The Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, 2009: The Winners!

Who made out with what in this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate? Find out here!

This announcement caps an almost month-long process that began with calls for nominations in 9 separate award categories. After the official nominees were presented, voting opened up to all readers.

Winners of the 2009 Swampies: We salute you for your special contributions to this city. It takes a lot to stand out in Houston’s real estate landscape. On Swamplot, Houston’s real-estate fans have noticed you!

Big thanks are due to the many Swamplot readers who’ve taken time to nominate, evaluate, vote, and comment on competitors in each category. Maybe this year there wasn’t so much glamor and excitement and tumult to recognize as there was in 2008. But you pitched in with some smart observations and nominations, and these awards — along with the list of runners-up — provide a pretty good snapshot of the local scene this year. Let us know what you think!

And now: The winners of the 2009 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate are . . .

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1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Award winner: “Lakes of” subdivisions.

The nomination: “Is it only in Houston that a developer can turn a clay borrow pit (used to elevate new foundations out of the floodplain) into a selling point by allowing it to fill with muddy rain water? Of course, sometimes they dye it a cloudy blue to take some of the ick-factor away, but does that really help?”

  • From J.V.: “I guess it’s a ‘turning lemons into lemonade’ thing. When you live in a swamp, you may as well excavate enough fill to raise the houses above sea level, then turn the excavated surrounding lands into moats around your McCastles.
  • From MS: “Pass off awkward flood planning to unsuspecting clients as a ‘uniquely designed nature sanctuary’ feature, and you got yourself a CLICHÉ!”
  • From NorhillJoe: “I have been in some of these lakes for the swim leg of a triathlon. The water had an ‘earthy’ smell and you could not see more than a foot in front of your face. A few times I swallowed a mouthful. Ugh! The neighborhoods were nice though.”
  • From FIREhat: “If it’s too oxygen-deficient and/or chemically dyed to support carp it’s not a lake.”

Runner-up: “Lick and Stick” Stone. Other nominees in this category: Multitone stone-look tile kitchen backsplashes, Condominiums advertised as “Luxury Condos,” Stop Ashby Highrise Signs, the Vacant Lot.


2. Best Vacancy. Award winner: Villas at the Heights, 114 Heights Blvd.

The nomination: “How about that townhome on Heights Blvd. that was built right next to the railroad tracks? I’m sure it’s still vacant and will be for some time to come.

  • From Jimbo: “The house would be convenient if A) Houston would extend the light rail west from downtown along the existing freight rail line. B) No more freight trains were allowed to use those tracks because of A. C) The city conveniently located a light rail stop there, connecting that house with the rest of the city. Until then, it’s stays vacant.”
  • From tcpIV: “Maybe if it had a little bit of ‘lick and stick’ stone it might sell.”
  • From Artsgirl: “It would be impossible to duplicate the nightmare of the railway tracks on the north side, weird Heights Blvd. U-turn on the west, pub-crawling traffic snarls on Washington on the south side, and the ‘We’re asking the city to move it’ recycling center on the east side of the complex.”
  • From sara: “Every time I pass by, I shake my head at the collective idiocy that it took to build this place.”
  • From BrewWench: “This place is a hoot! We can watch the trains roll by from our super cool turret!

Runner-up: Mosaic and Montage. Other nominees in this category: Houston Pavilions retail, Dr. Watkins’s giant Manvel/Pearland mansions, Alabama Theater, Randall Davis, 2727 Kirby, Tower Theatre.


3. Best Teardown. Award winner: 1514 Banks St., Ranch Estates.

The nomination: Karen Lantz’s piece-by-piece Ranch House deconstruction demo project. She got support from the anti-teardown and pro-green crowd for donating building materials, and support from investors and the property-rights obsessives for making a choice that was economically beneficial to her. For one brief, shining moment, it seemed like everyone on this site actually agreed on something.

  • From Kelly: “No one will miss it, and its parts and pieces will go on to be incorporated into many other homes, roadways, and who knows what else. Bravo!”
  • From BRR: “That house was home to a friend of mine in high school. . . . He hated that the house would no longer be standing, but he couldn’t think of a better way for it to go out.”
  • From Christof Spieler: “It’s the teardown of the future.

Runner-up: Wilshire Village Apartments, Lancaster Place. Other nominees in this category: the Savoy Apartments, Downtown; Fire Stations 33 and 37, Braeswood, and Braes Heights; 405 W. Friar Tuck Ln., Sherwood Forest; 314 E. Friar Tuck, Sherwood Forest; Compass Bank Building, Galleria.


