Scaling Back the Upscale: Allegro Builders, Downtempo

Allegro Builders president and CEO Lambert Arceneaux has no more employees to let go from his company, and has had problems paying his subcontractors, a source tells Swamplot. Starting way back in the olden days of a dozen years ago, Arceneaux pioneered the concept of tearing down tired old Sears catalog homes and single-bathroom working-class bungalows in the Heights and replacing them with high-dollar luxury homes in Victorian dressing. After proving to other builders that land banking and upscaling the Heights could be a lucrative business, Allegro eventually stretched its repertoire to million-dollar-plus whirlpool- and wine-cellar-enshrined fantasies that mimicked a variety of regional historical styles.

Our source says Allegro’s project manager was let go a couple of weeks ago — and that “there’s no money coming in.”

Allegro also developed two small but high-profile mixed-use buildings on Studewood. One is now known as the home of Bedford Restaurant. An earlier effort across 10th St., which houses Lance Fegen’s Glass Wall restaurant and Allegro Builders’ offices upstairs, is shown here in a rare early photo — minus its usual tight single-wythe street wall of valet-parked SUVs:


Not too far away: a New Orleans model Greek Revival home constructed by Allegro in 2005:

Photos: HAR (1235 Ashland St., at top), Allegro Builders (933 Studewood building, home at 622 E. 8th St. in the Heights)

33 Comment

  • We first visited the Heights a few months ago and it did look vaguely like New Orleans as some Orleanians have said. Even had seedy looking guys with loose pants and cell phones walking down the middle of some streets. But, after a look at some of the faux NOLA Uptown houses, it just seemed too artificial.

    Developers just can’t seem to be able to leave anything alone if there’s a buck to be made, which is what’s killing the old neighborhoods of Houston. Who wants to buy an unpretentious house if someone might tear down the one next door and put up one of these monstrosities. Leave those for Disneyworld.

  • Couldn’t agree more. We live in a great house in Sunset Heights (which was lovingly restored and modestly expanded by the previous owners). Unfortunately, someone built the ugliest monstrosity next door, and enormous, incomplete, and foreclosed townhouses loom east and west of us.

    Progress can be a good thing, but change just for the sake of changing often isn’t. Hopefully this downturn will teach some much-needed lessons to all of us.

  • