The Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, 2009: The Runners-Up

The polls have closed and the votes have been tallied. Now here’s the moment you’ve almost been waiting for! Yes, it’s time to announce the second-place winners of the second annual Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate!

But first, a note of thanks — to all of you who voted, commented, nominated, and cajoled in support of your favorite candidates. You made this extended moment of reflection, recognition, and honor possible. The Swampies belong to you!

Should the actual award winners (we’ll announce them soon) be unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, these second-place winners are ready and willing to serve! Let’s have a big round of digital applause, please, for the 2009 runners-up in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate — the Swampies!

They are:


1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Second-place winner: “Lick and Stick” Stone.

The nomination: “A little thinly sliced stone or facsimile, stuck on with a little thinset mortar, can solve a lot of problems for a builder — including gravity.

  • From Ranger: “This material can be found from the burbs to the Heights, Montrose, River Oaks, and beyond! No one is safe!”
  • From tcpIV: “It’s not just for the outside of your house anymore.”
  • From Shakes the Clown: “One day, hopefully soon, ‘lick and stick’ stone will be in heaven with the stucco turrets and craft rooms.”

2. Best Vacancy. Second-place winner: Mosaic and Montage.

The nomination: “Bankruptcy, mass foreclosures, and a bank failure — all just this year. What more vacancy excitement could you want? The lights on in these buildings at night still make up a somewhat empty mosaic. If the twin towers of 288 don’t win this year, they’ll probably still be deserted enough next year to try again.

  • From Harold Mandell: “A project so gargantuan in its ill conceived hubris that after it started failing they decided to split it in two and call half of it ‘Montage.’ How can you feel guilty about laughing at something called ‘Montage’?
  • From Andres: “At the very least they should have known how bad things were when they decided to pull the trigger on the second tower.”

3. Best Teardown. Second-place winner: Wilshire Village Apartments, Lancaster Place.

The nomination: “How can you summarize the ongoing real estate soap opera surrounding Wilshire Village? Architect Eugene Werlin’s 1940 garden apartments were left to rot slowly for decades, as the Montrose complex’s eccentric owner got better and better at fighting off the scores of would-be tenants who were regularly begging for a chance to move in and fix up their own units. The fire station was always just down the street, but the Fire Marshal didn’t step in to declare the property a hazard until after the purported new owner decided to evict everybody, early this year. Today the partnership that owns the property is in bankruptcy, the 8-acre lot is for sale, and the complex’s classic structures have been safely stored in a landfill. So much neglect, and if you talk for five minutes to the folks who used to live there, you’d understand it was so needless.

  • From BrewWench: “Every time I go to Fiesta, I imagine all those beautiful wood floors and baseboards escaped to a deserted tropical island instead of sitting in the city dump.”
  • From NorhillJoe: “So much more than just a teardown.”
  • From SL: “A decidedly Houston conclusion — mutual recriminations, bank/owner drama, municipal warnings posted, family history, the mute arrival of bulldozers, and finally the anti-monument of a vast open space.
  • From Chamo: “I love drama.”

4. The “Only in Houston” Award. Second-place winner: The Continuing Battle over the Ashby Highrise, Boulevard Oaks.

The nomination: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try and try and try and try and try and try and try again! The city finally approved construction plans for the Southampton-area 23-story residential tower in August, on the 11th attempt — after developers Kevin Kirton and Matthew Morgan of Buckhead Investment Partners agreed to add a large truck-turnaround driveway facing Bissonnet St., slightly reduce the number of units, and cut out 15,000 sq. ft. of commercial space from the project — including their own executive offices. But the developers want to build their original design. After an appeals board and city council both turned down that request, one of them admitted that they had never been serious about building the revised design, and had only made the changes to see if the city would approve anything they submitted. Chances are we’ll see y’all in court next year!”

  • From Andres: “Only in Houston people vote against zoning, and are proud of their no-zoning everything-goes city, and then try to stop a high-rise from being built in a residential neighborhood, which, because of the people’s vote, has no zoning protection against high-rises.”
  • From marmer: “The opprobrium leveled at the nearby neighbors, dozens of whom will actually lose a lot of their sky, by the property-rights-at-all-cost crowd, seems unique to Houston. And, finally, the fact that an anti-development backlash of ANY kind took this long to happen instead of happening fifteen to twenty years ago seems ESPECIALLY unique to Houston.”

5. Most Underappreciated Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Lindale Park.

The nominations: “A wonderful pocket of true cottages — with tall peaked roofs and cropped eaves — just like miniature West U homes. However, it is not overrun with the Yuppies that took over the Heights long ago. The lack of shopping has been its bane, but now that the old scary Northline Mall has been redone, that is changing too. More important, the light-rail line is coming down N. Main and Fulton. You’ll be able to step off the train on Fulton at Graceland and be just a few blocks away from any house in Lindale Park. The right-of-way is being cleared. The builders can’t get money to put up their tacky homes. So, maybe real people will ‘discover’ this area before prices are run up too much.”

“Orderly, modest, well-kept, quaint.”

“The Idylwood of the North Side.”

