Comment of the Day: Without All That Demolition and New Construction, the Heights Wouldn’t Be the Historic District It is Today

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WITHOUT ALL THAT DEMOLITION AND NEW CONSTRUCTION, THE HEIGHTS WOULDN’T BE THE HISTORIC DISTRICT IT IS TODAY “What do you think was driving the value of the property in the Heights up? It was the builders, and their extensive work improving the area! It certainly was not the pleasant atmosphere the preservationist[s] created in the neighborhood. The average homeowner has no interest in the headaches of an expansive remodel. The builders took the risks and improved the area…all of a sudden the area became safer, and the preservationist[s] roll in, now – everyone gets to play under their new rules becuase someone else did all the hard work and took all the risks.” [Marksmu, commenting on Houston’s Historic Districts Will Remain as They Are]

43 Comment

  • Geeze, Gus. You sure know how to stir a pot.

  • I didn’t like this post the first time I read it.

  • Gus = Switzerland

    Thank goodness for that.

  • Please. Buy a clue. Why do you think the builders moved into the Heights in the first place? Builders don’t rush into untested areas. They go in only after the first two or three waves of gentrification have already happened. The builders weren’t the pioneers; the artists, gays, and DINKs were. Builder’s don’t open the nifty corner coffee houses, the artist colonies, the trendy restaurants, or the boutique stores that make neighborhoods desirable. Builders FOLLOW in the market.

  • I’d say builder/developers are more like parasites.

  • @ Doofus…You hit it right on the spot! Your comment is a heck of a lot more worthy of placing “comment of the day” than this mindless drivel from Marksmu!

  • Exactly. The Heights began gentrification in the early 90’s when gay/lesbian renters in Montrose could no longer afford to buy the homes previously renovated by their own peeps. By the time Tricon came around, Heights was already North Montrose.

  • Admittedly this post exaggerates the point but it would also be a lie to claim that new homes have had no role in the increase of value and desirability of the neighborhood. As usual those who claim either extreme end of the equation are generally wrong.

  • Of course new McVics add to the value of the neighborhood but only a Heights rookie like MarkSMU would make the false claim that the builders took all the risk in rejuvenating the burgh. The McVics didn’t really start getting off the ground until the late 1990s. By that time, anyone with half a brain could have told you that the Heights would blow up.

  • The builders took risks? Really? Give credit where it is deserved… It was the homeowners who chose to do the responsible thing by restoring and renovating their historic homes that took the risks; that’s what truly brought the Heights back to its glory. Of course the value of a property goes up when you tear down a rundown 1500 square foot bungalow and replace it with a 4000 square foot house, da! The property value will also go up if you properly restore that bungalow instead of tearing it down… As a matter of fact, a well restored older home sells for more per sqaure foot than a newly built house. Besides, the greenest and most sustainable home is the one that is already there!

  • These historic districts are a joke created by well intentioned people who have absolutely clue what they are doing or the damage they are causing. I’ve lived in this City for over 40 years. I’ve worked in the real estate business for 20 years. I love this city dearly and want for it only the best. I will never ever be convinced that the road to a bigger, better, safer, more prosperous and more diverse Houston is though government restrictions on real estate development that prevent change, renewal and improvement.

  • Joel, there’s already another joel that’s been trolling here for a while so i’m afraid you’re going to have to be Joel2.

  • Developers may have helped to make the Heights what it is. But this isn’t a zero/sum equation. The Heights had an interesting historic stock of houses that many individuals and couples renovated on their own, without developers.

    The best parts of the Heights are those that builders and developers had only a small hand in: Woodland Heights, for instance. In some ways, the worst parts of the Heights now are those sterile, overbuilt Victorian mcMansion parts along Oxford and other streets that feel like a scene from the “Truman Show”: fake historicism, pink and lavender lot-busters, tall front yard fences to keep the rabble out, minimal trees.

    Developers want to be the big heroes in this story, but they’re only a small part of it. No one is denying that they [i]helped[/i] to make the Heights better. But they weren’t the only reason. And the Heights still isn’t an incredible historic neighborhood. It’s a patchy, often quaint, often run-down, vital part of Houston–it’s what qualifies as “historical” in sprawling Houston. (For contrast, if you want an example of an amazing historic district, go to Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena, California.)

    Who cares, ultimately, whether it was the developers or the families or the economy or demographics that made the Heights. What’s important is what we do from here forward. Helping to preserve what’s good seems like a great start.

