Penguin Arms, Houston’s Only Googie Apartment Building, Is Now for Sale

Arthur Moss’s 1950 Penguin Arms Apartments at 2902 Revere St. behind the Kirby Dr. Whole Foods is now on the market. Sadly, no pix showing the condition of the interior are included with the listing, though the agent’s reference to “lots of deferred maintenance” — along with the comments of a former tenant — should provide a clue. What gives this unique building its Googie cred? Well, a photo of it was included in the original 1952 House and Home magazine article that gave the style its name (amidst complaints about its “orgiastic” and “organic” features, of course). Penguin Arms “looks like something that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for George Jetson,” Chron columnist Lisa Gray declared a few years ago. These days, that’s considered a compliment.


The 2-story, 6-unit building with those canted and bulging single-pane-glass corners measures 6,318 sq.-ft., according to the taxing authorities. The corner Upper Kirby lot, which will no doubt be attractive to certain members of Houston’s notable crowd of Modern bounty hunters, measures 8,178 sq. ft. The building hit the MLS yesterday with an asking price of $710,000.

Second-to-last photo: Ben Hill

31 Comment

  • I go out of my way to drive by these apartments every time I go to Whole Foods, just so I can slow down and stare longingly at them. Hope something good comes of this sale…

  • That building is SO cool!
    Except for the single-pane glass and the (no doubt) myriad other required updates…

  • OK mod lovers, this is your ONE BIG CHANCE.

    How many of you have commented on Swamplot that you would love to buy that about-to-be-torn-down mod home if you only could afford it?

    Six of you guys put your heads together and buy this place. You can each have a 1,000+ SF condo unit in an iconic building in a great neighborhood for less than $125,000 per person.

  • @ Bernard; lol, and +1.

  • Good sales pitch Bernard, A+.

  • Turn it into a fantastic duplex. The price isn’t so bad then.

  • When you put it as being 125K/person for a four unit condo, it actually does seem palatable and reasonable, even to someone like myself of fairly limited financial means. Anyone legitimately interested in trying to form some type of partnership to buy this place?

  • I get the newly posted multifamily properties e-mailed to me. I saw this one come up. It’s a great looking unique property. It’s priced a bit high for a typical investment property (based on the metrics I use) — especially with no interior shots and a warning about lots of ‘deferred maintenance’.
    However I bet the owners would be the first to admit it’s not being priced as a typical multifamily investment property either.
    While I agree that this would be awesome for a group of 6 to buy (your payments should be under $1000 a month for a pretty cool pad that blows away most places you could rent for the same amount), there is no way you’d be able to get a normal loan.
    At 6 units, this is a commercial property and you’d need to get a commercial loan. Forget all those “Lending tree” 4% 30 year loans you see. For a commercial loan (oh so fun to get), the lender would require at least 25% down, and the underwriting standards are totally different (typically based on income, which is currently ? and you’d have to claim the LLC you’re making to buy is going to pay based on “rents” you pay). Basically that type of loan isn’t going to happen.
    To buy it as a property to live in, you’d either have to pay all cash, or get a private investor to fund it. You’d think, with interest rates about 0% in the banks, and even 10 year treasuries at ~2%, that you could find a private investor with money rotting to loan you the funds at ~6% with a 5-10 year balloon. That route is the most likely. But while possible, people are holding onto their money like grim death. They’ll accept 0% from the bank, which is why the banks can offer that and still get deposits.

  • Hot damn, the property is already option pending.
    I tell investors that everyone wants three things when buying: Good numbers, good location, and good looks. Almost always, you can pick only 2. The one you least care about is different for everyone (people buy newish buildings in bad areas with great numbers, or good buildings in good areas with bad numbers, or bad buildings in good areas with good numbers, etc.)
    Whoever put this property under contract is getting a great building (looks), and an awesome area. I assume even if the financials don’t quite work out they’ll be happy with it since that wasn’t their goal (I’m guessing).

  • Years ago Scott and I had our photos taken here with 2 poodle mannequins! The photos were taken on the sly….and eventually we put one with this wonderful building behind us on the cover of a art cookbook we did…oh what fun…and wonderful memories!

  • TEARDOWN !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Patrick: I assume you’re being sarcastic, but at $100+/SF on the land, it’s not a tear down. Too much value in the structure. You can find equal sized lots with a dump of a structure on it for much less.
    This will be bought by an investor who wants a multifamily property and doesn’t mind that the income won’t be great. Though even all cash (no leverage) and with rehab costs, an investor will do way better with this property than money rotting in the bank — and have a property that’s pretty cool (which I suggest is the main goal). Plus once stabilized, the new owner could refinance to pull some cash back out and end up with a pretty good return on their down payment + improvements.
    All just guessing on my part…

  • Cody-
    I think it’s shortsighted to assume the numbers can’t be great for an investor here. Of course we’re all speculating since we have no idea how much deferred maintenance exists. That being said, with a decent face lift, this place could command some really good rents. The big bonus is the extra land. The building sits on the east side of the lot and the west side is underutilized. There’s plenty of room to construct another multi-unit rental building on the west side of the lot. With the right vision and execution, there’s no reason this cannot be a highly profitable investment for the buyer.

