04/14/17 11:15am

UNTIL WE FORGET THE ALAMO WASN’T ALWAYS JUST A TEX-MEX CHAIN Mural by Wiley Robertson, 3301 Cline St., Fifth Ward, Houston“Once you start erasing history, who knows where it ends?” writes Cort McMurray in today’s Chronicle, scripting out a taste of potential dystopian franchise future for Houston and Texas’s most prominent landmarks should that bill that would gut preservation rules across the state make it through the legislature this session. The problem with the bill, he argues, is that it “makes forgetting easy” — and “in a place with no patience for memories, no place is sacred.” Before launching into a scene depicting how the Alamo might come to be repurposed into imaginary family-friendly megachain Casey Dilla’s, McMurray writes that “using a broad, vaguely worded standard — just what does ‘widely known’ mean? — to address the question of what’s historically significant to a community is a little like rewriting Hamlet entirely in emojis: a lot of really important stuff is going to be lost. And we will be left with a state that’s little more than the affable hell of FM 518 at Highway 288, traffic and pavement and an endless supply of family-friendly chain restaurants, serving an awful pastiche of Tex-Mex.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Mural commemorating Peacock Records, the former home of which was demolished last month: Spectrum Audio

12/02/16 1:45pm

CITY WANTS TO CREATE HISTORIC DISTRICT TO PROTECT WHAT’S LEFT OF FREEDMEN’S TOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT Following last month’s sudden brick relocation incident, Mayor Turner has announced a plan to make a plan to create a “cultural district in Freedmen’s Town — one that would preserve historic churches, schools, and homes,” as Andrew Schneider describes it this week. A section of the Fourth Ward roughly bounded by W. Gray, W. Dallas, Genessee, and Arthur streets has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1985 as the Freedmen’s Town Historic District — but that national designation didn’t provide much local protection to the area’s architecture, and many of the buildings listed in the district’s nomination form to the register have since been demolished. Archi-historian Stephen Fox told Claudia Feldman back in February that a city of Houston historic district designation, however, would be different; Fox noted that “it might require gerrymandering to pick up the proper concentration of historic buildings. But it could be done.” [Houston Public Media and Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Freedmen’s Town Historic District sign: Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition

11/21/16 5:15pm

Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019Brick tearup in Freedmen's Town Historic District, Andrews St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019

Some more friends of historic bricks — this time, specifically, of the bricks in the Freedmen’s Town Historical District in Fourth Ward — caught contractors tearing up part of the brickwork on Andrews St. this morning, reports Jeff Ehling. Mayor Sylvester Turner says via Twitter from Mexico that nobody was supposed to have messed with the bricks, which were put under a protective order last year after another short-lived bout of street tearup; Turner adds that he’ll deal with it when he gets back. A reader on the scene snapped a few photos of the torn up section, at the intersection with Genessee St. east of the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center campus:

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Second Stop in Fourth Ward
03/30/16 10:00am

Shotgun Chameleon, Fourth Ward, Houston

Shotgun Chameleon, Fourth Ward, Houston

From the inside out and the outside looking in, here’s a peek through the semi-see-through mesh facade of University of Houston architecture professor Zui Ng’s Shotgun Chameleon house, located just east of the intersection of Cleveland and Gillette streets in the Freedmen’s Town National Historic District. The 2-story 3-bedroom home was named Architectural Record‘s house of the month last month, and was originally designed for a 2006 expo of building ideas for post-Katrina New Orleans. The space can be used as a duplex or a split home-office setup thanks to a set of exterior stairs leading to the upper floor.

The design’s appearance can also be adapted to blend in with different neighborhoods and urban settings. The metal mesh, which covers most of the upstairs balcony on the street-facing side of the building, could provide a scaffolding for leafy cover, or could get wooden siding tacked over it to help the structure fit in with similarly-adorned neighbors. Ng says the front could even go commercial, with the upstairs hosting a billboard for a downstairs business, or go high-tech, with options ranging from solar panel arrays to breeze-catching louver arrangements.