  • I am just a homeowner but I think developers and builders with vision are the ones who spark an area no one wants to live in any longer. There are people who are so good at what they do they can see when an area is going to “turn” long before the first new nail is hammered. I listen to these people and have bought property for peanuts on their recommendation and now have property worth much more than when I bought it. Homeowners contribute once the big stuff is “proven”. Fixing your kitchen sink and calling it a remodel and contributing to the neighborhood’s appearance? Not the case. If you want to make some money listen to a developer and find out which unloved area of town is the next boom and you may just make a few bucks yourself and give up on hating the builders so much because you are jealous they are making all the money in your neighborhood.

  • Judy: Jealous of developers making money? “Vision”? Get real. In the Heights we are sick of hack builders and realtors who take a short sighted view of development–kill the bungalow and fill the lot up with the maximum amount of sq footage regardless of whether the house kills the historic character of the neighborhood.

    The idea that builders are responsible for bringing up the Heights is just bull. For every monster McVic and other atrocities, there are at least three renovated bungalows (more often then not financed by the homeowner). If it was just the builders, then why haven’t we seen gentrification in the East side or other areas that are just as close to downtown? There are plenty of teardowns and cheap land in those areas. The reason is that the Heights had a large stock of well preserved historic homes that attracted gentrification.

  • Doofus is right on the money, but Joel is off by a decade as far as when the first wave of gentrification started in the Heights. It was in the early 80’s, not the 90’s. Houston’s real estate bubble of the late 70’s into the mid 80’s is what first started pushing young people of various stripes into the Heights, as Montrose became too expensive. Initially, it was just the eastern end of the Woodland Heights and Houston Heights between White Oak and 20th, and east of Heights Blvd where gentrification was occurring. West of Yale, north of 20th and south of 7th streets remained rough for somewhat longer.

    The Heights Baby-Sitting Coop started in the 80’s, as did the effort to create Travis Elementary’s Vanguard Program. The 11th Street Cafe was the place to mingle with the many musicians and artists who were living in the neighborhood at the time. And Sarah Fitzgerald had incredible shows at her club every month.

    The first builder/developers in the Heights (Steve Waters, Premier Victorian Homes, Creole) started building around 1992, and the first developer houses were about 2,200 sf,and were on full 50 ft. wide lots. Obviously the land was much cheaper in those days…

  • I did not claim the builders were first to make the area better. There were certainly risk takers who came before the builders. It was those people who made the area a possibility for the builders to come in.
    There were not enough of these people who were willing to do the rehab on run down homes or to tear down and build a nice home in the place of a dilapidated one for the area to have turned the corner.
    That is where the builders came in. They saw an area beginning to improve that was close to town with mature trees….They came in numbers that individuals could never match and they took what was started by someone else, and they gave it a huge push.
    Once the builders came in, the area gained recognition as an area that was safe enough and nice enough for families to move into. The Heights was certainly improving before the builders, but the builders drastically sped up, and improved the process, and gave legitimacy to the Heights as a desirable neighborhood. (That may not be what the preservationist, or the Heights lifers want to believe, but it is certainly a perception that I know a large population has) Builders gave legitimacy to a movement someone else began.
    Now that the Heights is considered a desirable neighborhood, the Preservationists want to stop it where it is. They want to claim that a run down home is historic and force a McCamelback addition on everyone who does not want to live in a 800sq ft house.
    Many of the older homes are beautiful and deserve to be saved. Remodeling them is great if that is what you want to do with it. But many of the older homes are cookie cutter homes from the 20’s and are not worth saving. The same floor plan is repeated over and over again from block to block. What is historic about that? Nothing! Its just old and run down…what is the difference between the Heights now, and Alief in 20 years?

  • Marksmu: “The same floor plan is repeated over and over again from block to block. What is historic about that? Nothing! Its just old and run down.”

    It’s difficult to have any sort of conversation with you about preservation after a comment like that. You clearly show that you don’t know the first thing about preservation standards, nor do you seem to care about historic fabric.

    Historic bungalow neighborhoods such as those in Pasadena, CA are filled with similarly-floor planned houses. This is one of the signature attributes of a neighborhood like these. Additionally, the attitude of automatically tearing down and replacing anything that is old and run down demonstrates that you have no concern for the historic. Historical architecture, by its nature, is old and run down. If we just discarded it, we would have NO historic districts or cities anywhere in the world.

