06/15/17 4:30pm

BONES FOUND IN HOLDOUT HEIGHTS HOUSE ATTIC TELL NO TALES Fox26 has now updated its story from March on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Mary Cerruti, the former owner of the 2-bedroom home at 610 Allston St. in the Heights, whose mysterious disappearance in 2015 roughly coincided with the latter stages of Trammell Crow’s construction of the 6-story Alexan Heights apartment complex adjacent to her home. Cerruti was a vocal opponent of the development who refused to sell her property and later reportedly complained greatly about the inconveniences caused by the construction. Her former home is now surrounded on 3 sides by the 6-story apartment building; and earlier this year renters in the same home discovered some unidentified human remains — next to a pair of red reading glasses similar to ones Cerruti wore — behind a loose board in the attic. Today, reports Kaitlin Monte, the Harris County Medical Examiner has announced that it cannot determine the cause of death from that evidence —“because the remains were skeletonized.” The 1,161-sq.-ft. home, meanwhile, has been on the market since March, though the asking price has jumped from $439,900 to $475,000. [Fox26; HAR; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HAR  

06/15/17 1:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THERE’S MORE MONEY IN HISTORY “First of all, this really doesn’t make much difference, as the original art moderne lines of this center were destroyed several years ago with the addition of gun turrets on the corners of the buildings. What I do find interesting is that Weingarten talks about the alterations as being financially responsible decisions to their shareholders. Yet this is the 3rd oldest intact shopping center in the US, and the only two that predate it, AFAIK, are Highland Park Village in Dallas and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Both of those have owners that have restored them to essentially their original designs and have enjoyed much increased property values. In the case of Highland Park Village, Henry S Miller (a Dallas developer) bought HP Village in the later ’70’s as it was very run down and dumpy, and had the foresight to restore its original Spanish Colonial design and garner a better tenant mix. Though his company no longer owns it, HP Village commands far higher square foot rents than River Oaks Shopping Center. All this is to say that if Weingarten had invested money in restoring their property 10-15 years ago, they probably would have a more valuable asset today.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on The Other River Oaks Shopping Center Knockdown Hearing Scheduled for This Week] Rendering of proposed alterations to River Oaks Shopping Center, 1997 West Gray St.: Aria Group Architects for Weingarten Realty Investors

06/14/17 3:30pm

BERNIE’S BURGER BUS ALCOHOL LICENSE DETAINED AFTER PROXIMITY TO SCHOOL Maybe you’ve heard the rumor — that the opening of the Bernie’s Burger Bus wheels-off location now all but complete next to the pediatric clinic in the new Braun Enterprises commercial building constructed on the former Alabama Furniture spot at 2200 Yale St. in the Heights has been delayed on account of the owners having trouble getting a beer and wine license because they didn’t take into consideration the fact that the restaurant’s 22nd St. side (pictured above under construction in April) would be across the street from Hamilton Junior High School? It’s true — well sort of, but not entirely. “The rumors are correct,” Bus chef Justin Turner explains on the restaurant’s Facebook page. There have indeed been “issues with the timeliness of getting our license due to the proximity of the school.” But, Turner writes, “We had all that info even before signing the lease.” What’s the issue then? The laws regarding alcohol sales near schools “are vague and very subjective . . . different people had different interpretations,” Turner notes. The owners were “told the variance that had to be filed with city of Houston would only take 30-45 days and it went on just over 120. . . . Long story short we’re [past] the city of Houston and on to Austin where we expect no or very little delays.” Best guesses for an opening date? “Our hope is end of July or early August but unfortunately at this time it is out of our control and left up to the guidance of our legal team and the information they provide us from the city and the state.” [Bernie’s Burger Bus via HAIFPhoto: Bernie’s Burger Bus

06/14/17 1:30pm

TREE RULE REVENGE AND OTHER LOCAL REAL ESTATE TARGETS ON JULY’S STATE SPECIAL SESSION HIT LIST So what all’s on governor Greg Abbott’s to-do list for July’s special legislative session, following the variously dramatic finales to House and Senate business during the normal session last month? Some 19 topics are included in the governor’s shortlist after the maybe-killed-on-purpose sunset legislation (which Abbott has said has to pass before anything else can be done); the extensive extra credit list, he says, is meant to “make [the extra session] count.” Plopped in the middle of property tax reform, caps on local spending, changes to local permitting processes, and changes to how cities deal with construction project rules: a ban on local tree ordinances — at least, the ones that impact tree-decisions on private property. (Why the sudden focus on what the governor calls “socialistic” plant regulations, which is placed even higher up the list than taking another go at a bathroom bill? The leafy beef seems to stem from Abbott’s own run-in with an Austin tree regulation back in 2012, which didn’t ultimately prevent him from getting rid of a couple of large pecans he wanted to remove, but did slow things down.) [Office of the Texas Governor; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox

06/13/17 1:30pm

FINGER COMPANY POKES INTO THE MONTROSE DISTRICT LAWSUIT FRAY A corporate appendage of the Finger Companies has filed a document to add itself as a plaintiff to one of the lawsuits trying to shut down the Montrose Management District, Nancy Sarnoff reports this week for the Chronicle. The company’s Museum Tower along Montrose Blvd. sits a few blocks south of US 59 in a narrow south-pointing offshoot of the district’s boundaries, making it one of the property owners assessed a regular tax; Sarnoff writes that Finger’s new filing zeroes in on that 2016 petition to dissolve the district, which proponents say has garnered signatures from property owners of about 80% of the district’s land area; the filing claims that the district has been trying to invalidate individual signatures in an effort to bring that total back down below the required threshold for dissolution. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Museum Tower

06/12/17 11:15am

HOUSTON’S PREMIER FLOATING TOURIST ATTRACTION SHUT DOWN AGAIN AFTER MORE LEAKS 6-by-8-in. hole 15 inches below the water line discovered yesterday on the starboard side of the Battleship Texas caused the San Jacinto Battleground tourist attraction to tilt a “pretty serious” 6 degrees overnight, KPRC’s Cathy Hernandez reports this morning. The battleship — which was built long after the Battle of San Jacinto, but is a veteran of 2 world wars and a whole lot of 21st Century rust — has now been closed to the public until further notice. At last report, approximately 2,000 gallons of water per minute had been pumped out of the ship for more than 15 hours. Funds originally allocated to move the retired sea vessel to a dry berth were used instead to repair previous leaks. [Click2Houston; Texas Parks & Wildlife; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coast Guard News [license]  

06/08/17 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN SCHOOLS GET IN THE WAY “I’m sick and tired of people always complaining about how such and such crime happened close to a school. Schools are peppered throughout the city, so pretty much anywhere is ‘near a school.’ Find me a school-free area where I can do my shootings.” [criminal guy, commenting on The Great Coltivare Kumquat Tree Heist] Illustration: Lulu

06/08/17 11:30am

THE PIERCE ELEVATED SKYPARK PLAN ISN’T DEAD YET “You can’t just wait until the day that TxDOT asks you what to do with it,” Tami Merrick tells Stephen Paulsen in the Houston Press this morning, in reference to her involvement with the small group working toward publishing an economic study some time next year of those speculative plans to turn the Pierce Elevated into the Pierce Skypark. The segment of I-45 may ultimately be torn down so the right-of-way can be sold, once the planned spaghetti-riffic Downtown freeway reroute wraps up in a decade or so. But Paulsen writes that the planning group is nonetheless optimistic about getting a foot in the door when the moment is right: “At some point, the Pierce Elevated will stop serving cars. And when it does, the group argues, why wouldn’t the city want an innovative, prearranged plan for the abandoned stretch of freeway?” [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Rendering of Pierce Elevated as a park: Page/Marcus Martinez via Pierce Skypark

06/07/17 4:30pm

PEARLAND, CITY OF 3 WALMARTS Ahead of this weekend’s local runoff election, the Christian Science Monitor delves into the rapid growth and demographic shifts in the “dumbbell-shaped suburb” of Pearland — and how a few candidates for municipal office are approaching it: “Its diversification is largely a result of [Houston’s] inexorable sprawl . . . where residents keep moving farther out in search of lower-density living.” Pearland now ranks as the nation’s eighth-fastest-growing city, but Houston’s only second-most-diverse suburb, where, writes Simon Montlake, as many as 75 languages are spoken in local schools, but residents refer to the eastern-most Walmart in town as the “white Wal-mart” — “because of who shops there – and who doesn’t.” At a forum held in the Bella Vita Club at the center of the age-restricted Bellavita at Green Tee community off Scarsdale Blvd. just east of the Golfcrest Country Club, a middle-aged woman wants to know how candidates plan to draw together what she sees as the “two cities” of Pearland. “Pearland is solidly middle-class,” Montlake notes. “A starter house costs $140,000, and median household income is $97,000, much higher than in Houston. But newcomers rushing to downtown jobs barely brush shoulders with the mostly white retirees who tee off on the golf course weekday mornings or the older families that work and play near home.” [Christian Science Monitor] Photo of Bella Vita Club: 55places.com  

06/07/17 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW THE DECLINING MARKET FOR ANTIQUES IS FUELING THE SELF-STORAGE BOOM “My mom has an amazing collection of stuff like this. I think about it all the time. . . . worried what I’m going to to with my great great grandfather’s table, and my great grandmother’s silver. I don’t have the room for it at this point in my life . . . but I don’t want to give it away. I almost feel like I need to get a storage unit for it.” [Chef DB, commenting on The Underappreciated Riches of Houston’s Antique Set]

