And here it is — the grand finale of the seventh annual Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. It’s time to announce the winners of this year’s competition.
This final unveiling caps an almost month-long process that began with calls for nominations in 7 separate award categories. Official ballots were assembled from reader nominations. Then voting was opened up — to everyone.
The award winners of the 2014 Swampies deserve to be recognized for their unique contributions to this city. It takes something special to stand out in Houston’s real estate landscape. Award winners: Houston real-estate fans have noticed you!
Also worthy of recognition: the many Swamplot readers who took time to nominate, evaluate, vote, and comment on competitors in each category. Your judgments, your descriptions, and your observations are featured below.
Does this honor roll of award winners — along with the list of runners up — provide an accurate snapshot of the year in Houston real estate? The lineup was determined by reader votes. It’s too late to vote, but do let everyone know how you think it all turned out!
The winners of the 2014 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate are . . .
1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Award winner: The Midrise Woodframe Apartment Building, AKA The Texas Donut.
The nomination: “With advances in woodframe construction, pretty much every new inner-loop apartment development consists of a five-story wood-frame structure around a concrete parking garage. While the facades and ornamentation may differ from project to project, the basic construction is always the same. The parking garage is pushed to the interior, so you can’t see cars from the street. The facades are some mishmash of ‘traditional’ materials, and there is ‘articulation’ in the facades and/or rooflines. The repetition of windows and entrances is ‘human scale.’ Just on a 2-mile drive from Yale and Sixth to Waugh and Gray, you’ll pass six such projects, either in process or recently completed.”
“These new mega-complexes going up inside the Loop all look the same: hulking, sunlight-blocking cubes with no exterior doors, little or no green space, and tiny, useless balconies (if they have any at all). Some even appear to have windows that don’t open. Attempts to make the exteriors look ‘luxurious’ don’t hide the fact that they are depressing human beehives. Something inside me dies a little every time I drive by one of these complexes.”
- From Tacotruck: “When taken as a whole, these things represent the most recent and most radical change to the look of the entire west-inner loop.”
- From Colin Ward: “ghastly, anti-pedestrian . . . look like fortresses.”
- From TxCon: “it’s a wrap.”
- From Bonnie Tampico: “I was flat-out SHOCKED at the number of those suckers that have gone up, not to mention their sheer size. And they’ve KEPT ON BUILDING THEM! Who the f*** LIVES in these shoddy, ridiculously overpriced pieces of crap?? People who are too g**damn lazy to actually *look* for an apartment, so they go with the first place they see?”
- From Waltz with Baltz: “Nothing more ugly or pervasive it seems these days”
- From Urban Jungle Survivalist: “Nothing screams rising rents and gentrification like a midrise.”
- From Fannie: “They’re ubiquitous. And they’re everywhere. When the apocalypse takes place, they will be the last structure you’ll want to take shelter in from zombies. Too flimsy.”
- From roadchick: “They are literally everywhere this year, and are ruining perfectly nice neighborhoods.”
- From Native Houstonian: “you can’t turn a corner in Houston now without seeing these horrific people warehouses — soon to be the tear downs of the future.”
- From Darryl: “Mmmm . . . delicious homogeneity. But at least it’s a bit denser than the townhouse farms.”
Runner-up: The Townhome Farm. Other nominees in this category: Minecraft Windows; The Painted Brick Flip; The Side Porte-Cochère; The Trying To Be Like Austin; The Crape Myrtle, The Bradford Pear, and Other Overused Non-Native Trees; The Oak Tree Stump; Monochromatic Interiors.
2. Best Demolition. Award winner: 3400 Montrose, 3400 Montrose Blvd., Montrose.
The nomination: Having spontaneously begun the process on its own a few years earlier, the 61-year-old 10-story office building across from the Kroger at the corner of Montrose Blvd. and Hawthorne St. was lovingly dismantled piece by piece, leaving an ever-diminishing sculpture morphing daily to hover over Montrose Blvd. Over the course of a few spring months, the top-down demo slowly erased the property from the skyline — beginning in earnest in March with the parking garage in back. The top of the 10-story building, which formerly housed Scott Gertner’s Skybar (and before that, Cody’s), came down in April, followed by the centerpiece in May. After a short breather, Hanover Company began constructing the building’s replacement, which will also be called 3400 Montrose. But it’ll be a 30-story apartment tower.
