The Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, 2013: The Runners-Up

Your votes have been tallied, and here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for — well, sort of. It’s time to reveal the second-place winners of the 2013 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate!

Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate Ribbon LogoBut before we do that, we want to thank all of you who voted, commented, nominated, campaigned, and cajoled in support of your favorite candidates. You make the Swampies possible.

The actual award winners will be announced in a later post, but now’s the time to let the second-place finishers shine. For many categories, it was a close race; under slightly different circumstances, these could have been the winners. So let’s have a big round of digital applause for the 2013 runners-up in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate — the Swampies!

They are:


11710 Leonessa Dr., Richmond, Texas

1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Second-place winner: Polystone-al architecture.

The nomination: “It first started showing up as a patch of limestone on what was otherwise another mind-numbing page from a builder’s form book. Usually over the front entryway, a panel of limestone siding is used to break up the brick siding. But it’s evolved into a kind of ‘put a bird on it‘ form of home design. Take another boring new house in the burbs and put some slate here, some limestone there, a keystone here, some stucco there, and you have a polystone-al home. The look is starting to creep into some recent midrise apartment complexes too. The mishmash of different stone, brick, and stucco combinations create an ambiguous style that looks a little bit Hill Country, a little traditional southern, a bit New England-y, and everywhere else in between.”

  • From Valerie: “This. Oh this. I drive by a house that was under construction until a week or so ago just about every morning, and as I watched it go up I thought, ‘oh, what a cute little house. It’s actually keeping with the look of this neighborhood.’ Then, one day I saw that they were using red brick and I thought, ‘Oh, well, most of the other houses have wood siding with cute colors, but that’s okay, it will still be nice.’ Then one day I saw that they were putting some ugly, big stone facing on the front porch area and columns, and I thought, ‘Oh, ugh. Nevermind.'”
  • From Txcon: “Coco Chanel once said ‘before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and remove one accessory.’
  • From Norhilljoe: “The upscale, mutant offspring of ‘Lick ’n’ stick’ fake-rock siding.”
  • From Playmobile: “It is nuts. It is like a building-materials buffet table. Can’t stand it.”
  • From Lauren K: “Houstonians seem to have a unique love for maximizing the number of different building materials per exterior facade.”
  • From Brian: “They’re the popcorn ceilings of today!”
  • From Stephen: “It’s like living on a movie set.”
  • From GOOF: “I’ve got nothing clever to say. It’s just ugly!”


Implosion of External Ramp Towers, Reliant Astrodome, Reliant Park, Houston

2. Best Demolition. Second-place winner: Reliant Astrodome ramp towers, ticket booths, berms, and accoutrements, Reliant Park.

The nomination: What a long, strange story it’s been. The big kaboom was heard last weekend, but work had begun months earlier. County commissioners approved the demolition of the helical ramps surrounding the Astrodome — along with berms, ticket booths, electrical equipment, and exterior ramps — back in August, when it looked like the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp.’s plan to turn the long-vacant structure into a single-story exhibition space called the New Dome Experience might meet with voter approval. And demo work, which county judge Ed Emmett labeled “improvements” to the structure, began before voters even had a chance to vote on the bond proposal that would have funded the building’s renovation. A few days before election day, Reliant Park held a sale and auction of the Harris County Domed Stadium’s interior furniture, selling off seats, turnstiles, signs, and dugout benches. Next up: carving out the asbestos. If the county does end up with a plan to reuse the structure in some way, there’ll be less of it they’ll need to renovate.

  • From Sholehvar: “. . . I say yay to the destruction of anything from the sulfurous intersection of football/corporations/oil interests.”
  • From Mel Wood: “My prediction is that in 2014 various proposals to repurpose the Dome will be deemed too expensive or impractical to implement since the dome is not ramp accessible and lacks the requisite electrical equipment, making full demolition the only viable choice.”
  • From Pete: “Seriously, why is this such a big deal? And yes, I’m from Houston.”


Proposed New Karbach Brewery, Karbach St., Houston

3. Best Houston Transplant. Second-place winner: Craft beer microbreweries.

The nomination: “Yes, Houston has had Saint Arnold for a while. But only recently has a microbrew scene landed in Houston that’s been anything close to what the folks in Colorado and the West Coast have had for a long time. Karbach, Buffalo Bayou, 8th Wonder, Southern Star, No Label, Lone Pint, and the forthcoming Town in City have livened up Houston’s bar scene and grocery store aisles in a big way. It has long been a missing element in a city with such a vibrant food scene.”

  • From Balthazar: “Are they all great? No. Will they all become local institutions like Saint Arnold? No. But the trend sure is promising. A selection of local beers that are generally approachable while still occasionally challenging the palate has been long overdue. Cheers!
  • From Al: “Let’s have some love for the beer. Isn’t it nice to go out for a beer, and not have to decide between Miller Lite and Coors Lite? Don’t know how some of these operations are ‘micro,’ but just keep the good and unusual beers coming, and the world will be a better place.”
  • From Rex: “Hooray BEER!”


Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown Market, 1001 Austin St., Downtown Houston

4. The Ground-Floor Retail Award. Second-place winner: Phoenicia Specialty Foods, 1001 Austin St. in One Park Place behind Discovery Green, Downtown.

The nomination: “For doing what no grocer or other retailer has been able to successfully do downtown. That place is always packed.”

  • From jesse: “The reason people care about ground floor retail is that it makes a neighborhood a place where you can live without getting into your car and driving to the mall or a strip center, and unlike a bar or a restaurant, Phoenicia is a full-on grocery store that serves an actual need that people who live in the area would have. When you go to a real city — New York, San Francisco, or even where I used to live in Albany, NY, and in New Jersey — it was these types of places that made an area truly livable without needing your car for everything.”
  • From Spencer Howard: “Phoenicia took a suburban concept and despite a poor street presence in a new building downtown, has succeeded for multiple years. Also Phoenicia has easy parking that is free. :)”
  • From Mary Miller: “Wish there were more of these around town.”
  • From Mel Wood: “Phoenicia, partly on the strength of that great signage.”


5611 Cohn Meadow, Cottage Grove, Houston

5. Least Recognizable Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Cottage Grove.

The nomination: “Back in the early 2000s, Cottage Grove was all old single family homes and industrial. Now, the older homes are nothing more than holdouts and many streets are filled with townhomes standing shoulder-to-shoulder from one end of the block to the other. And there are more and more townhomes on the way. If you toggle back and forth between 2002 and 2012 on Google Earth, you won’t believe the pace and scope of the transformation.”

  • From John C.: “Uniformly identical townhouses and retail can be better than identical vacant lots and abandoned houses. Which is what much of the area west of I45 would look like if not for the new boom. Change can be good.”
  • From MShuler: “Since the entire neighborhood has been redeveloped in less than 10 years, one can see that everything was built under the same version of Chapter 42.”
  • From Roy: “Cottage Grove, but honestly it is an improvement.”



6. Most Recognizable Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Galleria.

The nomination: “Home to huge metal arches, fancy bus shelters, luxury highrise condo buildings, office towers, and those shiny spaceship-like circular street signs. Plus, it’s one of the few places in Houston that coughed up the cash to hide its electrical lines.”

  • From sadz: “The floating spaceship rings above the intersections seal it as the most recognizable spot in town. They were cool when they went up, and they are still cool many years later.”
  • From Old School: “If you were to take a poll of Houstonians, the Galleria would win by a large margin. Not as much for identifiable architecture, but for the nearly universal groan that most people let out when thinking about dealing with the traffic in the area and the teeming humanity of the Galleria Mall.”
  • From Vmel: “Most Houstonians, and even most of their out-of-town guests who have nothing else more exciting to see than the big mall or NASA, will most easily recognize the Galleria area.”
  • From Local Planner: “Uptown — stainless steel fixtures, planted medians, the Water Wall, and Williams [Transco] Tower.”


2027 libbey dr oak forest

7. Neighborhood of the Year. Second-place winner: Oak Forest.

The nomination: “2013 seems to have been a ‘tipping point’ year for Oak Forest, where the residents have come together to cause good things to happen, rather than just watching while others controlled the action. Fundraising efforts have occurred, security programs implemented — things you have seen next door in Garden Oaks for years. The quality of Oak Forest Elementary and the improvements occurring at Black Middle School don’t hurt a bit. OF seems to have a good present and an excellent future.”

“Oak Forest has a ridiculously active Homeowner’s Association Facebook page (and there’s now SEALS security, hah!), large lots, great and improving schools, and TC Jester Park.”

  • From Ashley: “It’s a thriving, up-and-coming neighborhood.”
  • From Kate: “The best dog-gone dog-loving, kid-friendly, geographically desirable naybs in H-town. Our original beauties sitting next door to the McMansions says it all: size doesn’t matter. Is all about what’s on the inside.”
  • From New Home Guy: “So many positives that have happened and the property values are soaring.”
  • From Brandon: “There are lots of reasons why the Houston Chronicle called it the ‘new West U.‘”
  • From Jen: “Nice peeps, good schools. (Grocery store needs improvement though — inside joke.)”
  • From Brian L: “Great people, close to many attractions, active community, diverse (race, ethnicity, and income), family-friendly, great elementary schools and wonderful tree-lined streets with a mix of old and new.
  • From Rafa: “In the last year the neighborhood has gone through tremendous change and drama worthy of a Telenovela.”
  • From Ryan: “Close to everything important yet far enough away to have a laid-back vibe.”
  • From Dana Shinn: “Oak Forest has had an amazing year of transformative change while retaining the best of this ‘small town,’ much thanks to the volunteer HOA and social media that has gotten more residents very involved.”


Astrodome Ramp Tower Demolition, Houston

8. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Second-place winner: Voters reject Harris County’s Bond Proposal to Renovate the Astrodome, November 5th.

The nomination: There were so many deliciously absurd Astrodome moments to choose from this year, it seems unfair to be forced to pick just one. There was the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation’s declaration of a deadline for private bids to redevelop the Astrodome when it hadn’t bothered first to request any; its decision to reject all submissions — which were restricted to private funding sources — in favor of its own publicly funded proposal; the demo work — excuse us: “improvements” — scheduled to begin before the public vote on the landmark’s future; the carnival-like pre-election sale and auction of stadium seating, turnstiles, and interior fixtures; and the late-night detonation of the Astrodome’s add-on ramp towers, which had made the upper decks wheelchair accessible. Alas, this is an award for great moments, so we’ll have to stick to just one: Any way you slice (or detonate) it, the failure of the $217 million bond measure that would have created a “New Dome Experience” was the biggie. Were voters rejecting any redevelopment efforts for the long-vacant stadium, or just the county’s continued bungling of the process? And how will we remember this moment, once the Dome is gone — or given a new life?

  • From Dean: “The Dome fiasco has certainly been the mess of the year.
  • From Carol: “This vote will be written into the Houston history books.”

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

Photos: HAR (stone-and-brick facade at 11710 Leonessa Dr., 5611 Cohn Meadow, 2027 Libbey Dr.); Mike Acosta (Astrodome); Karbach Brewing Co. (new brewery building); H-Town in Pics (Phoenicia); Bill Barfield (Galleria), Russell Hancock (Astrodome). Video: New Dome PAC

The 2013 Swampies

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