The Chameleon is shown above between a metal-skinned contemporary house and an older wood-sided home. Here’s a view from the back side, which is shorter due to the structure’s sloped roof: 

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Blending In in Freedmen’s Town
04/10/15 11:15am

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In contrast to the precision of its rather limited exterior landscaping (above), bold motifs of twisting vines (top) and wind-waving palm fronds (middle) add some garden to a garden variety 1963 rancher in Glenbrook Valley, even if it’s just on the wallpaper and draperies. Tended and tidy, the property popped up on the market two weeks ago; it has a $198,500 price tag. It’s located 2 blocks south of Sims Bayou and 2 blocks north of Bellfort St. on a central street in the neighborhood, Houston’s only outside-the-Loop historic district.

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Patio Crowd
02/05/15 12:45pm

Proposed Heights Mercantile Retail and Office Complex,  7th St. at Yale St., Houston Heights

Proposed Heights Mercantile Retail and Office Complex,  7th St. at Yale St., Houston HeightsResidents near the section of 7th St. between Yale St. and Heights Blvd. have been discussing plans to turn the group of warehouse buildings long held by Pappas Restaurants into a 4-building “creative neighborhood and shopping destination” called Heights Mercantile. The Finial Group, which bought the properties from Pappas and a few other landowners last year, hired Austin architect Michael Hsu to come up with plans for renovating 3 of the buildings lining 7th St., tearing down the long warehouse lining Yale St. and replacing it with the new 2-story structure pictured above. The new project is a joint venture between Finial and a local investment firm called Radom Capital.

A notable feature of the 1.4-acre site plan is 3 stretches of head-in parking along 7th St. The plan shows 36 spaces on the north side of the street, facing the row of wooden bollards lining the hike-and-bike trail converted from the path of the former MKT rail line and 2 banks of 11 spaces in a row on the opposite side. Although head-in parking configurations dominate in some portions of the city (Rice Village, for example), new stretches of more than 4 spaces in a row have been prohibited by city regulations for decades.

The Pappas warehouses have head-in parking along 7th St. The developer not only wants to preserve and adjust that arrangement for the new development, but is asking the city to count these on-street spaces toward the required number of off-street spaces. The planning commission is scheduled to rule on the associated parking variance application this afternoon.

Here’s a site plan:

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Retail Revamp
01/14/15 5:15pm

3500 White Oak Dr., Houston Heights Historic District South

3500 White Oak Dr., Houston Heights Historic District South

The owner of this 1930-ish former gas station and duplex bungalow at 3500 White Oak Dr. in the Houston Heights Historic District South plans to tear down the 2 structures and build a single-family home on the 8,800-sq.-ft. site — likely facing the side street, Cortlandt. Last week by a vote of 12 to 6 Houston’s planning commission reversed the decision of the archaeological and historic commission, allowing the demo to go through. The HAHC had denied the owner’s demolition request in November, insisting that the structures could be rehabbed. But experts hired by the owner indicated that the underground gas tank beneath the station couldn’t be removed without demolishing that structure, and that redevelopment of the duplex would be “cost prohibitive.”

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They’re History
10/22/14 4:30pm

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Since its purchase in August for $86,100, a 1956 Glenbrook Valley property located on one of the mid-century neighborhood’s interior streets has been zhushed for a flip. It’s now back on the market and asking $144,900. Changes are most apparent in the kitchen (above middle, with the original below it) and bathrooms. Tweaks before its listing last week included a new roof, new flooring, repairs to underground plumbing, leveling of the foundation — and home staging with careful attention to corners . . .

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Buffed Up
08/14/14 3:15pm

1815 Cortlandt St., Houston Heights

Relocation Map of 1815 Cortlandt St., Houston Heights to 1026 Lathrop St., Denver Harbor, HoustonHouston’s city council voted last week to allow the owner of the home pictured above at 1815 Cortlandt St. in the Houston Heights to move the 1942 bungalow to 1026 Lathrop St. in Denver Harbor. It was a notable decision, if only for the fact that the council was voting on a housemove at all. According to the attorney who presented the case for the homeowners, this was not just the first time that the council had overturned a decision from the city’s architectural and historical commission; it was the first time a historic-district appeal had even reached the city council.