  • I would like to think there can be a happy medium. We moved to Tulane (between 13th and 14th) in October into a “renovated” home. I use that term loosely because all that could be saved was the roof, most of the sub floor, some internal lath and about ½ the piers. What we ended up with is what I would think is a nice addition to the neighborhood, and we kept the facade the same as it was with the approval of the Historic Commission. The house by no means is a McMansion (2100 sq ft) but is so much more livable now and we were happy our builder didn’t demolish it and kept what he could and maintained the same footprint. A painstaking renovation would have taken years but our home was completed in less than six months and judging by the neighbors that have thanked us for doing what we did, with the help of our builder, we have added to the community without pissing anyone off.

  • @Matt

    By your definition there is no difference between old and historic. Old=Historic. I do not buy into that line of thought. To be historic the home needs to have some features that are unique to that particular home or time period. Every old home that was built in the 20’s and still stands is not historic. There are plenty of non-contributing old homes that need to be, and should be demolished.
    You are correct about one thing though, I do not want to preserve every old home, nor do I want to force the property owners to build a new home that looks like its older neighbors. If we had non-contributing homes next to contributing homes 100 years go, there should be no requirement that the non-contributing home become contributing if a new home is built. It was not like the others when it was built, why should we make it be like the others 100 years later?
    IMO Much of the value in the Heights from new construction has come because property owners have been allowed to build homes that are not identical to their next door neighbor. There is a large market for affordable-middle priced homes ($250-$800K range)that people can buy that are not repeated over and over again. Some people do not like the tract home burbs, and the Heights is a great option for those people. A great deal of people want to buy a home in a nice, safe area that is not a tract home. The Heights offers that, preservationists want to take that away. Preserving things just because they are old, is ludicrous. To be historic in my opinion it needs to offer something of value. If that does not meet your definition or the definition of historic fabric so be it. Take pictures, write books preserve its memory. If the older homes are so great people will preserve them voluntarily. I have seen very few homes get razed that I felt should not have been in the 5 years I have been here.
    Dont confuse these comments with me believing in the unfettered right to build anyting you want. Reasonable setbacks, height restrictions, etc can and should be implemented….I do not want townhomes and multiple houses per lot any more than the historic preservationist do, but I see no problem with a larger nice home. I like many of the McVics as the historic snobs like to call them….they are light years more attractive than a McCamelback, and just as historic in my opinion.
    I am against the ordinance. If everyone wanted preservation as you say they do, you would not have to force the issue through the city. You would be able to easily obtain it through voluntary binding deed restrictions as was done in Woodland Heights. The way the ordinance was forced is proof that the proponents do not have the support of the property owners.
    Finally the less like California we are be, the better off we will be! I have no desire for Texas to turn into the crap hole that California has become.

  • Innercity gentrification always starts with the artists and those pioneers that love the old houses and move in and slowly restore them – that is what happened 30 years ago. It was people like Bart Truxilo (who has restored many properties), Laura and Charlie Thorpe, and others like them who took a chance when the Heights was not a “hot property”. Builders came to take advantage of what they and the Heights Assn. (they created) had built in the neighborhood. If you read all the builders advertisement they always refer to the “historic Heights” — they are not the ones who made it historic but they sure are the ones who want to kill the golden goose. Look at the density they now think is good for the Heights.
    TBW at Rutland and W. 15th; Sullivan Bros. at Rutland/Ashland and 17th. — all around the Heights this really dense building is going on. NO THANKS! Thank goodness we can protect some of the Houston Heights from what the “builders” think is good for the community.

  • So what determines “contributing” versus “non contributing”?

    Serious question. I don’t understand.

    If two houses are side by side, both built in 1915, one falling down, one maintained, are both contributing?

  • The largest Victorian era historical neighborhood in the USA is the South End in Boston. I suggest MarkSMU do a google image search and then get back to us with his statement about the same floor plan being repeated over and over again not being historic… Many would argue that it is in fact the repetitive (meaning, the scale is not busted up) and uniform streetscape that makes the neighborhood historic.

    I applaud the people in the Heights for taking the initiative to save what THEY started before it goes the way of the Montrose where the new outnumbers the old.

    Additionally, as was so eloquently stated by Gilbert, restoring an old home is about the greenest thing you can do.

