Bunker Hill Mod in the Rough: Taking in a Strey Lane House

For sale by owner: One flat-roofed Memorial Mod, decaying in leafy solitude — it’s been uninhabited for the last several years. The home was commissioned in 1954 by Bernhardt O. Lemmel, who came to Houston to head the art department at the University of Houston, and his wife, who served as the general contractor. Designed by M. Bliss Alexander, the 2-bedroom home features all those midcentury greatest hits: clerestory windows, a multi-sided fireplace, terrazzo, and sliding doors facing its wooded lot.


Last Sunday, at Houston Mod’s “Mod of the Month” open house, visitors milled about the property at 663 Strey Ln. bemoaning the state of the house, which is in “original condition” (though presumably original condition didn’t include significant water damage to the ceiling). Claire Lemmel, who inherited the property from her parents, is selling the home and some of its midcentury contents. There’s no official asking price, but she says she expects it to sell for around lot value — in the range of $800,000 to $1,000,000. Visitors to the house on Sunday submitted bids for some of the furnishings on display on a sheet of paper; Lemmel says she’s still accepting bids for those items.

The house sits at the end of a narrow Memorial street, a block from Bunker Hill Elementary, on a large, overgrown lot that’s “just begging for something Tuscan,” one of the visitors joked.

Photos: Jenny Staff Johnson

15 Comment

  • Another tragedy of that lethal design feature, the FLAT ROOF.

  • Tell that to Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Trying to find the structure was fun.

  • Look at those banks of light switches! Is each of those overhead lights individually switched?

  • you know what Frank Llyd Wright’s response was when owners complained that the roof leaking on their chair? “why don’t you move the chair?”

  • Heights Life- I am not unaware that many of the great architects of the 20th century employed flat roofs, but why? Everywhere on earth water falls out of the sky, and in some places, as snow. Why did they think a flat roof was going to work? Even the most primitive pre-historics got that figured out.
    In my renovation days I “saved” one flat roof structure– never again. The water intrusion was just too pervasive.

  • Yep, this is a sad one. The brick and terrazzo are in great shape and the bamboo paneling and the glass are pretty good, just need cleaning. All of the drywall, ceilings and walls will need to be replaced, and probably most of the wiring and the A/C. Grant, I couldn’t tell for sure but my guess is that the lights in the main room are individually switched or in very small groups. Probably art-gallery style. The bedrooms are decent sized, one of them with a cool little adjoining office room with a built in desk and drawers. Sliding door closets throughout the house are still functional but too small by modern standards. (There were some RCA Record Club LP’s from 1959 still in original packaging and in virtually new condition in one of the closets.) Bedroom paneling might be salvageable, bedroom floors will have to be completely redone. What you don’t see in these pictures is that the kitchen is small and is a total loss. Poor quality plywood cabinetry is completely warped and de-laminated. There’s an original built-in oven but it’s tiny and in very poor condition. The sink may be original but it’s rusty and filthy. As beautiful as that main room is, and it’s a knockout, I don’t see anyone spending lot value plus at least $200,000 to fix up a small 2-bedroom 2-bath house with no garage.

  • What a shame to see another MCM house left to decay and eventual demolition! Bernhard Lemmel was one of my professors at UH. I never visited his home, but it’s easy to imagine the wonderful art collection he had installed there.

  • I think the beauty and eco-conscious nature of random indoor waterfalls, as designed by flat roof architects, should receive the appropriate accolades that are so long overdue. The need for water retention ponds is a serious issue facing much of our urban areas. Filling your homes during a heavy downpour can provide much needed relief for area streets and drainage ditches and it provides a great source of gray water for your gardening needs. Did you know that if just 10% of Houston homes installed flat roofs, we could eliminate all street flooding in Harris county and reduce water consumption by 73.852%?

    This message paid for by the Tar Consortium.

  • @kilray: Haha!

  • The flat roof in and of itself is not the problem.

    It was probably originally installed “dead level” and has a coal tar pitch roof designed to hold water. The original roof was probably never replaced or had little or no maitenance over the years.

    Few CTP roofs are installed in Texas nowadays. Most are asphaltic products (BUR, SBS, APP) and require positive slope to get the water off the roof through interior drains or to exterior gutters or scuppers.

    Flat roofs do work IF done right. Unfortunately, it is expensive to install one “right.”

  • My sense also is that the worst roof leaks were due to Ike.

  • I noticed as I was driving around the city today that almost all commercial buildings have flat roofs. I would think this proves JP’s point that it’s not the flat roof itself, but whether or not care was taken to make sure it was done right.