lines approved again if they turn the first floor of the condo project into residences or retail.


Midtown Condo Limbo
08/23/16 12:30pm

36 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 7701936 Tiel Way, River Oaks, Houston, 77019

The air-conditioned 2-story playhouse at 36 Tiel Way is on the market as of last Friday, along with its 5-bedroom mansion mate. The playhouse, featured as yesterday’s Home Listing Photo of the Day, was built back in 2011 by Kristi Schiller (the radio personality turned police-dog philanthropist formerly known as Lucy Lipps) and her husband. The playhouse includes running water, window planters, and a minifridge; the just-under-1-acre property backs up to Buffalo Bayou and also plays host to an outdoor kitchen and a saltwater pool.

Here’s the playhouse’s living room and upstairs, followed by a tour of the rest of the digs:


08/23/16 12:00pm

Gospel Truth Church, 1624 W. 34th St., Oak Forest, Houston

Gospel Truth Church, 1624 W. 34th St., Oak Forest, HoustonToday’s Sponsor of the Day post comes to us from Crescere Capital Management, with an announcement about the Gospel Truth Pentecostal Church in Oak Forest. Thanks for supporting Swamplot!

The Gospel Truth Pentecostal Church sits on a 2-acre site at 1624 W. 34th St., just east of Ella Blvd. The congregation has outgrown this facility and is moving to a much larger building now under construction at 809 West Rd. (and changing its name, to Victory Worship Center), which it hopes to occupy in time for Easter 2017. So . . . now there’s more news about changes in store for this part of Oak Forest. The Gospel Truth congregation has sold its 34th St. property to Crescere, the same company that owns the Shops at Oak Forest at the corner of 43rd St. and Ella Blvd. and is developing the new 33 1/3 @ Thirtyfourth retail center at the corner of 34th and Ella — a half-block away from the church on the other side of the street.

The church, which was built in 1970, is a 7,000-sq.-ft. structure that could be repurposed for any number of uses — especially any requiring plenty of parking. The building fronts 34th St, with parking lots in back, fronting both 34th 1/2 St. in back and Couch St. on the west side.

If you’re interested in leasing this space or getting more information about it, talk to the leasing agent, Tony Armstrong. He can be reached at (713) 222-2737.

Got an important neighborhood announcement? If it’s on Swamplot, your neighbors will read it. Find out how to become a Swamplot Sponsor of the Day here.

Sponsor of the Day
08/23/16 10:30am

17695 Hwy. 249, Willowbrook, Houston, 77064

With the Mattress Firm peeking in from the left and the Office Depot edging in from the right, here’s the former 59 Diner across Hwy. 249 from Willowbrook Mall. The jagged freestanding building went up for lease around the same time as all those other 59 locations opened up in the wake of the chain’s March shutdown; now, as other former 59s are beginning to pick up new tenants, the Willowbrook spot is being spruced up to reopen as a branch of Dimassi’s Mediterranean Buffet. That boxy framework hanging around over the entrance looks to be the leftovers of the 59 signage, shown below in this previous listing shot of the restaurant (taken before the structure’s teal-heavy retro color scheme got beiged away):


Ups and Downs Willowbrook
08/23/16 8:30am


Photo of Pride Wall Montrose: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

08/22/16 5:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: RETURNING TO RESTORE MONTROSE AND MIDTOWN’S RIGHTFUL TERRITORIES Raising Cane's, 1902 Westheimer Rd., Vermont Commons,  Houston, TX 77098“I spent some time away from my beloved Houston. When I returned I found that ‘the Fourth Ward’ had been replaced with ‘NearTown’, and no one quite knew where Montrose was, let alone River Oaks. Please allow me to elucidate: the Fourth Ward ends at Taft; Montrose is precisely between Shepard and Taft, and Dallas and Richmond. ‘NearTown’ is a word invented by a half-drunk Realtor. It is that place on Allen Pkwy. directly underneath the I-45 overpass. ‘Midtown’ is the intersection of Main Street and Buffalo Bayou from which all house numbers in Houston radiate.” [Pat Bryan, commenting on Raising Cane’s Now Raising the Midtown Banner in Vermont Commons] Photo of Raising Cane’s at 1902 Westheimer Rd.: Swamplot inbox