Waving the Fronds on Palm Royale Blvd.

WAVING THE FRONDS ON PALM ROYALE BLVD. As they cruise through Sugar Land, columnist Lisa Gray monitors Houston Architectural Guide author Stephen Fox’s vital signs: “We drove south. He drooped as we drove past red-brick privacy walls, red-brick houses, red-brick office buildings, red-brick churches. For me, everything began to blend together — until we turned on Palm Royale Boulevard, lined with humongous red-brick houses from the last couple of decades, most with turrets, all slight variations on the same nouveau-riche theme. I drove slowly, ogling the spectacle, one whacked-out showstopper after the next, interspersed with undeveloped lots. The red-brick reassurance of niceness clearly wasn’t an assurance of good taste. ‘These 10,000-plus-square-foot Mediterranean extravaganzas bear the same relation to architecture that drag show queens bear to women,’ Stephen had written tartly in The Guide. ‘Not the real thing, perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless in their bold and hilarious voluptuousness.’ Abruptly, the street dead-ended into a T-intersection facing a utility easement. Stephen laughed. ‘Such an ignominious end,’ he said wryly, ‘for such grand ambition.’” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HAR

28 Comment

  • I don’t know much about the red brick, but I know purple prose.

  • That’s a little harsh. But having lived nearby for a time, I can attest to the jaw dropping size. Many are a block long it seems.

  • Stephen Fox does a real disservice to drag queens, whose mummery and satire are rooted in fascinating questions about gender identity and the plights of powerless human beings. They have nothing to do with shoddily built, ostentatious and vulgar houses. Drag queens are necessary and even essential to a healthy civilization, they parody and mock for the forces of goodness, but shitty architecture benefits nobody.

  • Fox and Gray clearly demonstrate that good taste and good manners are not the same thing. Not at all uncommon in the upper middle class elite.

  • I truely hate Sugarland. I used to commute to the Aliana project before contruction began 5 to 6 years ago and when I drove down the other day, I hated it even more. It is soooo Texas down there. Fake, commerical cookie cutter bs. Worse than Dallas.

  • Palm Royale really is a fascinating drive. Every house fronts a hole on a golf course, every house has an artificial water feature, and half are pink stucco with stone lions guarding the circle drive out front.

    /snarky comment about taste, manners, and the lower upper class.

  • To be fair, some of America’s most renowned, classic urban neighborhoods started out as a sea of red brick for rich people.

  • @CV: I’d say you nailed it.

  • Mike’s thought is worthwhile, but even moreso as a starting point for thinking about what has shifted that will keep these from fostering that kind of life.

    macwoodson started a topic on the Houston architecture forum that is worth a read, as well.
    The kind of life it talks about was forced on people; Palm Royale was not available, and now that it is, they have chosen it instead.

    Fox and Gray are grieving the loss of a more civic living in the city that they love. Grief is a notoriously individual thing, but, more to the point, thoughtfulness gets run over by expedience so often that – at some point – being thoughtful in your grief just feels like capitulation to the reckless one more time.

  • I just google map toured it…wow…

  • Neil

    I’d say that Fox and Gray are not so much “grieving the loss” as reinforcing their tasteful superiority over the suburbanites. Grieving would be internal reflection – an “individual thing” as you note. Publishing their superior taste in the city’s newspaper for all to read, including the residents of Palm Royale, is sending a message. This is not really about architecture.

  • Nice tree lined streets. What’s not to like down in Sugarland IF that is your cup of tea?

    If you don’t like it then don’t look, don’t pay for it.

    Snobby.

  • Re CV’s comments: color me confused. They suggest that there is a standard by which to judge manners, and no modest standard that, but a quite stringent one that precludes architectural/cultural criticism.
    This might lead you to wonder why manners should be so uniquely privileged, and whether there might not be other standards as well: as, for instance, a standard of taste. But I don’t think, from the tone of the comments, that CV meant to open that door.

  • Reading the blurb I thought it would be something horrendous, but after looking at Google Streetview, it’s actually not too bad. Large modern homes, large properly sized lots for it, tree lined street, golf course in the back. Sure the style is not everyone’s choice, but hey, neither is a bungalow.

  • For what it’s worth, there is a lot of recent, large, residential architecture that Stephen likes. Look in the new Guide, in the River Oaks, Memorial, Tanglewood, and Southampton sections.

