Houston’s longest-running home renovation project may never be completed, but work on the extraordinary 31-year-long effort has come to an end. Charles Fondow, the retired VA nurse and dedicated do-it-yourselfer whose ongoing home-improvement efforts in Riverside Terrace have intrigued and astounded neighbors and passers-by for decades, passed away earlier this month at the age of 64. Fondow began fixing up and adding on to his 2-story brick home on Wichita St. near Dowling shortly after he purchased the termite-ridden former duplex for $35,000 in 1980. Three years later, after Hurricane Alicia knocked a couple of trees onto the roof, he got the inspiration to add the property’s first 2 turrets — one modeled after a courthouse he had seen in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the other a Russian-style onion dome. Later, Fondow began work on more additions to the property, including among many other features 2 giant decks, an elevator, a tall glass atrium, and a separate apartment in back.
“I would really love to get it finished before I die,” he told Houston Press reporter Jennifer Mathieu in 2001.
Fondow designed and completed much of the work himself, but also hired out work to carpenters. At the city’s insistence, according to Mathieu, their work on the castle-like construction was monitored by regular housecalls from a structural engineer. Fondow was a fixer-upper pioneer in his part of Riverside Terrace: Over the years, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on improvements. “This house is the love of my life,” Fondow told the Press. “I don’t know how to live in a house that’s finished.”
Fondow “was a man with big visions and big ideas,” his sister, Betty Cross, tells Swamplot. “But his health was failing him and he could not work on the house as he had done in the past. His next passion was traveling.” Fondow was on a cruise earlier this month when he took ill. He passed away at a hospital in St. Michael, Barbados, on St. Patrick’s Day. “He was one of the most loving, kind and giving persons I knew,” Cross says.
A memorial service for Fondow took place last week in North Carolina. The house is still occupied, but Cross says it will be put up for sale “in the near future.”
- Charles Boyd Fondow [The Times News]
- Withering Heights [Houston Press]
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