  • I loved watching Jimmie Stewart climb those walls in “North by Northwest”.

  • Ribalding,

    That was Cary Grant. But carry on.

  • I lived there in 1988 in one of the upstair apartments. The trees gave me some privacy unlike the downstair tenants who would have people standing on the lawn looking into their windows and taking pictures. Even back then the building was in much need of repair.
    Still it was the trendy place to be despite the constant smell of mildew and no stove because of lingering gas leaks. Unless they’ve done some work, the building would need tremendous amount of work. I hope someone will restore it. It’s a Houston landmark.

  • This property will be torn down.

  • For the past 2 years, I’ve lived across the street from this building. Although my friends think it’s such a cool looking place, I can’t get over the notion that the inside would have the smell of a condemned structure.

  • Here’s my guess… the new owner will be Kuhl Linscomb. This would make an incredible showroom for the modern/contemporary furniture + art and the store’s owner has already proven she likes restoration projects.

  • Went Pending after 4 DOM? Dang… The Pending information on the agent side of the MLS shows the listing agent on the buyer’s side also.

  • ajk: I’m curious why you think someone would pay over $100/SF on that land, when there is cheaper land available to buy? The price of this property is highly effected by the structure.
    There are tons of small apartment buidlings (or homes) on similar sized lots near buy that could be bought and torn down for less.
    Then again, after viewing the property yesterday I have a hard time seeing an investor buying the place unless he just absolutely loves the idea of owning something unique like this. It’s a terrible terrible use of space inside. Water damage. All window units. I don’t know how people lived in there till semi-recently has there were stacks of magazines in the hallway from the early 70’s

  • Oh, and if someone does want a big chunk of corner land for development, I have a 26k SF corner lot right near by with a building on it that no one will mind if you blow it up (save 40 or so tenants – which some posters I’ve seen think don’t ‘deserve’ to live in this area :P
    I’ll do $80/SF, and you’ll have some good income till you decide to send in the wrecking ball :-)

  • My dear Cody your location is not this location. 4 luxury townhomes can be place on this site start at a million plus. The numbers work my friend. They work all night long.

  • My dearest ajk, the numbers might work. And might work all day long, but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen.
    There are land plays all over the inside of the loop that would be a home run to develop on. That doesn’t mean they happen. Likewise I could point to 100 “no brainer” multifamily income properties out there, yet they sit with no deal happening.
    So lots of things should happen that don’t. So it would seem a property for sale that has a large % of it’s value tied up in the improvements makes a poor choice for a tear down given other options.

  • My grandmother used to live in the apts that are now condos across the street from this place. For many years I LOVED Seeing it & always wondered what it looked inside. I have lived in the Portland, OR area for 2 yrs now & was amazed to get this email & see the picture of a place I was always in awe of. I seriously hope someone buys and remodels it. It’s too cool of an architecture icon to teardown. Too many of them the city is losing in the Upper Kirby area. An area I have lived in or near for over 40yrs.

  • Cody, I have some money rotting in the bank and you are making me feel that I should get into the landlord business. I really hope that this does not get torn down!

  • Charlie: Do it! Dive in! :-)
    A few negatives: Due to current financing underwriting, you’ll likely have to be all cash or hard/private money till fixed, rented, stabilized. Even then, banks are scared shitless to cash out anything more than ~50% of value (and even more scared if you try before owning for at least a year)
    And since I’m sure the building is on the city radar (and I *assume* it lacks big brothers certificate of occupancy or habitability inspection), the day you close I can promise the building will be surrounded, SWAT style, by the Prius Patrol armed to the gills with red tags.
    But if you have the $ to pay cash+rehab, and have the stomach to deal with the city, you could end up with a nice unique property and be a hero to those that would love to see it spared the wrecking ball.

  • Its so sad to know so much about financing.

  • ajk, it’s sad that OTHERS know about financing (seems odd)? Or are you saying you know so much about financing that it makes you sad due to the current state of the market (sort of understandable I guess)?

  • As someone who lived 13yrs in Houston, and is now in CA, I am sad to say that without the strong Historic Preservation laws we have in CA, Houston developers typically get away with tearing down most every gorgeous architectural structure that once gave Houston its unique history, and putting up parking lots and high-value (but ugly and uninteresting) structures… Until this changes, even amazing structures like this go the way of the dodo… unless someone with vision and a big pocketbook steps in and saves the day.

  • Paula, sadly, *for the most part* those most interested in seeing these buildings saved are the least likely to step up and buy it.
    Not sure what the solution is. In my opinion, it’s not fair or moral to take away the rights from someone regarding what they’re allowed to do with their own property. If I owned a home for a long time, why should the city (really other people) be allowed to tell me I can’t do what I want with it
    I have to assume if the property is that historically important enough to save it’ll be saved. This place could be bought by an individual or group and made into a nice income property. Let’s see if anyone steps up.