Comment of the Day: Choosing Which History To Preserve

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CHOOSING WHICH HISTORY TO PRESERVE “I don’t understand how we’re supposed to decide which moment of time in history we are all supposed to value more than all the other moments in history. A vacant lot is actually much closer to the historical use of this site. It was vacant for millions of years before someone built a farm there. Many decades later someone decided the farm had to go to make room for a house. Several more decades pass and someone else wants to use the site for a bigger house. To argue over the type of house best suited for this lot seems silly. I propose that we use eminent domain to condemn every non-agricultural structure that currently exists more than one mile from Allen’s Landing. Let’s bulldoze them all and write zoning laws that allow only farm, ranch or wildlife use for everything else within the city limits. We can all move into downtown high rises that are super duper dense, walkable and mixed use. And we’ll have a choo choo train on every street and ban cars. Yippeee!!!!!!!!!!” [Bernard, commenting on A Brief Illustrated Guide to Bungalow Removal]

26 Comment

  • A developer, Croix Custom Homes, is about to demolish a 1920s bungalow near us in the Montrose area. They’ll put up a $900,000 fake beige Tuscan job.

    We’re replacing real history with fake history.

    The original bungalow could have been rehabbed with the right owner and a bit of care. Instead, it will be added to the scrapheap. A house that’s too big for the lot will be shoehorned in, towering over its neighbors’ yards. On one level, I almost don’t care about how cheap and ahistorical the new McMansions appear. But the fact that they’re so overscaled and dwarf their lots is a shame–it’s like sitting next to a morbidly obese person on an airplane.

  • Well said, Bernard.

  • lol, yessss!!! I love a proper perspective. Step back and see the big picture

  • If you don’t want a house torn down, buy it, rehab it, and re-sell it. I’d rather them build the mansions in Houston, and help our tax base than in Sugarland and add to the traffic by commuting.

  • “We’re replacing real history with fake history.”

    No, we’re simply moving through history. Like it or not, fake Tuscan monstrosities are part of our culture. They’re part of what makes Houston, Houston.

    And that new fake Tuscan monstrosity is probably much less susceptible to fire, much less likely to contain hazardous materials, and much more energy-efficient to air-condition than the old bungalow.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t a lot of the bungalows that we’re so desperate to preserve, cookie-cutter homes that were purchased out of a Sears catalog? Were they not the McMansions of their day?

  • I don’t understand how we’re supposed to decide which moment of time in history we are all supposed to value more than all the other moments in history.

    You’ve got it all wrong. You’re not supposed to decide. Your superiors will decide for you. You’re far to dumb to know what the best use for your land is.

  • “I don’t understand how we’re supposed to decide which moment of time in history we are all supposed to value more than all the other moments in history.”

    What makes you think that there is consensus among everyone? Try reading some of the comments around here. There’s never any “supposed to” when it comes to opinion on any topic.

  • Those of you who think you know everything are very annoying to those of us who do.

  • It is called aesthetics. It cannot be quantified by price per square foot or by energy efficiency or any other metric. It is the same reason people still listen to the Beattles but do not listen to Gerry and the Pacemakers anymore. It cannot be explained, only appreciated. It is rarely economically efficient or self sufficient (most arts organizations from museums to orchestras to ballets to theater cannot survive on their income from ticket sales and rely heavily on government support and private donations). But without it, we are just rats in a cage running on a treadmill for 8-10 hours a day.

  • I believe this was the plotline of Midnight in Paris… It is comparable to Savannah; the Antebellum & Italianate homes are seen as a disgrace by the Colonial homeowners… Holy Hell I get a Woody Allen movie!!!!! What do I win?!?!?!

  • Rodrigo is on point. Living in the Heights, I have looked into the original intent of the neighborhood, and it was to be a grand development of then-current wealth and style. they were going to make the Blvd Houston’s St. Charles avenue, and line it and the surrounding walkable streets with victorian and gulf coast appropriate housing. The HISTORIC stuff now is just down economy developer lot dumping. My house is this way.

