The Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, 2010: The Runners-Up

The polls have closed and the votes have been tallied. Now here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Well, almost: It’s time to announce the second-place winners of the 2010 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate!

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

You know what they say about runners-up: Should the actual award winners (they’ll be announced soon) be unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, these second-place winners will be ready and willing to serve! Let’s have a big round of digital applause, please, for the 2010 runners-up in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate — the Swampies!

They are:


1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Second-place winner: Masonry-Front Houses.

The nomination: “As if no one ever will ever see all that cement-board siding in back or the sides. Can we call this one ‘Stone veneer with Hardie rear’?”

  • From Alice Pavlak: “The reverse mullet of housing — party in the front, business in the back.
  • From Sihaya: “Putting brick or stone on only the front of one’s house is a decades old habit. Plenty of ranches, shotgun shacks and cottages from various eras have brick and limestone skirting, flowerbeds, borders, columns or fronts. So really, it’s the oldest of the cliches.
  • From Anna: “Way uglier than stars, at least the stars CAN be subtle, unlike making a whole house look fake.
  • From Lowell: “Bonus points if the junction between brick and Hardieplank occurs at random places that are unrelated to the massing of the house. Even more bonus points if these material junctions occur at points likely to make the house leak.

2. Best Teardown. Second-place winner: Imperial Sugar Company, 198 Sugarland St., Sugar Land.

The nomination: “To build a new themed development celebrating the city’s history as a sugar-refining town, Johnson Development needed to get rid of that pesky old sugar refinery standing in the way. The implosion of the 2 metal structures next to the Char House has been put off probably until sometime next year. But excavators began ripping down other parts of the old sugar plant several months ago.” [After the nomination, the controlled demolition was rescheduled for December 19th. And what an event it turned out to be!]

  • From a reader: “Destroying the city’s namesake is such a Houston thing to do.”
  • From TexMike: “Imperial Sugar — that’s real history.
  • From sarahc: “Taking the Sugar out of Sugar Land is just weird. Maybe they can rename their town Skeeterville to keep up with the times.”

3. Parking Lot of the Year. Second-place winner: Freeform lot on former AstroWorld site, 9001 Kirby Dr.

The nomination: “Where others dreamed of giant office parks, wiggly eco-urban mixed-use megastructures, or a strip-mall heaven, entrepreneur Kent Maree had a singular vision for the former site of AstroWorld, across the 610 pedestrian bridge from Reliant Stadium: a scruffy but scrappy parking lot. And unlike all those other fancy-pants dreamers, Maree has been able to bring his vision to life, leasing land from the 104-acre property’s secretive new out-of-town owner and selling spacious, tailgate-friendly spaces to Texans fans on game days at $20 a pop. The Texans’ new policy restricting fans without a ticket or special pass from tailgating on the Reliant Park grounds hasn’t hurt Maree’s business, either.”

  • From sarahc: “Land laying in wait for the real estate resurgence is so 2010.
  • From Sihaya: “I’ll have the [AstroWorld Lot] with a side of schadenfreude pie, please.”

4. Drive-Thru of the Year. Second-place winner: Chick-fil-A Highway 59 at Kirby, 2715 Southwest Fwy. between Kirby and Buffalo Speedway, Upper Kirby.

The nomination: “An early pioneer of the two-lane drive thru (including a neat automatic-pulley system to transport food from the main building to the serving shack). During rush/lunch time they send out workers to take orders before you even hit the loudspeaker menu. This gets cars through during lunchtime with mind-boggling efficiency. I’d be interested to see how they compare with other restaurants on total numbers served in a given time/day/week, and would bet they’d be at or near the top.”

“If every fast-food restaurant ran as smooth as Chick-fil-A this city would get so much more done.

“You know it’s awesome when they can afford to shut down the second lane for a while to add freakin’ landscaping with a fountain and pond between the lanes! I mean, come on!!”

“Last time I went through Chik-fil-A at lunch time they had added even more workers outside with condiment racks near the drive-thru exit. They’re definitely taking it to a whole new level of efficiency. The only thing I wish they would improve is their menu. ‘Now we’ve added spice to our chicken sandwich.’ *zzzzzzz* But yes, their drive-thru rocks!

