Replacing Richmont Square: The Low Cost, Bohemian Option

Communications director Vance Muse tells the River Oaks Examiner‘s Michael Reed that the foundation’s board won’t replace the bargain-rent Richmont Square Apartments in a way that’ll change the character of the Menil campus:

“It’s on our mind that we could, in a low-key Menil way, build a (residential) property along Richmond Avenue,” he said.

Apartments at Richmont Square range from $650 for one-bedroom, one-bath units of 575 square feet to $955 for two-bedroom, two-bath units of 1,064 square feet. Deposits are between $250 and $300.

Asked about the possibility of the Menil plan including dwellings that are priced similarly to what would be replaced, Muse said specifics have not been discussed yet.

“We’d like to keep it bohemian, if at all possible,” he said. “There has always been a commitment (by Menil) to offering a break.”

Photo of Richmont Square parking lot, 1400 Richmond Ave.: River Oaks Examiner

22 Comment

  • Then why bother replacing them? If you believe there won’t be fewer units and probably significantly higher rents, then I’ve got a condo on Ashby to sell you!

    Better idea: Menil goes back to the architect and says: “We’re proud of the role we play providing reasonably-priced housing to this community. Let’s figure out a way to do what we need to without losing Richmont Square.” I know, it’ll never happen.

  • Keep what bohemian? Richmont Square or Doville as it’s called? Kind of expensive by the way for “bohemian” if you ask me. Of course it wasn’t always expensive. Dominique was very conscious of the term “starving artist” and priced everything accordingly. Of course she also snooped around the kitchens to see what kind of coffee you were buying. If you were buying expensive coffee your rent went up. A little secret few knew. But for those who could never figure out why their rent went up, now you know.

    It should be interesting to see what “bohemian” turns out to be. Probably four-story row houses leasing at $2,500 a month.

  • Why should the Menil be obligated to provide cheap apartments in one of the most expensive parts of town to anybody? What is wrong with you people? They bought it, they can and should do whatever they want to with it. Buy your own complex and keep it cheap. We are long-term donors to the Menil and expect our money to be used for the museum’s mission, not for subsidized housing.

  • John you are a Phucking Philistine. Who the hell do you think makes the art inside those museums? Everybody doesn’t start out as Andy Warhol. Cultural institutions arent’ obligated to provide affordable housing, but it’s a wonderful service to the community if they do. And another thing, who the hell do you think made Montrose so wonderful and hoity toity in the first place, do you think wealthy people gentrified the neighborhood? Because they didn’t – they fled the neighborhood in the 1960s and it was artists and bohemians and gays who gave life and beauty to the whole area, so you could live there after all the work had been done and sip your lattes and complain about all the renters and the noisy bars and the distasteful streetlife that ruins your suburban fantasy of quiet and order.

  • So, John, you think you ‘donation’ entitles you to direct the nature of the Menil? They are a multimillion dollar oraganization dedicated to conserving art. Art is made by creative individuals who learn by: visiting shows at the great Museums in Houston; by attending classes at the wonderful institutions Houston has to offer; and by viewing the shows of commercially successful artists at various art galleries around Houston.
    Maybe in your circle art is made by over indulged rich folks but historically the Menil has supported talented artists from all financial backgrounds get their careers started in many ways, including part time jobs and cheap housing.

  • We are long-term donors to the Menil and expect our money to be used for the museum’s mission, not for subsidized housing.

    Dominique “subsidized” quite a few people with the rent. And other things. But then her children are not their mother although they don’t really have the fortune she had. Of course she wouldn’t either at this point.

    I bet John lives in Southampton or Boulevard Oaks. And is pretentious.

    As I recall everything eventually was to go including the little gray houses which would be replaced with similar but modern buildings for Menil offices and also for non-profit arts organizations. With lots of “green areas” all the way to
    Richmond with a “mall” similar to the one at the University of St. Thomas. Just a much bigger one. She was buying land long before the museum went up. That in fact according to some was what caused the “Second Schism” with the Basilian Fathers. They were hoping she would donate some of the land to them for expansion of the University of St. Thomas. That hope came to an end with the announcement about the Byzantine Chapel. Which as I recall followed the announcement by the Basilian Fathers that the Art Department would be dissolved which sort of dissolved the possibility of the relationship with the Menil. Life in Doville. Dominique and the Basilians. With both, it was their way or no way. Dominique of course had it her way.

    Whatever they do it will center around her vision of what is considered one of the most important private art collections in the world housed in its own museum or in this case, its own museums. More on the way as they say.

  • It sure would be nice to have the power this Dominique has. Instead of allowing people to pay the market rate for an apartment, giving everyone equal access, you get to pick and choose who you hand out this perk to. Then once they are living in your apartment you can control their lives by threatening to raise the rent. I wonder if people who have different political beliefs than she has will get to live there.

  • It sure would be nice to have the power this Dominique has.

    It was nice. Dominique de Menil died in 1997.

  • As a true visionary I would take a flame-thrower to this stink-hole and build something truly prestigious and worthy of being near such a fine art collection. We can let the starving artists mow the grass and sleep in tents on nearby surface parking lots. Their suffering will inspire great art and they will eventually thank men like me.