  • “Contributing” itself means that it contributes to the historic district in architeture, timeline, etc. It is one of the “dots” that the connects the whole picture (district).
    In the original ordinance, there were two classes of historic buildings:
    “contributing” a house in its original exterior configuration, and
    “potential contributing” is also a historic home but has had minor changes that could be reversed without a large outlay of money (such as a dormer where there was not one, or inappropriated porch supports (such as wrought iron).
    In the current amended version (because these classifications were confusing to people – such as yourself) the terms were simplified to just “contributing”.

  • Of course only a Heights rookie would claim that builders took none of the risk in the gentrification of the neighborhood. The early developers started building around 1990 as Mies noted well before most of us jumped on the bandwagon. At that time building houses of that size in this neighborhood was ceratinly still a risk.

  • So the city uses different criteria than that of the US Dept of the Interior/National Park Service for placement of a building on the National Register of Historic Places?

    The NPS only uses ‘contributing’ or ‘non contributing’. It IS or it ISN’T.

    (And I do know the city’s historic districts are completely different from the National Register’s historic districts.)

  • Jumbo- That’s great that the “pioneer” builders flocked to the Heights in the early 1990s. They were about 15 years behind the first wave (which actually began in the late 1970s) and ten behind the second (the gays migration North) and five behind the DINKs. What the builders did is open the Heights up to the masses by promising “historic vibes with granite countertops!” However, by the time they arrived, places like the Satellite Lounge, Fitzgerald’s, King Biscuit, Spanish Flower, Hickory Hollow, Star Pizza, etc…were already serving the true pioneers.

  • “By your definition there is no difference between old and historic. Old=Historic. I do not buy into that line of thought.”

    Actually, this is your idea. I don’t say anything like it in my post. What I say is that Historic=Old, which is irrefutable. (Quick logic lesson: just because A=B does not mean that B always equals A.)

  • My post was actually to Pyewacket2 who asked about contribuing.

    You will have to read the ordinance to see what the “criteria” means.
    No, the city uses the same criteria as the National Register – look it up. A “contributing” building must be “at least 50 years old” that is only one of the criteria. Others are “contribute to the period of significance .. architecture ..” etc. to paraphrase. (I don’t know what you mean by old = historic.) Again – there is established criteria – it is the same pretty much all across the United States.

    Some of Houston’s historic districts are also National Register Historic Districts.

  • I’m pretty sure they weren’t promising anything of the sort doofus. 1990 is way before granite countertops. I never said that the first wave of builders were pioneers. However they were here before the majority of people who are now loudly telling us that they know what we should think because they are more intelligent than us.

  • And historic doesn’t equal old. There is plenty of contemporary architecture in the world that is historic. Some would argue that the beer can house is historic. Of course you couldn’t create it now in one of our new histroic districts, the type of siding would be all wrong …

  • @Behunin,

    I think you’re addressing more than one person/post here.

    For what I meant, the city’s historic districts versus the National Register, see the “Houston’s Historic Districts Will remain as They Are” thread here on Swamplot.

    I’m not feeling like posting all that on this thread too.

  • The real pioneers in the Heights are the people who have lovingly cared for the historic homes for almost a century. People have put their personal credit on the line financing renovations through their home mortgages. Many of the homes in the Heights that are pre-1930 have been re-wired, re-plumbed, had kitchens and bathrooms redone, have been leveled (many times) and had rotting beams and crumbling piers rebuilt, have have HVAC systems installed, have had rotting porches rebuilt, and have had rear porches turned into utility rooms for washer and dryers. These pioneers were not in it for a quick buck. They were preserving and restoring Houston’s original residential neighborhood development (that’s right, the entire neighborhood is a piece of history, not just a few unique examples of craftsmen architecture). The builders came in and acted like spoiled children. They built modern houses, spanish mission, crappy suburban things, townhomes, faux New Orleans and the notorious McVic. Sure, the added sq ft of new construction raised property appraisals. But so what. Houston made the wise decision to put momentary interest of a few builders and realtors aside in favor of the long term goal of keeping Houston’s truly historic neighborhood alive.

  • Don’t think I’d call $250K-$800K ‘affordable-middle-priced homes’ Yike. Floor plans in the large homes that I’ve seen are pretty repetitive. Big granite, glossy kitchen and a big open family room seems to be de riguer. What baffles me is the change in the size of yard that’s left as a result. There is barely room for a tiny patch of vegetables or a swing set. It’s a real shift in the paradigm. –No complaining about mosquitoes and heat, you can’t be a wimp and live in Texas, as the song says.

  • And the interests of a good chunk of the property owners too old school … unless you’re still assuming we’re that much less intelligent than you that we can’t make up our own minds.

  • Sounds like a developer/ builder/ realtor to me. Let’s be clear about who is behind destroying the historical status of our neighborhood.

  • HaHaHa. You’re trying to tell me that 1990 was before granite countertops? Please. Next thing you’ll try to credit the developwhores with is inventing granite in the mid 90s.

  • When did the builders arrive? Depends on what you mean. There are 10 condos at 735 Arlington that were build in 1984. There are 4 brick townhomes on 8th & Cortlandt built in 1985. And there is a well kept ranch-style house at 946 Cortlandt (currently for sale)built in 1974.
    The first Victorian style new homes went up in the 400 block of W. 22nd, built by Sterling Victorians in 1986-7. They are 1200-1400 sq feet.
    It wasn’t until the lot-fillers that anyone objected. Scale, tree loss and a changed community were the issues. Example – rich people in huge new houses don’t want to form a community watch program with their neighbors, they want to hire a constable to keep an eye on all those workmen in the neighborhood building huge new houses. Another example? A neighbor who saw me doing yard work and said “Don’t you know? That’s why God invented Mexicans.”

  • I’m trying to tell you that 1990 was before granite countertops became the default. Don’t believe me, take a look at the original kitchens in any late 80’s early 90’s home, tile or laminate mostly.

    And thankyou finesse for being the voice of reason. I would absolutely agree that it is the scale and quality of architecture that is the problem. However to blame that on all builders and developers is making a massive generalisation.

  • Finness, the constable program has nothing to do with rich or poor. Certain parts of the Heights tried for years to get a neighborhood watch program in place. Unfortunately, between having a job, spending time with my family and tending to my yard, I am not home during the day and I don’t have time to patrol the neighborhood at 3 in the morning… apparantly I was not alone in my sentiments because we could never get one together. Anyway, I much prefer that the neighborhood patrol be done in a clearly marked car, operated by a person trained in police work, who carries a gun and handcuffs– as opposed to me, with my kid in the backseat, trying to guess whether someone is up to no good and then calling the police to no avail. As to your comment about the constable watching workmen building houses… my former neighbors were robbed during the day by a workman adding a camelback to the house behind them– I understand and appreciate and know that not all workmen rob houses (duh), but there are an awful lot of fake telephone repair guys, fake solicitors, fake city workers, and fake meter readers robbing our houses while we are at work and breaking into our cars while we are sleeping. So, I support a constable program despite not being rich and not living in a lot filler mansion. But I do agree with the rest of your post.

  • The constable program always makes me feel a little uneasy in that it suggests that the more money you have the better policing you can get from what is after all a branch of government that is supposed to provide equal service to all. I understand that constables are not taken away from other duties to provide the patrols but nonetheless it has alwasy felt like an ethically iffy concept to me.

  • Wow. Just when you think no one can trump a tea party argument there comes this guy with his theory on the Heights. Was going to add more than my two cents but see so many others have already rang that bell. All for each and every person having their own opinion but this guy is an obvious reason why we need to improve our education system!

  • First since Markd called all builders and developers parasites, I would love to know what he or she does for a living. I don’t think you have any idea how many jobs are created and how many mouths are fed by builders. Builders create jobs for electricians, painters, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, framers, concrete layers, carpet layers, appliance installers, AC and Heating installers, Landscapers, Window Installers, Security Installers, General Labor, Real Estate Brokers and Agents, Advertising Agencies, Photographers, etc. etc. Also not to mention the amount of supplies they purchase to keep business opened and their employees in jobs such as, building material, roofing material, appliances, hardware, doors, windows, concrete, flooring, carpet, tubs and showers, sinks, AC units, Heating Units, Fencing, Landscaping, Lighting, etc. etc. And last but not least the city fees they pay for permits, sidewalks, and drainage, taxes and insurance. Their parasites. I don’t think so. Let’s make all of Houston Historic and the Country. No more new homes, buildings, restaurants, roads, hospitals, play grounds and let’s stop building new products and creating new drugs and finding new cures. How sad I feel for the decay of such a great neighborhood.