How Old Montrose Came Apart, One Swamplot Story at a Time

A section of John Nova Lomax’s new Texas Monthly essay on Montrose’s continuing “it was better in the old days” rap chronicles a sequence of prominent changes to the neighborhood from the last decade. That it’s possible to find at least one Swamplot story corresponding to each noted example speaks to the longterm vigilance of this site’s tipsters — if not the author’s research methods. (Lomax in fact wrote a few of our stories himself; he’s a former Swamplot contributor and editor.)

Here’s the passage, altered by a peppering with Swamplot links to provide an annotated and illustrated version of Montrose’s recent journey from former counterculture haven to . . . uh, former counterculture haven:


In my view, Old Montrose has perished not from a single death-blow, but rather by a thousand cuts, most coming in the last few years. Mary’s, long the city’s most iconic gay bar, gave way to a high-end coffeehouse. Chances, Montrose’s only full-time lesbian bar, morphed into Underbelly, the city’s “it” restaurant of the most recent oil boom. The last bastion of Felix, the old-school, family-friendly Tex-Mex chain, closed down and was reborn as an outpost of Austin’s chic Uchi sushi empire. Ruchi’s Taqueria (a musician-friendly home of way-late-night beers served in red iced tea tumblers) and quirky-bordering-on-insane jewelry boutique Fly High Little Bunny were razed to make way for a CVS. La Jalisciense, another late-night taqueria beloved of musicians, was replaced by a more upscale Mexican restaurant. A Raising Cane’s outlet landed like a spaceship from suburbia smack-dab on Westheimer, and Texas Junk Company, for years a staple on lists of “quirky things to do while in Houston,” closed down, its owner decamping for Moulton, Texas.

Meanwhile, all over the area, lawns and antique bungalows have given way to tall, lot-filling Texas Tuscan condos and McMansions. Seventies-era garden-style apartment complexes have been replaced by luxury mixed-use mid-rises.

In one of the more definitively Houstonian real estate happenings I’ve seen in 47 years of observation, H-E-B bought and razed [actually, the demo was completed more than 6 months before the purchase] a lovely (if crumbling) live oak–shaded apartment complex from the Forties directly across the street from a Fiesta supermarket, one beloved by Montrose’s artsy set for its cheap and lovingly selected wine selection, international foods and produce, great seafood counter, and simply amazing in-store music playlists. (You’d hear everything from Bo Diddley to relatively obscure Beatles tunes like “Hey Bulldog” to Otis Redding to Poco in its aisles.) Faced with the shiny new store across the street, Fiesta closed down and was soon replaced by . . . a luxury mid-rise apartment complex. So, if you are keeping score at home, Houston tore down a historic apartment complex to build a grocery store across the street from where we tore down a grocery store to build a brand-new apartment building.

Photos: Jackson Myers, (3400 Montrose demolition); Katharine Shilcutt (Wilshire Village Apartments [license]); Candace Garcia (Fiesta at 3803 Dunlavy St.)

You Were There

8 Comment

  • The eye roll I’m having is so deep it’s painful. Neighborhoods change. I’ve lived in Montrose for nearly 10 years now and I’ve seen all the changes. While I could do without some of the townhouse designs, overall this is still a great neighborhood to live in. We live in what I would describe as a Food Rainforest compared to other areas of town, we’re 20 minutes from just about anything worth doing here, walking distance to parks, museums and shops, and while I would live to see the mattress stores die in fire, this is a pretty great area of town. Also, so long as there are drag queens at Disco Kroger and loud rock music at Rudz, Montrose has its (albeit more polished) soul.

  • There we go again. Same old story about the good old days. When a large bottle of beer would set you and your countless friends only back $1, ten thousand bucks would buy you a bungalow and only your grandma was overweight because of the pies she baked for the whole neighborhood.

    The LGBT community in Montrose would spend their time dancing and being good to each other and the dope and HIV took your best friends, making you some kind of survivor.

    The creative class of the 80’s-90’s is getting old. They have become grumpy old folks, whining about the good old days.

    Houston will continue to change, over and over again. Get used to it. You might live long enough to see one or two cycles. Enjoy the ride, you free (…) spirit.

  • This changes has been happening for over 2 decades. There was a solid 10-15 years that anyone who cared to preserve montrose had to take steps at preserving it.
    Yet all you do is talk about what it used to be.
    Montrose died, The Montrose rose from the ashes, maybe a better place, maybe not, depends on who you ask.

  • I was driving through the area down Richmond last night and was realizing how much change I’ve witnessed there just in the past 15 years since I came back to Houston. It seems that less than 50% of the buildings and businesses that I knew there 15 years ago are left. I can’t imagine the memories someone else might have if they were here even further in the past. Wonder if there’s a data tool for measuring neighborhood turnover by building age or business registrations. Might be interesting to compare different areas of Houston to see just how much they have changed.

  • Montrose was a gutter in the 70-early 90s, drugs, prostitution, crime, and if you are missing all of that, feel free to pack up and move to Detroit, they have plenty of cheap houses waiting for you….

  • I read the article, and I thought the author did a good job of showing the inherent hypocrisy in “things used to be better around here”. Of course, it was a nostalgic piece about the history of Montrose, but I felt that the end message was “things change, but Montrose is still a great neighborhood”.

    I like the article, and I learned a lot about my neighborhood in the process.

    P.S. My middle school bus drove by Mary’s every day, so that mural was part of my childhood. I wish I had a photo of it.

  • Chase, just Google “Mary’s Bar Mural, Houston, TX” and you will have your wish fulfilled.

    Just call me the Montrose Wish Fairy.