4. The “Only in Houston” Award. Award winner: The Grand Parkway Through the Katy Prairie.

The nomination: For a while, it looked like construction of the Katy-to-Cypress segment of the Grand Parkway would jump into high gear with a promised boost of $181 million in federal stimulus funds because it was a “shovel ready” project. But that was before county officials realized that conservation groups and the sprawl-hating set might actually demand environmental studies and other delays of their ready-to-go plan to run a 4-lane tollway through a wild expanse of undeveloped Katy Prairie. Will this thing be built with bird-feeder roads?”

  • From Mies: “Best illustrates Houston’s historic and continuing obliviousness to the environment we live in. Not to mention the siren call of the suburbs, ‘Build it and they will come…’”
  • From TheNiche: “If you define Highway 6 as a ‘ring road,’ then Houston has the world’s largest. If the Grand Parkway keeps getting built, we’ll have the second **consecutive** largest ‘ring road’ in the world. That’s pretty crazy . . . whether you’re on one side of the issue or the other, it’s definitively and uniquely Houston.

Runner-up: The Continuing Battle over the Ashby Highrise, Boulevard Oaks. Other nominees in this category: Spec’s on Washington Ave., Camp Logan; the Decline and Fall of Wilshire Village, Lancaster Place; the Strip Center Recital Hall of Highway 59, Upper Kirby; the Rogue Parking Lot of Bayou Woods.


5. Most Underappreciated Neighborhood. Award winner: Robindell.

The nominations: “Chock-full of midcentury moderns, many designed by William Floyd.”

“Tree-lined streets, great midcentury moderns and ranches, an active HOA, and lots of hip young couples and families moving in. It’s also located just outside the Loop and right next to Bellaire and Meyerland for 30 to 50 percent of the price! Part of the neighborhood is even zoned to a highly rated elementary school — Herod — and neighborhood kids transfer regularly to great schools close by, including Bellaire High School. It also benefits from being surrounded on two sides by very stable and established more upmarket neighborhoods. Bellaire McMansions have crept out to within a block of Robindell, and we now even have our first very own ginormous David Weekley build-on-your-lot home in Braes Timbers. Few affordable up-and-coming neighborhoods have the same level of high quality neighborhood retail and restaurants so close by. Meyerland Plaza is only about a five minute drive. Where else could I get a fairly renovated 3-2 ranch on a 10,000-sq.-ft. lot on a tree lined street with great neighbors two miles from Loop 610 — for $150K? Homes seem to be selling for $85 to $120 per sq. ft., which is crazy cheap for the location.”

  • From Barbara: “It is quaint and reminiscent of suburban living but in the heart of the city. I love that it is attracting families with young kids (like us), but yet it still maintains a tremendous number of original owners. I have not seen many neighborhoods with this kind of stability over the years!”
  • From alicia: “Equal distance between the New York Bagel Shop and Pico’s… and the schools are also great!”

Runner-up: Lindale Park. Other nominees in this category: Meadowcreek Village, Eastwood, Timbergrove Manor, Oak Forest, Meyerland, Settegast Park, Park Place, Midtown, Baldwin Square.


6. Most Overappreciated Neighborhood. Award winner: Washington Corridor. (Note: The Washington Corridor was also voted Neighborhood of the Year runner-up.)

The nominations: “Overappreciated by the New York Times and other national publications.”

“Sure, a lot of new restaurants and bars have been moving in there, but the development has been totally haphazard and I can’t see how the area is going to sustain itself in the long run. It’s not easy to drive around, it’s not easy to walk, and it’s certainly not easy to park. Some of the clubgoers may be easy on the eyes, but the overall environment isn’t. Outside of the individual attractions and the fact that the area is currently popular, what’s the appeal?”

  • From Artsgirl: “I lived just off Washington for 6 years and loved it, but the last year or so was pretty annoying — people would park on Washington, causing congestion or worse, right in front of people’s houses, making it difficult to impossible to enter or leave your own driveway. It just doesn’t seem sustainable.
  • From miss_msry: “Definitely overrated . . . the streets should be made one way because you can’t drive past an oncoming car without fearing you’ll fall in a ditch. This was almost acceptable when nothing but tiny clapboard houses ruled the area, but with the FauxDobe townhomes it’s overpopulated.

Runner-up: Montrose. Other nominees in this category: West University, the Heights, Southampton, River Oaks.


7. Neighborhood of the Year. Award winner: Galveston.

The nominations: “Sure, they had to chop down all those trees, and sure they’ll probably get pissed that some mainlanders are thinking of Galveston as a Houston neighborhood, but so what? They deserve it! — the award, I mean.”