- From Brian Palmer: “This is what Houston is all about: REDO, build it bigger and better and the whole neighborhood will follow.”
- From Gucci: “This is going to be the biggest improvement over what was there before. That building was falling apart and an eyesore. Also bonus points for the best demolition pics.”
- From movocelot: “a Montrose icon!”
- From Becca: “Good riddance, ugly building.”
- From Urban Jungle Survivalist: “It was interesting going by there weekly to see how much of it was still standing.”
- From Graeme: “After pieces started falling off onto the sidewalk below, it was time to go. I like the design for the new building, and I think it will look great in that spot.”
- From joel: “probably impacts the most people and will provide the most dramatic benefit to its surrounding area.”
- From bpalmer: “because its replacement is a game changer for Montrose. Houston, the transforming city, Montrose the luxury mixed use development.”
Runner-up: The Houston Club Building, 811 Rusk St., Downtown. Other nominees in this category: Macy’s at Sage, 2727 Sage Rd., Galleria; Skylane Central Apartments, 2222 White Oak Dr., Woodland Heights; Six City-Owned Oaks Surrounding the Wendy’s Drive-Thru, 5003 Kirby Dr., Upper Kirby; North Loading Dock Access Ramp, George R. Brown Convention Center, Downtown; The Bullock-City Federation Mansion, 411 Lovett Blvd., Montrose; Axis Apartments, 2400 W. Dallas St., North Montrose; Wheatley High School, 1700 Gregg St., Fifth Ward.
3. Best Body of Water. Award winner: Houston Ship Channel.
The nomination: “It’s 100 years old this year, and its impact on the region’s economy cannot be overestimated. Buffalo Bayou, from which this industrial juggernaut was dredged, is the reason that Houston was sited where it is. (We’re at the furthest point upstream that waterway that boats could be hauled in 1836 — though until the channel was dug, getting here wasn’t such an easy ride.) The construction of the Ship Channel is why we’re still here. Without the Ship Channel, we’d all probably be somewhere else. Plus, the Galveston Bay portion of the 30-mile-inland journey offers the Houston area’s best surfing.”
- From Gucci: “Let’s not forget Houston’s greatest tourist activity: experiencing an unforgettable waterborne voyage through one of the busiest ports in the world aboard the Port of Houston Authority’s free public boat, the Sam Houston!”
- From TheNiche: “Without the Houston Ship Channel there would neither be (and would never have been) the people or the money around to make all of the other amenities or road hazards possible, much less noticeable.”
- From Orang Bodoh: “Why? (a) A million jobs. One. Million. Jobs. (b) 178 Billion with a B dollars impact to the state. (c) It’s been important to the city and state for a century . . . (d) There is no d. (e) Ships and boats are impressive. (f) Ships and boats keep me gainfully employed. (g) You can get a FREE tour of it.”
- From Lakes of Tuscanization: “it’s the most important port in the US, and besides without it this place would just be a couple cows stuck in a rice paddy, and we would all live out our lives somewhere else without the joy of needing air conditioning in December.”
- From John F: “It may not be pretty . . . but it pays my bills.”
Runner-up: Hermann Park. Other nominees in this category: Gibbs Recreation Center Swimming Pools, Rice University; Standing Water on the 200 Block of Cordell St., Brooke Smith; Brays Bayou; Potholes on Richmond Ave; Willow Waterhole Conservation Reserve, 5300 Gasmer Rd.; Underground Parking Garage, Calais at Courtland Square Apartments, 3210 Louisiana St., Midtown; Pop-Up Lakes on Freeway Feeder Roads; 40-Acre Lake, Brazos Bend State Park, Needville.
4. Best Mobile Food Vendor Location. Award winner: Museum of Fine Arts Parking Lot, Bissonnet St. at Main St., Montrose.
The nomination: “If you eat lunch there, you can pick up a card that grants you free admission to the museum right then and there. It’s a lunch date! Even if you don’t go inside, you can sit down in the shade of the Cullen Sculpture Garden to eat your meal. That’s quite a dining room.”
- From Urban Jungle Survivalist: “A short ride down the rail line from either direction and bam! Lunch time. Going down there Thursday? There’s the added bonus of free admission to the MFAH all day and afternoons the Museum of Natural Science.”
- From Old School: “These are very talented young chefs who are setting themselves up for brick and mortar opportunities. There is probably no bigger exemplar of the free enterprise system at work in Houston than the food truck industry. [A] meritocracy, no political/family connections needed, no reward for brown nosing or riding coat tails. You just get a few bucks for a truck and kitchen gear, come up with some great food, and get at it.”
Runner-up: Anywhere Downtown. Other nominees in this category: Houston Food Truck Park, 1311 Leeland St., East Downtown; West Alabama Ice House, 1919 West Alabama St., Montrose; Any Outdoor Festival; Central Park, Post Oak Central, 1980, 1990, and 2000 Post Oak Blvd., Galleria.
5. Best Sign of the New Houston. Award winner: Buffalo Bayou Beautification.
The nomination: “Houston finally woke up and realized it had the makings of a lovely greenway where once only bats pooped and garbage collected.”
“For most of my 35 years here (‘old’ Houston), we’ve treated the stretch of Buffalo Bayou between downtown and Shepherd Dr. as a trash dump. I’m glad city planners have finally recognized this area as the urban jewel it is by adding pedestrian bridges, lighting, more public art, and better hiking and biking paths. Can’t wait to see the finished product!”
“Houston is becoming more walkable and bike-able by the minute with its newly restored parks that link our bayous and neighborhoods together. Places you could never walk before have been opened up by new bridges, new sidewalks and new bikeways, something that truly makes Houston more livable.”
- From Darryl: “It’s an honest-to-goodness urban public amenity in a town that doesn’t take kindly to such nonsense. Plus, there’s the alliteration.”
- From mel: “The bayou-tification is the best sign of Houston’s future. A first class city deserves a first class park! Huzzah!”
- From RobertinHeights: “The Bayou City is finally making our Bayous the asset they ought to be.”
- From Carol: “A fitting way to launch the ‘new Houston’ is to sufficiently respect the city’s original lifeline.”
- From Rob: “The Bayou park(s) will be a treasure for a long time.”
- From Courtney: “Buffalo Bayou Park is looking great these days.”
- From Spirit of 2005: “bike paths along bayous . . . that’s for the long term, a universal positive, and a big improvement from before.”
- From Ian: “What an incredible change, and how long overdue. The work they are doing is very, very impressive, I suggest everyone go take a walk on Allen Pkwy if they haven’t lately.”
- From Quantum: “It is more than just another park in my view. It makes use of the historically significant waterway that spawned the city, it makes excellent use of the space under the freeways, and it starts in downtown.”
- From bpalmer: “we have always been missing world class outdoor spaces . . . not anymore.”
Runner-up: The Construction Crane. Other nominees in this category: The Intersection of W. 19th St. and N. Shepherd Dr., Houston Heights; The Price of Oil; No Murders in the Fifth Ward; We Heart Houston Sign, I-10 Feeder Road near Patterson St., Old West End.; Big Urban Proposals; Ghost Bikes; HISD School Construction and Consolidation.
6. Neighborhood of the Year. Award winner: Downtown.
The nomination: “As recently as a year or 2 ago, there wasn’t a whole lot going on Downtown on a weekend evening — at least not outside the Theater District. There are now at least as many lively spots as there were during Downtown’s previous renaissance in the late nineties. With the reconstruction of Market Square, the new bars on the 300 block of Main, and the transformation of a number of surface parking lots into hotels and residences, one can see actual pedestrians all the way from the Theater District to Discovery Green on weekends.”
- From Sara: “When I moved there almost two years ago there was absolutely nothing going on . . . now it’s an actual destination. I can’t wait to see what it’s like in another two years once those residential towers start filling in.”
- From downtownian: “Just a warning – downtown could win every year for the next three years – a number of marquee projects come online in each of the next couple of years and it will be featured prominently for both the NCAA Final Four in 2016 and Superbowl in 2017. As more of the residential buildings get completed, the retail/restaurant/bar scene will keep improving. 2015: 500 Crawford (apartments at ballpark), Block 334 next to Skyhouse, 1111 Rusk Renovation, the Savoy renovation into a Holiday Inn, Alley Theater Renovation, Sunset Coffee Building. 2016: 609 Main, Marriott Marquis, Catalyst near the ballpark, Nau Center, The Hamilton at the south eastern most corner of downtown, the second downtown Skyhouse, High School for Performing and Visual Arts, convention center renovations, Hotel Alessandra. 2017: 800 Bell Redevelopment, Alexan residential, the Cosmopolitan residential, Marlowe condos, Market Square Tower.”
- From roadchick: “After so many false starts over the years, downtown is finally getting a critical mass of residents that brings sustainable retail like grocery stores, pharmacies and other amenities that allow downtown residents to run errands in their own neighborhood instead of having to get in a car.”
- From Chris Andrews: “I don’t think many have considered it a neighborhood until recently . . . that perception is changing.”
7. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Award winner: The Schroeders Save the Weingarten Mansion from Demolition. August 29.
The nomination: The stately MacGregor Way estate of former local grocery magnate Joseph Weingarten had all the trappings of a familiar Houston headed-for-a-teardown story when it went on the market back in July. Perched on 4.73 acres in Riverside Terrace just south of Brays Bayou (and a mile south of the University of Houston), the 1935 chateau-style structure by society architect Joseph Finger had been undermaintained for years, and had the wear to show for it. But the plans of a few redevelopment-minded builders were thwarted by Darryl Schroeder, the owner of Baytown offshore-drilling-rig fabrication company Lone Star Energy Fabricating, and his real-estate-agent wife Lori, who snatched up the property and a neighboring Ranch home for $2.75 million. The Ranch showed up a few months later on Swamplot’s daily demolition report, but the Schroeders announced plans to restore the mansion as their home (while enlarging its kitchen) — with the help of architect David Bucek.
- From Jt: “. . . because it is such an anomaly.”
- From Spirit of 2005: “In a world of tear downs . . . a happy ending.”
- From a reader: “Any time a building is saved, I love it.”
Runner-up: ExxonMobil’s Enormous New Springwoods Village Campus Opens for Business, April 9th. Other nominees in this category: Construction Begins on the Village at Palm Center, December 3; Judge Approves Damage Award, but Refuses To Block Construction of the Ashby Highrise, May 1st; TV News Report Highlights Feng Shui Expert’s Complaint That a North Montrose Apartment Building Is Being Built Too Close To a Graveyard — the Night Before the Complex Burns to the Ground, March 24th; Dramatic Last-Second Ladder-Truck Rescue Saves Construction Worker from West Dallas St. Apartment Fire, March 25th; Houston’s Real Estate Boom and the Price of Oil Begin Moving in Opposite Directions, June 23rd.
Congratulations to these winners — and to all who participated in this year’s awards!
Photos: Alliance Residential (2626 Fountain View); Jackson Myers and colonialsong (3400 Montrose); Russell Hancock (Houston Ship Channel at East Loop 610); Lisa Crispin (Museum of Fine Arts parking lot); Marc Longoria (Buffalo Bayou Park); HAR (915 Franklin St. Unit 2J; 4000 S. MacGregor Way)