  • From Superdave: “I only go for breakfast and can’t even get my wallet out of my pocket before they’re handing me my food. Absolutely amazing. And the people who work there are so friendly, too!”
  • From kilray: “For the ‘it’s never fast enough’ approach to improving efficiency.”
  • From BrewWench: “That Chick-Fil-A does more lunchtime business than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. Super bonus – for Valentine’s Day, they offer tableside service. I guess they seat your rugrats at the other end of the dining room, away from your oh so intimate get together?”

5. Walmart of the Year. Second-place winner: Walmart Distribution Center, Cedar Crossing Industrial Park, Baytown.

The nomination: “Walmart’s absolutely humongous 4,000,000-sq.-ft. distribution center on 235 acres near Galveston Bay is the company’s biggest ever. You could fit 4 of those Katy Rooms To Go I-10 warehouses inside! The buildings are actually owned by the Texas General Land Office’s Permanent School Fund, which means the rent Walmart is paying goes to buy all those cleverly edited Texas textbooks.

  • From SkylineView: “. . . It appears that the 4,000,000 sq ft WallAwesome extravaganza has a lake around part of it. I appreciate their attempt to beautify such a suburban location, not to mention providing green attributes. Can you imagine if they brought this feature to the standard SuperCenter? You could go shop while the kids swam in the lake, rented a pedal-powered swan boat, or fished for blue-gill and small mouth bass. Is there still time to present this idea to the Heights commission?”
  • From firehat: “It is a site to behold of a sort entirely different from”

6. The Washington Ave. Award. Second-place winner: 4601 Washington Ave at Parker St.

The nomination: “This new office-and-retail development (home to tqla, Les Givrals Kahve, the Counter, and more) is the best thing about Washington Ave. It’s the only building in the whole area that put in a multi-level garage so it can actually handle the number of cars that come to the center in a safe and secure manner. It also serves as an example of what Washington Ave could become: A new area of multi-story mixed-use development that could establish a new footprint for responsible urban development in Houston.”

  • From Kathleen: Perfect example of . . . mixed-use development. Plenty of parking and good food.”
  • From KDT: “I eat at the restaurants there all the time. I have visited friends who work in the office building upstairs and have been more than impressed with the quality of the building and what it has done for Wash Ave.”
  • From MTN75: “I love Les Givrals sandwiches, Counter’s burgers, 360′s sports, and TQLA ‘ritas!”

7. Most Improved Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Alden Place.

The nomination: “Wasn’t this the neighborhood featured in Reality Bytes? Winona Ryder’s career may have gone downhill since then, but this area’s only gotten better.

Nine years ago I lived on Stanford near Bell. The area was awesome, if you didn’t mind listening to gunfire and having helicopters hovering overhead all night long. I wish I lived there now, within walking distance of Pink’s Pizza, Barnaby’s and IHOS, and with the new Whole Foods coming in! Man oh man! I wish I had had the foresight to purchase something back then.

  • From R. Weiskopf: “It has improved quite a bit!”
  • From htownproud: “In this dirty city, you can’t beat being within a few hundred yards of 4 different car wash places.
  • From Mel: “‘IHOS,’ in case anyone is interested, is Juan Mon’s International House of Sandwiches. If you haven’t been, you are doing yourself a disservice!”

8. Least Historic Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Bellaire West.

The nomination: “The part of Bellaire west of the West Loop, east of South Rice, and south of Bellaire Blvd. may have the highest concentration of zero-lot line McMansions built on lots formerly occupied by post-war tract homes in the Houston area. Now that’s an achievement.

“I really don’t understand why they all build those big ass houses on those small ass lots. Driving down Evergreen St. is quite scenic.”

  • From Mel: “The only thing historic about that place is a few of the original residents who managed to hold out…”

9. Houston Neighborhood of the Year. Second-place winner: Sherwood Oaks.

The nomination: “Close to CityCentre at Beltway 8 and I-10. Because it’s a little tucked-in, north of the freeway, and unknown, housing costs have stayed low. Everyone knows each other, and it’s very safe and quiet. Huge trees, well-maintained yards. Second-generation homeowners have been moving back ‘home.’”