06/07/17 12:00pm

BAYOU-SIDE PSEUDO-ICE-HOUSE IDEA CATCHING ATTENTION OF HOUSTON PARKS BOARD A tidbit tucked away at the bottom of Jen Kinney’s piece for Next City this week on architect and ice-house aficionado David Richmond’s speculative plan to put vaguely-ice-house-esque pavilion structures along Brays Bayou: the Houston Parks Board folks want to hear more about the idea. Richmond confirms to Swamplot that a meeting with some HPB reps did take place on Monday, and that the Bayou Greenways planners are interested in ways to attract more activity along the bayous, eventually — but says that the meetup was mostly to make introductions, and reiterates that there’s “nothing specific or formalized to report” at the moment. [Next City; previously on SwamplotRendering showing pavilion structure along Brays Bayou: David Richmond

06/06/17 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN THEY RAISED GREAT GRANNY’S “This house has some wonderful history. It was originally a one story that was raised up by cranes and the ground level story was built underneath. During WW One, they would roll up the rugs and host dances for the soldiers. It was the home of my great grandparents who lived there with their children when they moved from PA. My two spinster Great Aunts lived there all their lives. It broke the hearts of the family when it had to be sold but no one had the means to buy and restore it. I wanted to share for those of you that had posted the kind comments.” [Renee Lauckner, commenting on Corner Lot Hidden Away for Decades Beneath 1904 Heights House Could Join the Commercial Crowd] Photo: Swamplot inbox

06/06/17 3:00pm

THE UNDERAPPRECIATED RICHES OF HOUSTON’S ANTIQUE SET “Someday,” antique dealer and appraiser David Lackey muses to intrepid radio reporter Allison Lee, “the Millennials . . . may be horrified when their children want mahogany furniture and doilies and figurines.” But for now, Lackey seems resigned to the great generational decline — and accompanying price drops — in the market for antique furniture: “There are half as many antique shows in Houston as there were 20 or 30 years ago,” he tells Lee. “Traditional English and American furniture, overall, has fallen maybe 50 to 75 percent.” Lackey operates his business out of the Antiques of River Oaks antiques megashop (pictured above) in the home-furnishings-themed shopping center at 3461 W. Alabama north of Greenway Plaza, but he’s also out and about, soaking up the zeitgeist: “I go into more estates — or I’m working with older people and they’re selling a lot of their stuff because they say their kids and grandkids do not want it. They’ve made it very clear. The younger generation, for the most part, is not very interested in formal candlelight suppers. They don’t want silver, china, crystal, because they don’t intend to entertain that way.” [Houston Public Media] Photo: David Lackey Antiques & Art  

06/06/17 12:30pm

HOUSTON BASEMENT NOW OFFERING IMMERSIVE VHS RENTAL STORE EXPERIENCE TO A FEW TAPEHEADS IN THE KNOW “It’s like the 80s threw up everywhere,”” eponymous Champion Video Rental founder Jason Champion tells LunchmeatVHS of his on-the-down-low basement video rental store, tucked away somewhere off Mills Rd. outside the Beltway. As of last month, Champion says the store is only open to friends and acquaintances for now, though he hopes to change that eventually; decor includes the full gamut of 80s video store memorabilia, like “a display case with candy, trading cards, VCRs, blank tapes, tape rewinders, and popcorn,” a free-play horror arcade machine, and various and sundry movie posters and movie-store accoutrements. Should the spot, which Champion describes on Facebook as a “VHS rental store, time machine, and video rental store museum,” go more public at some point, it might pick up the title of the only VHS-dedicated rental space left in town in the post-Blockbuster era. Last month’s opening of the literally and figuratively underground shop follows in the wake of Heights’ Weirdo Video’s brief run, the closure of Audio/Video Plus on Waugh Dr., and the move of Cactus Music (which didn’t bring its VHS collection with it to the current spot on Portsmouth St.). [Lunchmeat VHS via Dangerous Minds; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Champion Video Rental

06/05/17 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AFFORDABLE HOMES NEED SMALLER LOTS “Large houses are not the cause of being priced out of the Heights, they’re the effect. With land values approaching $75/sf at the peak of the market, that’s almost half-a-million dollars for a full-sized lot. If you put a 2000-sq.-ft. house on that lot (at $150/sf construction cost), you’re looking at $800k. Or $400/sf. There’s a very thin market for that size house at that price point. There are tons of more affordable options in or near the Heights, but they aren’t going to come with 6000 sq. ft. of dirt. The secret to providing more affordable housing is to just build more housing. In the Heights, that’s generally come in the form of replacing one bungalow with two modest two-story houses. In Shady Acres, it’s usually replacing TWO bungalows with SIX townhouses. There are literally hundreds of reasonable-sized houses (2000-2500 s.f.) that have been created this way in the Free Heights over the last decade. Without them, a lot MORE people would have been priced out of the neighborhood.” [Angostura, commenting on Comment of the Day: Aren’t these the Heights Design Guidelines We’ve Been Asking For?] Illustration: Lulu