    It is now a championed house in the area, very prominent, and admired by just about everybody i live near. However, the original lot is nothing more than a 1931 “get this lot off our plates” deal, and the resulting house was a sears catalog front porch craftsman. Hell, at one point it became a rigged up duplex. Great. Nevertheles, I liked the look, was willing to take on the headache, and worked within the confines of the historic.

    My point is the only houses that are truly indispensible (sp?) are the 3500 sf + captains of industy victorian compounds.

    …and here comes the irony…

    The Historic Commission has basically pushed back lately on historic home expansion plans over, roughly, 2800 square feet. As this is not the character of the neighborhood, so says they. This was EXACTLY the character of this neighborhood in its most historic sense. It was designed to be our Garden District of Houston, but due to economic dips in the 30s and then the even more sad flight of the area 1960 on, it has a checkered appearance.

    I don’t care for the out of place corner of 10th/Tulane much more than anybody else in the neighborhood (at least where those houses sit, not their individual looks), but I really don’t care for restrictions to the Houston spirit (that is that we are culture of people who have no issue rebuilding things with no concern about dated, obselete yesteryear) and laws on the books that are subverise to the people that put up with the dark years of the Heights.

    My neighbor is one. His house is an 8′ ceiling nightmare. Can’t be torn down, can’t be expanded, and with the associated dirt cost nearing $300,000 these days, spending an extra $100,000 to renovate it and be upside down on a house with obselete exit features is just a losing battle.

    For him, it makes his house unsellable. Guess what — he ain’t rich. This is one of his few shots at cashing in, and when there’s an exteremly limited market interest, and HCAC is so kind as raise his holding costs 10% or better each year (my 3000sf+ monster won’t help) which puts him into a corner.

  • It is rarely economically efficient or self sufficient (most arts organizations from museums to orchestras to ballets to theater cannot survive on their income from ticket sales and rely heavily on government support and private donations).

    The amount of money put into those orginzations is a driect reflection of the importance of historical preservation to the populous. If we want to save historical structures we’re just going to have to pay up.

  • Old School, if the only thing keeping you motivated and fulfilled is what other people do with their property, you need to re-evaluate your life.

  • Spoonman:

    If cannot appreciate the beautiful simplicity and charm of craftsmen architecture, you have no life.

  • Old School, i think you’re confusing culture and aesthetics. aesthetics is why the beatles made it big, culture is why they’re such a monumental force. tons of other amazing bands have long since drifted off, and many of them in the same league as the beatles.

    in this case, aesthetics is why these older places are torn down. culture is why these bungalows are such a celebrated lot, but whose culture is it?

  • Well said. It’s always the people who don’t have money who want to tell the people with money what to do with their property.

  • Old School, the fundamental problem with that worldview is in assuming that Aesthetics are universal and unchanging. And therein lies a lot of the eltisim (not referring to you with that, just to the issue in general) that surrounds these discussions….the laughably deluded assumption that there is some universal “correct”, “cultured”, or otherwise verifiable set of aesthetics that we all hold to be common. Even within the historical preservation community, irrespective of the rest of us mouth-breathers, this is not the case. I personally love the Heights bungalows and wince at the Tuscan lot-boxes. But I also know that that’s a wholly subjective viewpoint. I don’t assume other people are wrong-headed or missing the point if their aesthetics are different. There is no universal entity named aesthetics…it’s just our subjective values. It all comes down to working for what we value, and not demonizing other people for having different values. We don’t get to dictate what is and isn’t good taste because there is no such universal.

  • Those few hardcore “preservationist” want so badly to restrict/regulate the historic areas so all the houses are similar in look/feel, then they say things like “I can’t imagine living in the cookie cutter suburbs with HOAs and etc.” smh

  • Old School, deriding my existince as a sentient being based on a matter of taste.