“Just as nice as the Heights, if not nicer. When I tell people where I live, as soon as I say “East of 45″ they tune out. So I’ve started using the generic ‘east of the Heights’ (since EVERYTHING real-estate related in Houston must somehow connect with the Heights) line.”

  • From BRR: “Somehow this neighborhood with its wide streets, large trees, cute cottages/bungalows, and proximity to downtown remains relatively unknown to the majority of Innerloopers.”

6. Most Overappreciated Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Montrose.

The nominations: “I’m always amazed at what people will pay to live in fairly scary neighborhoods near rundown apartments and neglected houses, just for the sake of being close-in. Particularly near Richmond, Montrose Blvd. and Fairview.”

“I lived there for a few years, and it has its good moments, but it definitely isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’d prefer to not pay $800/month to get my car broken into 3 times in 3 months.”

“At least it has a concentration of retail and cultural amenities to help support its pricing.”

“I adore Montrose but it’s painfully overvalued.”

  • From a reader: “Seriously, I like the Montrose as a kinda-shitty, cheap, hip neighborhood infested with clubs and Covenant House patrons; . . . stop bidding up the price of all the housing, as that just causes more developers to come in and raze the cheap stuff.”

7. Neighborhood of the Year. Second-place winner: Washington Corridor.

The nomination: “2009 saw the Washington Ave. land rush kick into high gear, as businesses and investors brought a second wave of development to what was until recently Houston’s sleepy live-music and used-car-lot district. “The Wild, Wild West of Houston nightlife.” Also nominated for Most Overappreciated Neighborhood. Could it be both?

  • From Houston Yankee: “Bars aside, there are great restaurants up and down this street opening up faster than I have time to try them. The neighborhood should have the density to sustain much of them long after the club scene has found a new home.
  • From NeighborJ: “Yes, the neighborhood has plenty of challenges, but there are also plenty of great things about the area. Just to name a few: a vibrant arts community, a very active superneighborhood, wonderful parks, an historic district, new restaurants and shops moving in every day, involved neighbors and peace from the trains coming soon in 2010. Most people just think about coming to party in the area, but those who live there find new things to love about the corridor every day.”
  • From CK: “Completely like Houston . . . Unabated development. Old crappy run down shotgun shacks, warehouses, used car lots and taquerias replaced by mixed use development of all kinds.
  • From biggerintexas: “Sure it has it’s problems and it’s not for everybody, but you can’t find another neighborhood in Houston that’s undergone a renovation of that scale…and mostly for the better. I can barely recognize the street that was nothing but car lots and a few taquerias only a couple of years ago.”
  • From a reader: “Change that quick couldn’t happen in any other city.”

8. Grocery Store of the Year. Second-place winner: Central Market, Highland Village.

The nominations: “This store should be an automatic winner in this category every year. They don’t need to change anything when it’s already done right.”

“Hard to beat, but their prices aren’t.”

“I actually find it infuriating to shop there. I imagine cows get the same feeling when they’re herded into their pens. The setup is poor if you have to run in quick and grab a few things.”

“I don’t think the layout at Central Market is all that poor if you utilize the various shortcuts to get to where you want to go. With a little advance planning, you can be in and out of Central Market in five minutes or less.”

  • From biggerintexas: “it is the original ‘new-style’ grocery store. All of these new HEBs and Krogers are simply borrowing from Central Market’s layout with their ready-made deli section, sushi bars, salad bars, etc. Central Market did it first and they still do it best. Their wine selection and abundance of excellent free samples only add to the dominance.”
  • From Claire de Lune: “Their new ready-to-cook dept. (everything you need to prepare a meal, back in the veggie section) is quite handy, and their cheese selection is impressive.

9. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate, 2009. Second-place winner: The Gragg Building Reopens, December 11th.

The nomination: “The low-slung, Frank Lloyd Wrighteous building on South Wayside just south of Buffalo Bayou was designed as the corporate headquarters for a local construction company in the late 1950s by Houston’s own FLW acolytes, MacKie and Kamrath, who collaborated on the 48-acre site with landscape architect Garrett Eckbo. In the early 1960s, the building served as headquarters for the Mercury program and NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center — until the much larger complex now known as the JSC could be built further south. Since 1977 the Gragg Building and surrounding park have been occupied by the far less glamorous Houston Parks and Recreation Department. But the park people appreciate the building’s history and design enough to commission a $16 million renovation from Houston’s HarrisonKornberg Architects — to turn the complex into a more public venue. The building and its famous courtyard will be available for special events beginning next year.”

  • From Carol: “This type of thing needs to be praised in public venues as often as possible.”
  • From marmer: “The city cared enough about a significant historical building to renovate and modernize it, even in a recession.

Congratulations to all! Coming up next: This year’s . . . winners!

Photos: Swamplot inbox (chimney), Matthew Rutledge (Mosaic and Montage; license), Jim Parsons (Wilshire Village), Buckhead Investment Partners (Ashby Highrise), HAR (710 English St., 1511 Missouri St. Unit 6, and 2019 Washington Ave.), The Phoenix Group (Central Market), and HarrisonKornberg Architects (Gragg Building)