A commercial realty sign was spotted this week near the 110-plus-years-old house on W. 20th St. at the northeast corner with Ashland St., per the report of a reader on the prowl with a pet. The double-decker 1904 home is actually the only piece of land at the intersection that isn’t already involved in some sort of business dealings, whether by way of conversion to retail space (like the house across Ashland hosting the Heights Florist Shop), as simple logistical support (like the parking lot across W. 20th), or as part of higher commercial aspirations (as demonstrated by the St. Joseph medical midrise, diagonally across). CRBE, meanwhile, has its own tentative suggestions of what could be done with the .64-acre property, which is being marketed for ground lease:
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W. 20th, East of Waterworks
JUNE IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO MAKE NOISE IN PERSON ABOUT THE NEW HEIGHTS HISTORIC DISTRICT DESIGN GUIDELINES As of this evening, the Heights-applicable design guidelines being presented at the public meeting planned for June aren’t posted on the City’s website yet, but they purportedly will be by the end of next week. In the meanwhile, Jonathan McElvy has a rundown of some of the proposed rules, which he suggests in the Leader today has shifted his view of the codification process from a cause for celebration (no more seemingly arbitrary denials of that raised eave that looks just like your neighbor’s!) to a potential cause for concern — particularly for those hoping to populate the neighborhood with families wanting to add on to their bungalows. “What should frighten people the most in the Heights,” writes McElvy, is that “the proposed guidelines say that if you have a 6,600-square-foot lot, your home can be no more than 2,700 square feet. If you have a 5,000-square-foot lot, your home can be no larger than 2,200 square feet“ — including garage and porch square footage. If you’ve got an opinion about that, the meeting will be on June 20th at the Heights Fire Station from 6 to 8. [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 511 E. 24th St.: HAR
A CHECK ON EXPIRATION DATES AMID THE HEIGHTS FOODIE BOOM The restaurant–heavy redevelopment of various used car dealerships and auto shops along N. Shepherd Dr. might bring with it some future trouble for the Heights area, Jonathan McElvy suggests in his column for the Leader this week. McElvy worries that too many new spots chasing after trends in the “culinary preferences of Houston’s red-hot foodie community,” (as he notes recently closed-for-re-concepting Heights restaurant Glass Wall described it) may mean that the area is “about to enter a period of constant turnover along our most important corridor.” Noting the startling estimates on how many restaurants close in fewer than 5 years (whether due to lack of business knowledge, bad construction traffic, or sheer bad luck), McElvy writes that while there’s little to be done to curb the popularity of “farm-to-table restaurants that know how to plate a dish but don’t have a clue how to pay franchise taxes on time . . . it is not going to help our community if 1 business opens and another closes every other week.” [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Karen S.
PUTTING THE HEIGHTS BACK IN ITS . . . UH, PLACES
“In their rush to capitalize on the popularity of the district, businesses and developers have awkwardly assumed the mantle of the name ‘Heights,’ even though they’re clearly outside the zone of its accepted borders,” writes Jeff Balke this morning for the Houston Press. Where exactly are those accepted borders? And which variation means what? Balke suggests something between a taxonomical scheme and an etiquette lesson on selecting the proper name for whatever flavor of Heights, Heights-adjacent and Heights-aspiring territory you may be seeking to invoke — from the historic city originally spurring the name, all the way to the fringe territories of Katyville and the Heights Walmart. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
HUNKY DORY AND BERNADINE’S ARE SHUTTING DOWN NEXT WEEK AFTER ALL The scandal– and bankruptcy-embroiled Treadsack Group just announced that both Hunky Dory Tavern and Bernadine’s are closing next week. After the company announced in late March that both restaurants would stay open for the time being, the last day of action for each is now set as May 24th. The expanding group of Killen’s meat vendors announced on Monday that it had snagged Bernadine’s chef Graham Laborde (who stepped in to run Hunky Dory’s kitchen too, after Richard Knight left in February). No related updates from also-in-Chapter-11 Down House, or any of the other restaurants in the group. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Hunky Dory
The slumping 1930’s storefront at the northeast corner of Ashland and W. 11th St. has been given the all-clear to be cleared out, a reader notes from city paperwork spotted on the door late last week (with this morning’s daily demolition report hot on his heels to confirm the story). Both the street-fronting corner property and its taller neighbor are owned by a legal entity called Villa Incognito, a name which appears to have been created less than a year after the Tom Robbins novel of the same name was published. The company’s registered agent also appears to own the next property down the row at 519 W. 11th.
Photo: Swamplot inbox
Coming Down in the Heights
The ex-service station sitting on the sliver of land edged by N. Durham Dr., W. 16th St., and Nashua St. is being remodeled and repainted, with signage already in place for burger bar Balls Out. The late-sixties space, home to the Guero Deluxe Car Wash before Re:Vive Development snapped up the property in 2015, was occupied by used car dealership Sabinas Cars and Trucks a few years before that.