  • The original post is, quite frankly, stupid. It isn’t that hard to make certain decisions. Do you wander through life completely confused all of the time? 99% of Houston isn’t covered by historic ordinances. If you hate them so much, don’t live there. If you already live there and are worried that you can’t turn your bungalow into a faux Spanitalianmeditigeorgiacolonial, then sell it. The Heights is more popular now than it was 10 years ago. Prices are up across the board. And, if you are foolish enough to believe that “real estate” would make you bank and that this ordinance is killing your profit margin, well, then, I now understand why you’re so confused to begin with.

  • A house that’s too big for the lot will be shoehorned in, towering over its neighbors’ yards… …the fact that they’re so overscaled and dwarf their lots is a shame… ———————————–

    They are only over scaled until the rest of the obsolete properties are demolished and replaced. It’s a process.

    I have friend who lives on Spruce Street in Bellaire. Her old house (passed down from Grandma) was a 1,300 SF, one-story shack with no insulation and crooked floors. 10-15 years ago, it was just like every other house on the street.

    Then someone came in and built a shiny new, two-story behemoth on the street. It looked totally out of place, for a while.

    One by one each and every house one the street was replaced with something newer and larger and nicer. Now it’s a beautiful street of homes with 4x the previous tax base.

    When my friend finally torn down her own house to build her dream house on the site, the neighbors CHEERED!!!!

  • If the “culture” part of the equation is what makes the craftsman bungalows withstand the test of time, does anyone see the irony in a 4000 sq ft craftsman bungalow? The arts and crafts movement was an affront to all things extravagant and grand; with themes such as efficiency, simplicity and nature.

  • Old School, what really offends people, I mean really hacks them off is that people with your view think their version of what is aesthetic is the “right” one. The only one. History is full of people who think their version of what something or someone should look like is the “right” one. I seem to recall something about blonde hair, blue-eyed Germans in the late 1930’s to early 1940’s. Those folks thought anyone who didn’t fit their version of what is aesthetically pleasing should be exterminated.
    The other problem is this concept of neighborhoods should be frozen like a snapshot in time and you think you get to decide what that time is. The Heights is weird though because it evolved not just from 1891 to 1935 but continued to evolve with development through every decade. But we know that folks with your mentality long for a time gone by, when life was better, easier, or whatever. As an earlier poster noted, Woody Allen’s flick Midnight in Paris was all about Golden Age thinking. Only there is no car that will drive up and take you back to the Golden Age of your dreams. It’s 2012 and people want to take advantage of the technology of 2012 and they don’t find that in a 1920 bungalow. You and your Golden Age thinking are going to have to come to terms with 2012, just as Gil Pender, the lead character did. You live in 2012. And while the Heights might seem like a small town in a big city, as we like to say, it actually is in a big city, not a small town. Get thee to a small town, man. No traffic. No development. No change. Life is slow and you will be much happier.

  • Doofus said (appropriate name) “The Heights is more popular now than it was 10 years ago. Prices are up across the board.” Uhhh, except if you own an original bungalow that needs updating and expansion to bring it into the 21st century. Those prices are down by a significant amount, post ordinance. But value isn’t really the point for most people. Dictating what can be done with our property is. And the legal case will decide whether the city can really do that against the will of the majority affected. There actually are laws on the books about this and our Mayor disregarded them and so now the courts will decide. Rather than gaining consensus and making smaller districts of truly historic homes, it was forced on the residents and those opposed will NEVER stop fighting to change it. It will be challenged in the courts until we have a new Mayor and then her replacement will be the next one to decide whether to follow the law or spend lots of money trying to force homeowners into restrictions the majority didn’t want. The ordinance has 3 to 4 more years, tops and then it is a whole new ballgame.

  • @RHP: It is telling that every anti-ordinance argument just ends up being so completely over-the-top. It was one thing to put door hangars on every house in the Heights claiming that the commission will dictate HVAC placement and turn the Heights into a slum, But, putting Nazis together with people who support a very permissive historic ordinance is just shameful. But it takes that kind of stupid over-the-top rhetoric to make an issue out of what has turned out to be a non-event in the Heights. Houses are selling great. Renovations are going on at a brake-neck pace. Houses needing renovation are selling just fine. The lawsuit virtually concedes that point by not trying to sue the City for a regulatory taking.