Charles Fondow Leaves His Wichita St. Mystery House Unfinished

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.”

Photos: Mr. Kimberly (turret; license); Candace Garcia (all others)

13 Comment

  • Sad day, can’t imagine the home will manage to survive in it’s present form barring acquisition by some sort of foundation. A real piece of art.

  • I believe in the Houston Press article it makes reference to several falls and accidents Mr. Fondow sustained when working on the house. I wonder if those had anything to do with his deteriorating health.

  • sad to hear. here’s hoping the house finds a new owner with a similar passion.

  • Very sad to hear. I’d love to purchase the place if I had the income for it. Looks like a house with so much character, and an owner who really poured his soul into it.

  • This is so sad. I don’t personally foresee a very happy ending for this house, but what can you do? Orange Show Foundation, help!

  • How sad that he didn’t finish it. I hope the next owner maintains the house, it is such a treasure!

  • This is unfortunate, but would explain why I could not get him to return my calls when I tried to do a follow-up story on this house last year. I’m looking forward to the listing — just about our only chance to see what was going on inside. And how does one set a price point for a house like this? I’m not one to persist in preserving things just because they’re kooky, but in this case it was one individual’s personal vision that has entertained and piqued local interest over the years.

  • Hate it when Houston gets incrementally less interesting.

    Condolences to the family.

  • This is a real shame. I remember discovering the house driving near 288 one day. It’s always been a dream of mine to get a tour of the place.

  • I’m just curious- does anyone know if this house sold? I’d love to know who bought it/future plans.

  • I was in the area today leaving the museum district and discovered this house. Spectacular to look at from a curiosity standpoint but it has obviously not been touched since the owner passed away. The fence is broken and falling down, and there are holes in the roof. Not to mention that the entire front portion of the house is completely overgrown with brush. So sad.

  • They got it for sale at 150k