“My heart says that the award should go to Galveston for their amazingly successful rebuilding efforts . . . it’s barely a year after Ike and their revenue-spawning festivals and events are up and running again.”

  • From Harold Mandell: “Dealt the most adversity, expended the most effort, achieved the most progress.
  • From Chris: “Sure we’ll miss the oaks, but considering what Galveston could have become after Ike, it deserves some recognition.”
  • From marmer: “What they had done nine months after Ike, to actually have a HOME TOUR in houses that had three feet of water in them, and a book signing in a bookstore that had had six feet of water, that’s too epic to resist.”

Runner-up: Washington Corridor. Other nominees in this category: Westbury; Lancaster Place, Menil, and the University of St. Thomas; Westwood Gardens; Eastwood; St. George Place; Morgan’s Point; EaDo.


8. Grocery Store of the Year. Award winner: Phoenecia Specialty Foods, 12141 Westheimer Rd., Westchase.

The nominations: “Who can beat beautiful, freshly baked pita floating down from the ceiling into bags, then into your cart? And only $1.25 for 6?? Get outta here… Pretty comprehensive and reasonably priced.”

“Grocery store, restaurant, Mediterranean-foods big-box store and culinary travel experience in one. I found canned fava beans in 6 or so different regional Arab-state varieties. Who knew?”

  • From ragazzotexano: “I get teary eyed walking in there. I swear they have the return air vents placed directly above the spice aisle. The smell of them almost knocks you across the head like a 2×4 when you walk in the door. And who doesn’t love a good pita conveyor belt?
  • From Ani: “I couldn’t live with out the olive paste, rose water and all the European, Asian and Middle Eastern food there!”
  • From J.V.: “If you haven’t had their filet mignon, you are not yet alive.
  • From Meg: “The Friday date spot with my 3-year-old.

Runner-up: Central Market, Highland Village. Other nominees in this category: Bunker Hill H-E-B; H Mart, Spring Branch; Oak Forest Kroger; B&W Meat Co., Shepherd Park Plaza; Montrose Kroger; H-E-B Blackhawk, Southbridge; Foodarama at 18th and Ella, Timbergrove Manor; Vanessa’s Liquor, Sunnyland.


9. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate, 2009. Award winner: The Ashby Highrise Permit Double Fakeout, August 21.

The nomination: “City officials had staked their entire case against permitting the 23-story tower on Bissonnet at Ashby on the provisions of an old but often-ignored city law governing driveways. So when, after 10 earlier rejections, the city engineer notes that newly revised plans for the tower meet all conditions specified by the city, he has no choice but to approve it. Success for Ashby? Not really. One of the developers later tells a Chronicle reporter that they hadn’t been serious about the revisions, and had only submitted a scaled-back version to ‘test whether the city would approve their project under any circumstances.’”

  • From FIREhat: “It’s been a feud like nothing else and everyone knows its name.”
  • From SevenFourteen: “‘Ashby’ has earned a place in Houston’s real estate lexicon, if not Funk & Wagnalls.”

Runner-up: The Gragg Building Reopens. Other nominees in this category: Bankruptcy Day for Wilshire Village; The Gragg Building Reopens; Third West Gray Starbucks Disrupts Space-Time Continuum; Metro Accessorizes Eastwood Park with Old-Fashioned Timepiece; Pearland Comes to Terms with the Blue Ridge Landfill, or Shadow Creek Ranch Settles on a Sell-By Date.

Photos: Hendricks Interests (Lakes of Cypress Forest), Karen Lantz (1514 Banks St.), Flickr user kinjotx (Katy prairie), HAR (6226 Tanager St., Billie Mercer (Washington Ave.), HAR (2217 Broadway St.), Kaleb Fulgham (Phoenicia; license), Buckhead Investment Partners (Ashby). Video: Dave McC

5 Comment

  • Thanks Gus, et al.

    A job well done.

  • Yes, thanks to all who make this possible. Happy new year, everyone!

  • What Carol said!

  • Trust me I appreciate the comments about the Washington Avenue Corridor. They are precisely why we started The Washington Wave, the new shared shuttle buses running within the corridor and through Midtown now. Park in our FREE parking lot & then catch the shuttle all night. I hope this helps.
    Follow us on twitter.com/washingtonwave & add us a fan on facebook.com/washingtonwave

  • I’m not sure how you can come up with Washington corridor being overrated based on crowded streets alone. It has everything else and is loads cheaper than a River Oaks or Upper Kirby!

    Just my 2 cents.