  • From a reader: “The best-kept secret in Houston real estate. Attractive, well-maintained neighborhood, close in by today’s standards, and still affordable.”
  • From Shirley Daigle: “A wonderful neighborhood and a great place to raise kids. The houses are really nice and well built. I have lived here for 42 years and hope to be here a lot longer.
  • From Carolyn: “When we moved in the neighbors brought banana bread! There is still a womens garden club and swim club. Something for everyone. One road in and one road out. Homes have not lost value and there is [a] real feeling of community. . . . I feel safe.”
  • From Leolady: “We moved to Sherwood Oaks this summer. Big house with super big lot. Community pool and direct access to I-10. Top Spring Branch schools including Stratford High School and Sherwood Oaks Elem, which received Exemplary status for it’s 09-10 year. Kids love it and parents love it. After looking across I-10, this little neighborhood is a gem.

10. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate, 2010. Second-place winner: Weingarten backs off its plans to demo the interior of the Alabama Theater, March 25th.

The nomination: “Confronted with Swamplot’s discovery that a local construction firm was soliciting bids to demolish the interior of the 70-year-old Art Deco theater — using plans prepared expressly for Weingarten Realty by the company’s local architect and clearly labeled “issue for permit and bid” — representatives of the publicly traded REIT try to explain that really, they have no plans to destroy anything and no drawings have been issued for permitting. But who are Swamplot readers to believe, Weingarten or their own lying eyes? The bid documents call for a rather thorough gutting, complete with a new concrete floor to permanently encase the landmark theater’s original sloped floor. The company has hopes of luring office-supply retailer Staples to lease the vacant 13,000-sq.-ft. space — but after surveying the public outcry over the plans to gut the building, Staples announces it isn’t interested. A couple weeks later, a Weingarten executive tries to claim the demo drawings were part of an analysis of the property produced by Staples. (Funny, though: The demo drawings list Weingarten as the client, and make no mention of Staples.) The whole bizarre episode appears to shut down Weingarten’s aggressive plans for reconfiguring the popular building at 2922 S. Shepherd, which was home to the Alabama Bookstop bookstore for 25 years, and which remains vacant. Weingarten demolished a portion of the landmark River Oaks Shopping Center 3 years ago — in part to build a new building Bookstop’s owner, Barnes and Noble, could move to. ‘They made a calculation then that peoples’ upset feelings would not outweigh the financial benefit [of redeveloping that site],’ wrote a Swamplot commenter. ‘Why do they care what people think now?’”

  • From Udunno: “First lie, then spin. FAIL this time, REIT-monster. (and thanks, Staples, for a bit of help).”
  • From paulbtucker: “. . . because civil discourse can affect the market! Here’s . . . hoping an appropriate development goes into the complex. I also hope such a development would become a cash cow for Weingarten and show that you don’t need to do [suburban] box retail to be successful in the city core.”
  • From anon: “. . . real estate at its Houstonist.”
  • From Scott: “the epitome of Houston real estate shenanigans.”

Congratulations to all! Coming up next: The Swamplot Award . . . winners!

Photos: Aaron Carpenter (house, AstroWorld lot), Flickr user mscottk (Imperial Sugar), Candace Garcia (Chick-Fil-A and 4601 Washington), Cushman and Wakefield (Cedar Crossing), HAR (413 W. Saulnier St., 4912 Welford Dr., and 11307 Ash Creek Dr.), Heights Venture Architects (Alabama Theater plans)

5 Comment

  • Oh the anticipation is killing me! :). Alden, you are most improved in my book.

  • Wow. If Sherwood Oaks is second best neighborhood in Houston, then I guess Cinco Ranch is a shoe in for the best. 1970s housing stock and road noise and smog from I-10. Might be a reason why prices are low.

  • I can’t stop laughing!!!
    Houston in the proverbial development nutshell. Thank you so much for your hysterical insight into the wonderful world of Houston Real Estate/development happenings. Psyched that you were able to intervene (somewhat) in the attempt to demolish the Alabama’s beautiful guts! Can’t wait to see the winners. I think 4601 Washington Ave. was the winner for bestmixed use development, curious to see your pick.

  • Congrats Chick-fil-A. I take back what I said above about your menu being a snoozer. It’s my understanding that you’ve been scratching at your creative chicken juices and have birthed the “Spicy Chicken Biscuit.” I might need a few moments to fully appreciate the complexity of that new offering, but somehow I feel like I can already taste it!

  • Old School, I hear you.