  • lucia — trashing the neighbors’ taste in the local newspaper is beyond all standards of manners. I repeat, this was not purely architectural criticism. Terms like “nouveau-riche” give the game away. Snobs usually can get away with this type of behavior if the criticism is general enough, or aimed at public architecture. This was specific and nasty. I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  • I find this conversation fascinating. Sounds like some of you want uncritical criticism? I’m particularly fascinated by the idea that criticism should be “general” or “aimed at public architecture”. That would make for an incredibly boring Architectural Guide, don’t you think? Stephen Fox is one of the country’s foremost experts in architecture history. He is a much sought after speaker and writer and a supreme gentleman. But, there are standards of good architecture. One should not expect an architecture critic to say only positive things. Time to grow up people. At some point you have to learn that not everyone gets a trophy for merely showing up. And yes, there are some really awful buildings in the burbs. There are some very nice ones too and those are profiled in the Guide as well.

  • @ Rusty : Amen brother.

  • I sold a standby generator for a home on Palm Royale a few years back. The owner never actually let me set foot into the home, but the job was close to 50K.

    Funny thing is, I’m certain he’s never had a use for it since we haven’t had any major storms or extended power outages.

    Must. Be. Nice.

  • I don’t dispute Fox’s credentials, nor his taste (which I share). I dispute this criticism as primarily architectural. It is not. It is meant to be cultural — a dig at the class of others. See Fussell for reference. Drag queen comparisons from a supreme gentleman? Surely you are kidding.

  • The term nouveau-riche long ago lost its sting, if it ever had any (hello? — Texas) and at this point might even be a coveted designation, so I was puzzled it drew such a response. I decided to actually look at pictures of “Palm Royale.”
    {Oh I see.}
    I didn’t realize what I was wading into; copious apologies.

  • As long as the owners of the properties are happy, why would anyone else care what the house look like? There’s no law forcing you to look at them.

  • Palm Royale is way the hey out in the next county, far, far away from my most lightly trod path (not to mention the beaten ones).

    Yep, some of the burbs make my skin crawl. That’s why I don’t live there (cue some Arcade Fire).

    However, I would appreciate it if the “tear everything built before 1980″ trolls that show up here would allow us to live in our bungalows in peace. Trust me, we are NOT going to try to take over Sugar Land or The Whitelands or Deadwood.

  • CV,
    Architecture doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Architecture criticism by its very nature is cultural criticism. And, since when are drag queen comparisons unbecoming of a gentleman?

  • I’ve read Fussell. Not only _Class,_ but also his seminal book on World War One. Fussell is a darned good writer and thinker even if you don’t agree with everything he says. Stephen has a real problem with something trying to be something it’s not. (such as the Monticello-inspired structures mentioned earlier in Lisa’s article.) He also has a problem with extremes in size, finish, and ornamentation. He’s not saying that you’re a bad person if you live there or that you shouldn’t have the right to have your house look like you want it to. But, as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of large, lavish houses that are in impeccable taste, and Stephen says so. (he’s particularly fond of Curtis & Windham’s work) But good taste is real and so is bad taste, Stephen didn’t invent the idea.

  • Good taste is real? Are you the arbiter of it then? Or is it Fox and Gray? Or is it me? Hopefully you see that the answer is “class”dependent. Otherwise you really didn’t understand Fussell, who you have read. Fussell recognized that the classes even have different understandings of the divisions: for the lowers it is money, for the middles it is money and education, for the uppers it is taste.

    Following that thought, let’s see what we have here: rich middle class rubes building ugly mansions in Palm Royale to emulate the upper class. Check. Upper elites driving through town and slamming the “nouveau-riche” on their architectural taste. Check.

    This is a textbook (er… trade paperback, pg 16) example of class snobbery. If Fussell wasn’t dead, I would forward this discussion to him.

  • Sugar Land is two words. Always has been, always will be. It does amaze me that the companies that move their headquarters and people into the area misspell it so frequently. And some mispronounce it too. It’s not all that difficult.

  • I live in Sugar Land. While some of the homes on the street (just as any other street including the finest in Memorial or River Oaks) have reflect gaudy taste, some are very nice.

    For example, at least of the homes won the GHBA best home award for homes over 2.5Mil. (priciest category). Another home recently sold for around $6 million, at about 12k square feet. That is Memorial/River Oaks pricing.

    Lots are sold at 1.2-1.4 million, again, Memorial pricing (not RO though).

    So I think the Sugar Land bashing is misplaced. Who in their right mind would pay that kind of money for a “suburb” you ask? Usually rich Asians, mostly South Asians and East Asians (like to be close to others from their community), as well as superstars from sports. What is wrong in these things?

    The school district is still one of the best, property values are maintained (and appreciating), and Sugar Land is still considered one of the best places to live.

    This is not like the “estates” sections of Katy, Sugar Land is definitely a few notches above. And the people that spend $3-$8 million on their homes could have just as easily purchased a nice home in River Oaks, Shady Side, or wherever you think “old money” lives. They chose to do it due to THEIR preferences. And yes, there is some REAL wealth there. I won’t divulge more information but I know people that are DOCUMENTED to be worth many tens of millions of dollars.

    Heck, taxes alone are like $200k for those homes.