Comment of the Day: Inventing the Heights Teardown

COMMENT OF THE DAY: INVENTING THE HEIGHTS TEARDOWN Correction– The tearing down of old homes to build new was pioneered by Sterling Victorian Homes in the mid-late 1980s. It began on the 400 block of 22nd Street. These homes look very modest by today’s standards. It is likely true that Allegro pioneered the building of Disney-fied Hummer homes with cheese closets…” [Sheila, commenting on Scaling Back the Upscale: Allegro Builders, Downtempo]

21 Comment

  • I just do not understand the rabidity of some people about saving every bungalow in the Heights. In very few cases compared to other neighborhoods are architectural styles at total odds with the existing look. Why is a tract home of the 1910s-1920s all of a sudden
    an architectural gem? I hate to break to you folks with rose colored glasses but many areas of the Heights are just deteriorated and trashy for lack of a better term. Can any one say that all those newish row houses in Shady Acres, for example, are worse than the junk which surrounds them? I suppose in 30 years all of the 1970ish neo Spanish tract homes in Channelview and Antoine/290 will be the next sacred cows.

  • Typically, it’s not the architectural style of the new development that Heights residents are opposed to, it’s the scale or the way the new building addresses the street.

  • The fact that the Heights is an historic NEIGHBORHOOD adds a layer of significance to the preservation and rehabilitation of its original characteristic structures. That’s why you can’t just compare a new house to the house it replaced. And a major part of why a single new house can “ruin” an entire block.
    Another part is that the majority of new constructions in the Heights are out of scale with their neighbors in all kinds of ways, which doesn’t just spoil the views of immediate neighbors – it spoils the block’s aesthetics and makes its dominant visual note a jarring one.
    To add insult to injury, the architectural style of the majority of new constructions in the Heights is not representative of any other architectural style present on the block, or even of large-house constructions in the period in which the other houses on the block were built.
    How is it in any way surprising that the Heights is full of people who feel strongly about these issues? Many moved here because it is an historic neighborhood, have heavily invested in helping to keep it that way, and share a strong sense of community with their like-minded neighbors.

  • JT-There are very few people in the Houston Heights area that actually feel strongly about saving the bungalows.They are vocal, but not many listen.

  • Oh Bagby, you are so wrong.

  • While the light bulb hasn’t lit up for most people, smaller homes are receiving more attention from architects(see this week-end’s tour presented by the Rice Design Alliance), The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times because they are efficient and cost-effective. I can easily see a time in the not too distant future when the 4-5 Bedroom, 3-4 bathroom behemoths in the Heights are converted to rooming houses. History will repeat itself.
    Next, how much space does anyone really Need? Why have a bathroom and closet large enough for a dinner party?
    Further, the additional stresses on infrastructure–water and sewer lines, gas lines, electrical lines, and streets are going to present Heights residents and/or Houston residents with a large repair bill.
    Finally, oversized homes built on undersized lots block the sun and breeze, and the trash cans have to be left in front of the homes because they can’t be rolled between the homes. Tacky. Large homes generate additional cars where there is really no parking easily available. Also tacky.

  • After reading that post the term “California Dreamin” comes to mind.

  • Whilst you certainly have a point EMME I think you are similarly over exuberant if you think that everyone is obsessed with saving the bungalows. The problem is that unless you are a vocal supporter of saving all the bungalows then you are immediately assumed to support unregulated development on any scale which is just not the case.

    JT is right, just because a house is old does not make it an architectural gem. And just because the Heights is an “Historic” neighborhood does not mean we have to try and save everything in sight. Also, trying to make the point, as Arlington St does, that all new construction should at least be true to the original period of the neighborhood is ludicrous. What makes the neighborhood so vibrant is variety. I for one would not weep if none of the new construction was in “period” style.

  • Jimbo, I never said everyone was “obsessed with saving the bungalows.” I was simply disagreeing with the point that few were interested in saving bungalows in general and that nobody listened. If a bungalow is in great disrepair, I would agree with tearing it down. If it is a bungalow in disrepair, but with historical value or with architectural interest I would encourage restoration. While I may be vocal about it and do all I can to support restoration, I also know that in the end it is up to the property owner to do what he wants with it within the limits set by the city.

  • People rent these old bungalows and dont cut their yard or associate with others. People with the newer homes use their porches for other things than storing fast food trash and keep up their yards. Dont beleive me? Drive around.

  • Jimbo, I respect your preference for variety in architectural styles for new constructions in the Heights. But your preference alone doesn’t make conflicting points of view “ludicrous”, does it?
    Houston may not be as progressive when it comes to historic preservation as many other cities – but, even here, the notion that new construction in a nationally-significant historic neighborhood should ideally reflect that of the neighborhood is hardly extreme.
    Those buildling and buying new constructions in the Heights have obvious interests in saying that the historic integrity of the neighborhood is not important to its residents. The hard work that has gone into getting a large number of Heights blocks landmark protection is, in my opinion, more compelling evidence of the majority view.

  • When we renovated our Sunset Heights home, we started with a 1920s “cracker-box” house. There was not much special or unique about it. We added a 1-story addition and created the “bungalow” that we wanted. Our friends would comment about how much they loved the old homes without realizing that most of the details were things we had added.

    I agree with ArlingtonSt that the biggest problem is scale, not style.

