12/17/14 5:05pm


With the U.S.-Cuba cold war finally melting away, it’s as good a time as ever to point out a few key sites from Fidel Castro’s trip to the area, and those associated with Houston’s Robert Ray McKeown, the machinist-turned-international businessman-turned-peripheral figure to the JFK assassination. McKeown was also Castro’s best buddy on Galveston Bay, and a man who claimed to have met Lee Oswald in San Leon and sipped beer with Jack Ruby at Jimmie Walker’s Edgewater Restaurant in Kemah.

The story begins in Houston in 1950. McKeown, then 39, was a machinist with his own shop in Pasadena. One day his ship came in: an inventor approached him with a plan for a machine that could clean coffee better than any other before it. McKeown built the machine, and apparently several more, and the two men went into business. McKeown trolled the coffee ports of Latin America for sales, which eventually lead to him moving to Santiago, Cuba during the administration of president Carlos Prío Socarrás, who would become a friend.


Cold War Picaresque
12/17/14 1:45pm

It’s a new era for Houston.

And with this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, we aim to identify the Best Sign of the New Houston.

Based on your prescient nominations, we’ve compiled the official ballot. But what’s the most defining sign of where the Bayou City’s bound? You tell us!

You can vote for your favorite by leaving a comment below this post or through email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can do all 4, too — as long as you follow these rules. That includes one minor tweak to this year’s awards — we’ll only be counting votes submitted via the first 2 methods from voters who’ve signed up for the Swamplot email list. (If you haven’t done so already, you can join it through this link or the box at the top left of this page.) Just don’t forget to tell us why the neighborhood you selected is getting your vote.

Now allow us to introduce the official nominees for the Best Sign of the New Houston:


The 2014 Swampies
12/17/14 12:00pm


Next up at 3704 Fannin, known to some as the old Evelyn Wilson Interiors building, The Vanderbilt Sports Lounge.

It’s a block or two from the bustling Ensemble MetroRail stop and the under-construction Mid Main mixed-use development.

Once complete, the Vanderbilt promises 55 teevees airing football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, boxing, and UFC, an “upscale menu,” and a third-floor cocktail lounge with a panoramic view of the city.

The building is owned and being renovated by Cody Lutsch of Fat Properties Property, a frequent Swamplot commenter and until now, known more as a purchaser of aging Inner Loop apartment buildings.

Lutsch sent us a few pics of the Vanderbilt’s ongoing renovations, along with a few “before” shots:


Fannin The Flames
12/17/14 10:30am

THE SPJST IS NOT CZECHING OUT OF SHADY ACRES, ACCORDING TO LODGE CHAIRMAN spjst-beall-st-300entryTalk of an upcoming sale of the SPJST Lodge #88 is no more than just talk, according to the lodge’s chairman of the board Mildred Holeman. “The consensus has been that it will not be sold at any price,” she tells the Houston Chronicle‘s Craig Hlavaty, referring to an ongoing mail-in election to decide whether or not the Czech heritage fraternal organization, dance hall, party venue and once-a-week bingo parlor will remain on the 9-acre Shady Acres site at 1435 Beall St. it will have occupied for 50 years next year. Holeman, 88 and a real estate agent, also dishes details on the property’s suitors: townhome developers who have offered the organization $10 million. Long-term lodge member Lindsey Michalak-Kindall did not share Holeman’s assurance of a secure future for the lodge. She tells Hlavaty that the explanation letter and ballot went out too late for members to learn of the one and only meeting to discuss the possible sale — last weekend, only a day or two after most members received the letter and ballot. She also characterized the letter as “doom and gloom” and blase about what would happen to the lodge if the property was sold. All ballots must be in the organization’s Temple, Texas head office by December 31, with an announcement of the election’s result coming at January’s Houston membership meeting. [Houston Chronicle, previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox.)

12/17/14 8:30am

highland village

Photo of Highland Village: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

12/16/14 3:00pm

The list of official nominees for the next category in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate is parked here! It’s the award for the Best Mobile Food Vendor Location in and around the city.

Where’s the best go-to spot for H-Town grub-on-the-go? And what makes it that way? The nominees in this category were picked out by Swamplot readers. Now it’s time to look over the menu and vote for the winner.

You can vote by leaving a comment below or through email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can use all four methods (once each) to vote — but that’s the limit. Please note that this year we’ll only be counting votes submitted via the first 2 methods from voters who’ve signed up for the Swamplot email list. (If you haven’t done so already, you can join it through this link or the box at the top left of this page.) When you vote, please tell us why you think your pick should win.

The nominees for the 2014 Best Mobile Food Vendor Location are . . .


The 2014 Swampies
12/16/14 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: BOSTON. IT’S WORTH IT TOO. Green Line Train, Boston“I live in Boston which is pretty much the anti-Houston, moving there as an adult fleeing some of the things Blue Dog celebrates. Born and raised in sprawling Omaha, Nebraska, with its struggling downtown and leapfrogging subdivisions, I came east seeking the density, the option of subways and streetcars and walking because of the relative proximity of destinations, the historic architecture of row houses and institutions, the amenities of a major gateway city with an urban vibe. You’d hate Boston, the high cost of living, the terrible traffic on our chaotic layout of colliding streets, the lack of space, and the cold winters. I don’t like those things either, but I’ve decided to live with them because of the things I do like. You’ve made your choice too, and you intelligently don’t deny that you live in flat, sprawling, hot-humid, ten-lane-wide highway beribboned mass of strip mall scattered anonymity because you like it. And no snobby eastern elitist transplant so blinkered, he can’t appreciate the collective expression of American freedom that is Post Oak or The Woodlands or Sugarland or cul-de-sac-paradise-of-your-choice will . . . convince you otherwise. Midtown does seem to me kind of nice though :-)” [Robert H, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Real Houston Is Outside Those Tiny Urban Islands] Illustration: Lulu

12/16/14 1:00pm


Known to passersby as much for its solid (though decorative) brick-and-stone wall as for the neoclassical and French-ish features that peek over it, this baronial 1930 home in Riverside Terrace arrived on the market a week ago. What wonders await beyond its fortifications? Well, for starters there’s the $1.5 million asking price for a property a couple blocks north of Brays Bayou and a couple blocks east of Hwy. 288. Have a peek at a few more:


Behind the Brick Wall
12/16/14 12:08pm


Meeting in special session in College Station on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents will vote on a measure to rename the campus’s iconic, 100-year-old Academic Building the “Governor Rick Perry ’72 Building.”

Also on the agenda: a vote on a resolution to honor the recently-indicted Aggie alum’s “outstanding dedication and service” during his longest-ever stint as a Texas governor.

The potential Rick Perry ’72 Building was actually built in ’14, 2 years after Texas A&M’s Old Main building burned to the ground:


Aggie Immortals
12/16/14 10:30am


These mighty fallen timbers are just “one of the costs of development,” writes a reader with a commanding, bird’s-eye-view of Tema Development’s just-commenced addition to the Parklane amid its planned four-phase Hermann Park-side portfolio. “I’d love to know when these trees were planted and what was originally on the lot. Purely based on size, most appear to be 30 to 60 years old and many are larger than the trees in Hermann Park.”


12/16/14 8:30am


Photo of Southwest Freeway: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool