Wacky Wichita St. Mystery House Is Back on the Market, for a Low, Low Price

2309 Wichita St., Riverside Terrace, Houston

Fans and confounded passers-by of the unique castle-like construction at 2309 Wichita St. that former VA nurse Charles Fondow left after his death in 2011 will be interested to note that the 31-year Riverside Terrace renovation and expansion project he never completed is now for sale again — as of yesterday afternoon. And the price is significantly lower than the $325,000 it was listed at 3 years ago. The new owner of the 4,861-sq.-ft., 5-bedroom property — who according to county tax records is a division of Deutsche Bank — is asking just $150,000 for the property.

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2309 Wichita St., Riverside Terrace, Houston

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In this new listing, the now somewhat decrepit Wichita St. Mystery House looks a whole lot sadder, of course, than the bizarrely charming scenes displayed in its 2011 appearance. That listing (and reports from readers who toured the home) noted significant work and repairs would be needed from any buyer who wanted to keep the property. That’s all the more evident in the sad, time-stamped snaps included in the current listing. The home went into foreclosure in 2012.

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What’s the story behind what’s possibly Houston’s most-gawked-at house? For more than 3 decades, its owner put hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of labor into transforming the 1935-vintage former daycare center into a not-entirely-sensible stew of half-timbered gables, turrets, and rooftop decks on the outside, backed up by coffered ceilings, pilasters, and wood paneling on the inside, modeling his always-in-process creation after outlandish or simply prized architectural scenes he had encountered on his many travels. Fondow passed away in a Barbados hospital at the age of 64, after taking ill on a cruise.

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A Renovator’s Dream

34 Comment

  • SOLD!

    But seriously… This place will be held up with red tags the second someone buys it. I can see the inspectors circling, licking their lips.

  • !!!!!!!!!! I really hope that whoever gets this home will restore it (previous Swamplot commenters have their chance now!). I wish Mr. Fondow was able to finish it before he passed away.

  • We recently looked at the house down the street and passed by this. I actually kind of liked it. I know my sister in law and husband will for sure think about putting in an offer on this one.

  • My family went to the estate sale for this property. My son LOVES this house (I wish I could buy it for him now). The photos don’t do it justice. It has a real sense of mystery like a mad genius built it (close to the truth?). The back structure is like a soaring cathedral. Do yourself a favor and take a peak. It is worth talking about.

  • I called this agent. She seems zero interested in getting this property sold. Very standoffish. You can tell she was just handed this file from an REO vs trying to represent a “real” seller.
    Perhaps it’s due to “tire kickers” that don’t know the work required but I felt I was being talked out of buying. On top of that they want people to wait a week before even sending an offer (longer wait to send an offer if you are an “investor”. Huh?)
    My guess is they’re offering low to drive up the price. If they really wanted to sell this thing quick they’d go with the first legit cash offer that hit their desired price. Not make you jump through hoops and wait.
    Sadly this house is a tear down. No two ways about it. There is so much in it against code that a buyer looking to fix it up wouldn’t stand a chance. I inspected the property about a year ago on behalf of an investor who was looking to buy. This would have to be bough in cash plus add more than the sales price to fix up.
    The good news is it’s a bigger than 5k sf lot. Assuming $50k to demo you’re in the low $20’s/SF on the land

  • What a shame after so much effort. Here’s to the dreamers!

  • If The Orange Show was able to open back up, this place can too. TOS has rickety, steep and rusty stairs, low handrails, trip hazards everywhere, too narrow passageways, etc. Maybe they had some kind of agreement with the inspectors to lay off. This place would need the same, but could make a cool bar or restaurant. It suffers, too, from not being close to any other quirky sites. If TOS, the Beer Can House, Project Row Houses and this could all be side-by-side, it’d be a lot easier to restore.

  • No! This is our Sagrada Familia

  • Tear this Sh#t down! This is a prime example of the idiotic things done to houses in Riverside Terrace, I mean what the hell is wrong with these people–are they blind?–did they sustain a lobotomy prior to moving to the neighborhood–were they born sans taste gene–seriously, WTF!!

  • Actually, maybe if you removed that wooden thing jutting out of the roof and changed some of his bizarre ideas in the house you could actually salvage the original house, but it would take money and work–geez, what a mess, but the coffered ceilings are kinda cool–but again, wow–yikes

  • This reminds me of the book “The Big Orange Splot.” Does anyone know it? It’s all about a guy who makes his house looks like all of his dreams. Everyone on his street hates it, they want everything to look the same. But after drinking some lemonade with him and his pet alligator, they come around, and they make their houses look like their dreams, too.

  • Thanks for the story, ‘A Renovators Dream’, I’ve always wondered about this house. Until recently, I lived in the museum district for almost 10 years and always wished I could see the inside. I agree with ‘Superdave’ and ‘SteveGetty’ both. The architectural additions do not have to be accessible by visitors or patrons if left to remain with the home in the case it became a venue or eatery. However, one mans treasure can be considered trash by others. This area in Houston is under major redevelopment and I look forward to seeing what happens either way. $150k is a great deal, to not immediately accept a reasonable cash offer just seems silly unless you represent a seller who wants to filter the intent of use by the new owner.

  • Danger aside, it would be a kid’s hide-n-seek dream come true with all those little doorways, passages and cubby holes. I could just see one getting lost in there and not finding the way out until supper time, if then.

    What’s more fun than a kid in a castle?!?

  • Cody / Fat Property: you guys have to buy that property. You’re the only ones that would keep it and turn it around! Do it! Do it!

  • Err, yeah, this area isn’t zoned for restaurants

  • Discounted: Haunted

  • Erick-

    Were this a Gawker website, your quip would certainly merit a +1. Houston’s Sagrada Familia… I rather like that.

  • My husband and I actually went and looked at this house today. If we didn’t have an 18 month old, we’d have put an offer in on the spot. The added on parts on the back are just framing and no even close to being finished – it’s a LOT of work. Woodleigh Living is right that the pictures don’t do it justice. The house is beautiful, even in it’s dusty dirty condition. It just has a feeling about it, too. We had to take turns talking each other out of it.

  • Why would Cody buy this?? As I understand it he refurbishes old apartment properties–what on Earth would he do with this mess–house the Toll House Elves?–I guess for 150000 some idiot will buy this money pit–it looks as though the original house was a nice traditional before this owner made it his own private Idaho–you’d spent a fortune just trying to return it to what it was–I really don’t get why an 18 month old would keep you from buying this house, if you really wanted it, I know lots of people with young kids who buy properties and renovate –but whatever

  • Why do you wish you could buy your son this house now? Do you plan to buy him a house in the future? Is he not able to work and buy his own house? Most people balk at buying their kid a car, they correctly feel they should earn it, by, oh I don’t know–getting a job!–bizarre

  • Shannon – Before buying apartment buildings I used to buy homes and fix them up. In fact, there are a few homes in Montrose that were boarded up and vacant that we fixed up. I moved to apartments since they were easier to rent and have a source of income while you were working on the project. Where as a house, you get $0 until it’s 100% done and you can’t sell it with renters (where as I can fix up an apartment and have renters in there while it’s for sale… so if it takes a while to move, no biggie).
    .
    My worry with this one is it being on the city radar. Doing the work, and doing it well & to code is one thing, but the city can make your life as bad as they feel like making it. And I have this irrational fear that someone in the city waits to see what I buy, and then attacks. So I’ll leave this one to someone else.
    .
    Then again, maybe I’ll have a change of heart :)
    .
    Re: your comment about zoning for restaurant… Given that we don’t have zoning here, is there a reason it couldn’t be a restaurant? Granted it’s not in a good area for it so it seems the market would make that be a bad idea vs it not being allowed.

  • Not at all like any other part of town, people are connected to an adore this / their neighborhood. I live a block from that house, and as crazy as it is (I have been indside twice) I have seen worse
    brought back to life by loving owners.

  • Ah yes, the typical cranky idiot who turns every conversation into a rant about Those Dang Kids Why Don’t They Get A Job. How unbelievably trite and tiresome.

  • So now do we have to enumerate our reasons in an essay why we do or do not wish to do something just to satisfy some snotty brat named Shannon? We’re sorry your Mommy didn’t buy you a place but perhaps you should discuss
    your bitterness it with a licensed counselor.

  • SteveGetty-the demo should be around 15-20k.

  • The listing agent is incredibly unwilling to do her job. The house could be just a tear down, but it’s hard to make that call based on internet comments and photos.

  • I think I’d pass on this mess. If the work inside is quality and done correctly you still have to tear that deck off the roof and finish all the stuff he hadn’t completed. It seems priced to sell at least (his estate is going to take a bath on this money pit)–I’m sure someone will take a chance, maybe at 120–who knows –I hope at least someone takes it back to its original traditional appearance.
    And granted Houston has no zoning, but you rarely see restaurants in the middle of a street of residences, but this being Houston, who knows–anyway, weird place for a restaurant, but whatever

  • Houston doesn’t have zoning, but it does have parking minimums, which, for the purposes of converting this property into a restaurant, amount to the same thing.

  • Well, somebody is getting financing together for this. From a crowd-funding site:

    “Warning! Idealism ahead! This fabulous Houston landmark has been foreclosed on and is on the market for far too reasonable an amount to last for long before the vultures attack and tear it to the ground.”

    Read the rest at:
    http://www.gofundme.com/6wkexg

  • Wow…this was on the market when we were looking several years ago. I always kicked myself for not going on a tour. Besides the giant “structure” in the backyard, I was always most fascinated with the number of gables they crammed into that bell tower thing. That’s some serious gables…

    It also brought three questions to mind. 1) Do the Weasleys know their house is up for sale, 2) is the house elf included in the purchase price, and 3) are Chambers of Secrets covered under normal inspections?

  • I love how there are like 4 people on here (maybe one that keeps changing their name) that get snarky at anyone who dares to show the audacity to have an opinion unlike theirs. It’s like if every opinion is not the rote party like, they insult the person, then have the nerve to criticize that same person for being what they feel is insulting–it’s absurd–here’s an idea–practice what you preach–state your opinion on the article and move on, don’t criticize someone for being a snarky jerk by being –a snarky jerk

  • “I really don’t get why an 18 month old would keep you from buying this house, if you really wanted it, I know lots of people with young kids who buy properties and renovate –but whatever”

    “Why do you wish you could buy your son this house now? Do you plan to buy him a house in the future? Is he not able to work and buy his own house? Most people balk at buying their kid a car, they correctly feel they should earn it, by, oh I don’t know–getting a job!–bizarre”

    ” It’s like if every opinion is not the rote party like, they insult the person, then have the nerve to criticize that same person for being what they feel is insulting–it’s absurd……state your opinion on the article and move on, don’t criticize someone for being a snarky jerk by being –a snarky jerk”

    Shannon perhaps you should heed your own advice?

  • This house is absolutely gorgeous…even not finished. If I even remotely liked the area, I would try to buy it. Tons of work needed but for that price, someone should be able able to fix it up.

    Not sure why the hating going (not necessary at all!) on but to each his/her own. We all have opinions and some need to respect other peoples.

  • Here now lifting house someone bought it …I wish I could go inside and check it out