  • You’re right, it was wrong of me to use a term like ludicrous. I would also agree that scale is the biggest problem we face. I would have no problem with an ordinance that limited percentage of lot size that could be built on or overall height of structure. My personal preference is not for building all new construction so that matches the Victorian or Arts & Crafts styles. What I love about the Heights is the community spirit and sense of diversity and I believe that trying to create an architecturally limited future for the neighborhood would just be trying to recreate something that really only ever existed in the original developers promotional material.

  • I am in complete agreement with you Jimbo.

  • With all due respect to Arlington St, I have driven all over the Heights and on your street as well. Again how can you reasonably expect anyone outside of a single person or couple to pay the price for a 1200 square foot frame home of little distinction and keep the same footprint? Many of the houses are small and by today’s standards (whether they are unrealistic or not) cannot accomodate a family regardless of whether they did in 1920. On your street plenty of homes basically are dumps with chain link fences,porches used as storage facilities, no landscaping, etc…..How is not an improvement even if you get a 2 1/2 story Faux Victorian next door? Welcome to Houston. Is it somehow better to have a “Bungalow Revival” project that dresses up an existing home with gingerbread and doubles or triples the size of the home and consumes all of the lot? Perhaps the actual Historic District and Woodland Heights/Norhill has more homes worthy of saving but I will still say that the blight that has been replaced in the West Heights and outlying areas is better than what was there. It is unfortunate that this city has no real protectionfor its neighborhoods but until the citizens make a revolution at City Hall, this will just be the “Houston” way.

  • For a 5000 sf lot you can fit a 1-1/2 story, 3b/2b house without difficulty. But the lots are being subdivided and giant homes are being squeezed in.
    Personally, I am a fan of contemporary and modern designs. But regardless of the style, the scale of the house should respect the neighborhood.

  • JT: I’d dare say that if the teardowns in the Heights were replaced with homes of similar size and scale to what was torn down with repect to height, position on lot, and lot lines most would have no problem. There are some great examples of ‘camel back’ additions that expand the sq footage, but don’t tread on the edges of the lot, or monkey with the view from the street. Ever hear anyone complain about those?

    However, when someone erects a 4-story refridgerator box that blocks the sun from the neighbor’s yard and ruins the view from their windows there is going to be some kickback.

    Why do people feel like they have to buy a house in the Heights? If you don’t want a 1200 sf bungalow for the price, don’t buy it! Live somewhere else. Leave that house for someone that does want to buy it. If you want large there is plenty of inventory ITL like that, especially right now.

    bagby: I rent an old bungalow in the Heights. I know all my neighbors. Had a couple of cold ones with them last night. My grass is cut very nicely. There is NO fast food on my porch. Got any other offensive stereotypes you’d like to trot out?

  • I have lived in (and loved) my little old (100+ year old house) for the last 22 years. My biggest complaint with the teardowns and McMansions is that they change the streetscape dramatically without regard to the existing property owners. While my home is not home tour quality – I wouldn’t trade my 12X12 sills and solid wood walls for a house three times the size. I, too, think the time is coming when small will be preferred — and remember, the greenest house is the one that is not torn down. I shudder to think of all the building debris that goes straight to landfill each time an old Bungalow (or a 1960’s Tanglewood ranch) is torn down to build a new McMansion that will be expensive to heat and cool in the coming decades.

  • Jimbo – Yeah, I’d rather see a new construction of whatever style that respects the visual flow of its block and size constraints of its lot than another oversized neo-Vic on a block of 1920’s homes, hands-down. I might even like it better than an oversized new construction in an appropriate period style – it would probably depend on how oversized we’re talking.
    And I personally don’t have an issue with most renovations that involve even major add-ons, if the add-ons are away from the front of the lot.
    I also love the diversity of the Heights, though I tend to see the new constructions as a threat to that diversity given what’s happened in other inner-loop neighborhoods. If there’s a perceived need to increase Houston’s architectural diversity, I just don’t see how that goal is furthered by the continued dilution of the historic character of the Heights – to me, our historic neighborhoods are an irreplaceable element of our city’s architectrual diversity.

  • the cost of the land requires a higher building density than people feel fits the ‘character’ of the old neighborhood. regaurdless, private development always goes in the direction of economic viability.

  • I live in a 1000 sqft, 100 yr old bungalow in Woodland Heights. Yes it is small and yes it is old. My husband, an architect and myself, a designer and architecture photographer, have been working to bring back the charm in our house that someone long ago stripped away. We moved here because we love the feel of the historic neighborhood, we love knowing our neighbors and being able to walk to restaurants. We moved here for the same reason many people move here, we love the neighborhood.

    What gets me is all these people who also choose to live here, because they love the neighborhood, who are in such a hurry to change it. You love the charming streets and bungalows but the first thing you do when you move in is tear one of those charming bungalows down. In it’s humble place you build a large, poorly designed and quite frankly ugly house that towers over everything else on your street. How does it feel to be hated by all of your neighbors? I have come to the sad realization that the vast majority of people in this world have little to no taste. I just wish they would take their tacky mcmansions to a more appropriate locale and leave the historic heights alone. If you want to live in the heights, live in a heights bungalow and respect the neighborhood, it’s architecture and it’s history. If you want a mcmansion, move to Kingwood or Sugarland and quit destroying our neighborhood.

    Pretty soon this charming little historic neighborhood will be gone. Once the history is gone, there is no bringing it back.