  • It was nice. Dominique de Menil died in 1997.
    Doesn’t matter if she’s dead or not. Starving artist apartments for cheap reek of elitism. If your not using market forces to decide who can live there then you are discriminating against someone. Why should one group of people have access to cheap rent when another is denied it. I guess since it’s “bohmeian” people that are getting the benfits it’s OK to discrimiate. If there’s a term that more equates with spoiled rich white kids than bohemian I’m not sure what it could be.

  • Market forces are what has kept the Richmont Square there so long. I’m under the impression that it provides a substantial income to the Menil Collection. I’m not a real estate expert, but I imagine the Menil can create a world-class residential development there that opens up space for expanding the arts programming and at the same time rent to people in the same range as the current apartments. I thought the whole lesson from this recession was that high-end glitz for the ultra-wealthy doesn’t always mean more profitable. If it’s designed well, they should be able to advance their non-profit mission through art and the residential development.

  • God save us from Libertarians that think because they were born on third base and trudged to homeplate all by their lonesome tortured selves that nobody else could use a leg up sometimes.

    Cities and yahoo Libertarians benefit greatly by by having bohemians and creative people live in their midst. They transform neighborhoods, and make it safe for developers and free marketeers to gamble with other people’s money on building soulless mega apartment blocks and ruin inner city grids with 4 story townhouses with garages plopped in front.

  • Starving artist apartments for cheap reek of elitism.

    Richmont Square has never been subsidized housing for “starving artists” but merely an investment for “cash flow” for the Menil Foundation. More than likely the cost of maintenance and taxes has killed the “cash cow” but the land itself was always intended for use for expansion.

    It has, however, been a godsend for students at the University of St. Thomas and Rice and U of H. So there will be a shortage of “student housing” as a result.

  • I guess discrimination in housing is OK as long as it’s for people that you like or if it’s for people that you deem are a benefit to society. Maids, constrcution workers, janitors, etc… need not apply, only artists.

  • Quote Matt Mystery:Dominique was very conscious of the term “starving artist” and priced everything accordingly.

    I’m sure Dominique was a nice person and was trying to do the right thing. The words “starving artist” and “cheap rent” really set me off though because I don’t understand why people think that artists deserve some kind of break on rent when there are so many poor people out there who need it more. These apartments are in a part of town where many people would like to live but can’t afford it. Why should people who have some kind of connection with the “right people” get a benefit that the rest of us can’t have?

  • The de Menil’s supported artists most by buying their art, not by subsidizing, en mass, their rents. I doubt that the percentage of “starving artists” living at the complex has ever topped 1% – like any other grouping of residents. My experience knowing people who’ve lived there over the last 25 yrs is that it’s mostly college students who can afford not to live in dorms. I could not afford to live there in college, I lived in a dumpy Montrose 4-plex like most of my friends. If you really want to support living artists, BUY Art with YOUR money, and stop wasting energy trying to tell other people what do with their own hard earned assets.

  • Yes, Richmont Square is full of college students. I can’t speak for UH or St. Thomas but Rice can’t even come close to accomodating all its undergrads on campus. It’s fairly common for a Rice student to live off campus at least one of their four years. I would be real surprised if they are losing money on Richmont Square. Sure, it’s theirs to do with as they want. But I think there would be a public-relations backlash if they tore it down and didn’t replace it with something similar. I just have trouble with the idea of displacing a large number of rent-paying residents. Even with Wilshire Village, there weren’t nearly as many, and there was at least a plausible safety/maintenance issue for that.

  • A lot of you seem to be working off of the underlying assumption that Montrose is the only appropriate place for artists to live, and that if they can’t live there–RIGHT THERE–Houston will lose out on their purported magnificence. I beg to differ. Cheap rent and dumpy four-plexes gave rise to Montrose. Now, the very same process is occuring in the East End…which is closer to our two largest universities and has a surprisingly large concentration of studios…without any subsidy whatsoever.
    Let Montrose go down its path to yuppieville. It’s already pretty much arrived. There is a superior alternative available at a lower-price.

  • I think some need to learn how to read. Richmont Square was bought as an investment. Not as a means to offer additional “subsidized” housing for the “artistes.”

    Artists and others who were “welcome in Doville” were given deals on the little gray houses on Sul Ross and Branard.

  • I’ll be glad to see that monstrous heap known as Richmont Square gone.

  • Well it is possible they will replace at least a large part of the complex, which is much larger than people realize, with another apartment complex for income. There have been problems with the city apparently with regard to code violations. Which may or may not be behind this.

    As for the elitism of it all the reality is Dominique de Menil was an elitist. But not a pretentious one. When the de Menils moved here, fled the Nazis is really what they did, they didn’t really have a lot of money and the future of Schlumberger was not a guaranteed future. Had it not survived, John de Menil probably would have gone to work for an oil company and might have done just as well but even if he hadn’t, she would have probably ended up with an art gallery somewhere and probably would have ended up with the collection somehow and we would still have the Menil. It was in her blood as they say. A passion. The Schlumberger fortune just made it easier to pursue the passion. She was unique to say the least. And definitely elitist. People with passion usually are. It allows them to look beyond themselves. Which she did.

    She was also terribly fun. A little eccentric as well.

  • Interesting comments. I lived at Richmont Sq from 1986 to 2000. During those years there were students as well as professionals (I worked in the Med Center). The site was well kept, rents were reasonable, and the location was ideal for public transportation. But even in the mid-90s, the area was changing into a yuppieville with the middle class being squeezed out.