The former service station’s canopy is still in place; the now-blank sign space on top previously served as a canvas for one of those Wiley LOVE murals:
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BART TRUXILLO, 1942-2017 In 2006, the former brewery structure now hosting the Magnolia Ballroom was the first building in Houston to get protected landmark status — and was not the last, probably thanks in part to the life work of its restorer. Bart Truxillo bought the then-vacant building on the edge of Market Square in the late sixties, not too long before buying and restoring the crumbling Queen Anne Mansfield house in the Heights; both structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Truxillo later helped found what’s today known as Preservation Houston, and start the organization’s Good Brick Awards during the demolition-rich years of Houston’s first oil boom, as Lisa Gray notes today in the Chronicle; after years of work restoring historic buildings around town and serving a bunch of other history-minded groups, he died yesterday at age 74. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Magnolia Ballroom building on Franklin St.: Brewery Tap HTX
Retail plans along the stretch of E. 11th St. west of Beverly St. look to be moving in a more concrete direction once again — SRS has started advertising available square footage in a double-decker strip center planned on the eastern half of the block. The design for the site has been totally overhauled since the original ads for a Park Place on 11th development (the weathered signage for which is still hanging around on the property, and has been for the better part of a decade.)
The potential footprint of the retail space spreads all the way from Beverly St. to just east of metals brightener Bright Metals of the Heights. A leasing siteplan shows the center insulated from the 11th St. traffic by a breathable dual layer of parking spaces — and even a triple layer on the Beverly St. side:
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Down House Ventures, the legal entity behind Treadsack’s oldest Heights-area technically-a-private-club, has filed for bankruptcy this morning, lagging just a few days behind last week’s Bernadine’s and Hunky Dory filings. The company preemptively included Down House in a Facebooked list of Treadsack restaurants that would stay open for now despite the legal and financial question marks now hanging over the company, given the sudden mid-winter departures of side-by-side restaurant and bar duo Foreign Correspondents and Canard and the details of payroll and tax issues subsequently dredged up; D&T Drive Inn and Johnny’s Gold Brick were placed on the still-truckin’ roster as well. This morning’s filings also look to have included a motion asking for funds to pay current Down House employees, as Craig Malisow reports was granted in the case of last week’s Chapter 11 initiates.
Photo: Down House
Going Down in the Heights
HUNKY DORY AND BERNADINE’S ARE NOT DEAD YET In a statement posted simultaneously yesterday to the Bernadine’s and Hunky Dory Tavern Facebook pages, Treadsack’s management team says the twin restaurants at 1801 N. Shepherd (along with the company’s remaining establishments: Down House, D&T Tavern, and Johnny’s Gold Brick) remain open — and that it’s hoping customers will support the decision by continuing to eat there: “We’ve filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy for Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s so we can restructure our debt and continue to operate. This was a very difficult decision, and not one we came to lightly, but the chance to save the businesses that all of our employees have worked so hard to build and so many of you, our guests, have supported, made it a risk worth taking. We love these restaurants and will continue to fight for them.” [Eater Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Hunky Dory
WITH BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, DRY CREEK IS ABOUT TO GET VERY WET LATER THIS MONTH The spot on the corner of White Oak Dr. and Yale St. where Dry Creek Cafe (pictured) closed down last year is expected to open next month as a “neighborhood bar with food that meets restaurant standards.” Proprietors Bobby Heugel (who got his start at Anvil) and Justin Yu (who shut down Oxheart) know a bit about each, respectively. The newly renovated space at 544 Yale will be called Better Luck Tomorrow, they announced today. [Eater Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Andy M.
Swamplot reader Brendan Mahoney, an Aussie transplant, writes in to report a discovery he and his running partner made just a few weeks ago while out on a run in the Heights area: “The new 2 mile section of the White Oak Bayou Greenway that opened recently looks like the great state of Texas.” Mahoney’s kinda-familiar path (and split times) are visible in the screenshot of his running app, above. Here’s a closeup:
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Heights Lone Star-ish Lap
WE’VE REACHED CHAPTER 11 IN THE HUNKY DORY, BERNADINE’S STORY Here’s an update to continuing reports on the financial health of the Treadsack restaurant group, the company behind Heights-area establishments Down House, D&T Drive Inn, Johnny’s Gold Brick, Hunky Dory, Bernadine’s, Foreign Correspondents, and Canard: Mothership Ventures, LLC, an entity owned by Treadsack partner Chris Cusack and — according to Houston Press reporter Craig Malisow, the business entity that operates as Bernadine’s and Hunky Dory — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection over this past weekend. Foreign Correspondents and its next-door-neighbor bar Canard closed for business in the shopping center at 4721 N. Main St. suddenly at the end of last year; in February, Malisow published a detailed saga of payroll and tax problems behind the shutdown, alleging Treadsack restaurants had become subject to IRS and state liens totaling more than $1.3 million, and that at one point the Texas Comptroller’s office had threatened a seizure of assets at Down House if taxes were not paid. Bernadine’s and Hunky Dory have been operating since late 2015 in a new building constructed for them at the corner of 18th St. and N. Shepherd. Update, 1:30 pm: An investor has filed suit against the owners of Treadsack, the Houston Press now reports. Craig Malisow also notes that the debtor in the bankruptcy filing has been granted funds to pay for the next employee paychecks. Photo: Hunky Dory
Some signage for Starfish is now stuck to the side of the former location of yes-that-Bradley Bradley’s Fine Diner at 191 Heights Blvd. (next to Koehler St.), Heights-area-restaurant cartographer Brie Kelman notes. The aquatic theme, expected to extend to the menu, extends to the interior of the space as well, which Kelman says sports a large fish tank near the entrance. Cherry Pie Hospitality (which also owns Pi Pizza down at the south end of the strip center) says it’s looking for Starfish employees, now, too.
Photo: Brie Kelman (top), Chris S. (bottom)
Diner Goes Cherry Pie