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A Moving, Historic Decision
05/28/14 2:00pm

HIGH FIRST WARD HISTORIC DISTRICT GETS CITY COUNCIL HIGH FIVE Boundary of High First Ward Historic District, First Ward, HoustonThe High First Ward is the newest historic district in Houston, having been voted in by a 12-5 count of city council members this afternoon. The stringy selection of 55 lots (pictured at right), marked down from the original 149, includes properties along Spring, Shearn, Crockett, Summer, White, Silver, Sabine, and Colorado streets in the First Ward, west of Houston Ave. and south of I-10. According to tweeting Chronicle reporter Mike Morris, a motion by council member Stephen Costello to redraw the district map in order to exclude a couple of properties was rejected by a 4-to-13 vote. [Twitter; previously on Swamplot] Map: HAHC

04/25/14 10:15am

Map of Proposed and Revised High First Ward Historic District, Houston

The city’s historic commission voted 6 to 1 yesterday to give its approval to a new High First Ward historic district — but it’s a considerably smaller district than the proposed one area property owners squabbled over and then voted on in February. The colors in the map above show the city’s tabulation of the results of that vote. The dashed lines show the original boundaries; after the ballots came in, the city’s planning director redrew the boundaries so that the district would be in an area where at least 67 percent of the owners supported the district. Of the 55 tracts in the new district, 37 owners voted to approve it, 10 opposed it, and 8 didn’t return survey cards (which counts as a “no” vote). to the count, Next and final stop for the proposed district: A final vote by city council.

Map: HAHC (PDF)

55 Properties
03/06/14 12:00pm

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Talk about shotgun stylin’: The listing for this double-barreled 1885 cottage in the Old Sixth Ward winks at its straight-shot floor plan with a sure-fire choice of equivalent-vintage decor above a bedroom door (top). Posted Wednesday, the renovated property (with patriotic porch) has a $325K asking price. The last time the home changed hands was 2012, when it sold for $242,000.

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Two Across
02/26/14 12:45pm

Bungalows in Starkweather Historic District, E. 31st 1/2 St., Independence Heights, Houston

A collection of a couple dozen or so bungalows along E. 31st 1/2 St. between Yale and Cortlandt in Independence Heights just a block or so north of the 610 Loop is the city’s newest historic district — and perhaps the one with the most colorful name: Starkweather. The subdividing of the neighborhood predates the establishment of Independence Heights as an actual independent city in 1915, but most of the homes were built between the late 1920s (when the city was annexed by Houston) and the 1940s. They were originally marketed to the African American community in the neighborhood. Here’s a map:

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Independence Heights
02/21/14 11:02am

Stop Historic Districts Sign at Urban Living Property, First Ward, Houston

A few Swamplot readers have been sending in pics of the “Stop Historic Districts” yard signs that have been up in the First Ward for the last few weeks, the vast majority of which — at our readers’ report — have shown a remarkable affinity for lots owned by real-estate firm Urban Living or its affiliates. The signs (including the one on Crockett St. between White and Silver shown above) have given voice to the otherwise silent former sites of older First Ward building stock, as they jettison their former inhabitants to make room for larger, glitzier, and generally taller new construction.

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Yard Sign Drama in the High First
02/10/14 4:45pm

Map Showing Boundaries of Proposed High First Ward Historic District, Houston

Owners of properties in portions of 18 blocks spreading roughly between Spring, Winter, Hemphill, and Johnson streets in the First Ward have 2 more weeks to decide if they want their properties to form a new historic district — and then, if the experiences of other would-be historic districts is any guide, a fair amount of time to squabble over the outcome after that. An application for what’s being called the High First Ward Historic District was submitted to the city in early December. Owners of property in the neighborhood have until February 24 either to return their ballots to the city or use them for papier-mâché. To be approved, the district would need 67 percent of owners in the district to vote yes; ballots that aren’t returned will be counted as votes against. If that percentage isn’t reached within the outlines shown in the map of the proposed district above, the city could carve out a smaller district for historic-district protection where the votes support it.

Map: Planning & Development Dept.

Voting Has Begun