Bellaire Field Study Notes

From the course description for Anthropology 325L: Ethnographies of Ordinary Life, spring semester, UT Austin:

This course tries to approach the “ordinary” through ethnographic research. Each student will choose a project for participant observation. Questions include: how is the ordinary made to seem meaningful or made invisible or naturalized? How is ordinary life experienced by particular people in particular situations? How is it the site of forms of attachment and agency? What are the practices of everyday life? How do people become invested in the idea and hope of having an ordinary life? How does ordinariness dull us, or escape us, or become a tempting scene of desire?

And an excerpt from a recent posting of student fieldnotes on the Ethnographies of Ordinary Life class blog:

Bellaire has a different story. My mom often tells friends of the family about how over the course of our first ten years in this house, there was always at least one house being torn down and rebuilt. Our house along with three or four others are now the only original houses on the street. And they are now dwarfed by the pseudo-stucco three story behemoths that have come to characterize Houston exurbs. The street is littered with showy luxury vehicles, and most of the new neighbors don’t really socialize with us or one another. And you should hear my father lament the plight of the trees on our street (and I am totally with this one). My mom stopped organizing the block party a few years ago simply because no one else expressed interest or willingness to help out.

One Comment

  • I am a former resident of Bellaire. I grew up there from 1978 to 1997 when we sold 5111 Aspen. I was 20 at the time of the sale. I will never forget how my neighborhood felt and looked as I went through my school years. I also will never forget watching it erode beneath my feet one house at a time.

    When I lived there, 4th of July in Bellaire Park, the Halloween parties, and wasting away summers at the city pools was the way to go. We had plenty of kids around to play games and decent friendly parents who brought us snacks or let us hang out in each others yards for hours on end. There were more Buicks, Fords, and Chevys in driveways and curbside.

    When I lived there, we had WWII vets with their families living on our street. Their kids either were going through college or had moved on and left their retired parents behind. We also had the first generation of yuppies with their small children trying to get into Condit and Kolter. Finally, we had a decent mix of singles, widows/widowers, and baby boomers. That lasted until about 1990, then all hell broke loose.

    Two things contributed to the demise of old Bellaire. The first was a renewed interest in living closer to Downtown, the Med Ctr., and the Galleria. This sucked in all the noveau riche yuppies and drove the property values sky high. The second thing that essentially drove the nail in the coffin was HCAD (Harris County Appraisal District) and the City of Bellaire doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the taxes on our homes year over year. Suddenly, our 1946 ranch style 4 bedroom home was worth $100 while the 120×65 lot underneath was soaring past $200K on the tax rolls.

    Naturally, this priced most of the older families out of their homes and created profit motive for others to sell and get something bigger out in the sticks. Combine this with the deaths of our older denizens, kids finishing Bellaire, and older professionals retiring, and you have the perfect storm.

    The builders swooped in to make their money from the old folks and cram 2 and 3 story McMansions onto 3 bedroom lots. The city was only too eager to comply. The most humorous part of this was watching Aspen Street literally fall apart while the city raked in millions. Last year, they finally rebuilt a section of it 10 years too late.

    The good part of this story is that 5111 Aspen still stands to this day. A doctor bought it and put his kids through Bellaire one by one. He recently sold it last year to another gentleman who also seems to be interested in preserving it.

    The bad part is that the social fabric of old Bellaire was shredded and tossed in the garbage for posterity. Even if I hit the lottery and bought my old house back for $400K+, I would be in agony surrounded by these brick and stucco behemoths full of snooty, pretentious, unfriendly, and inhospitable sheeple. Still, I’d probably jump at the chance to buy it back just to fix it up and leave it standing as a testament to what once was. Think of it as a thorn in the side of progress.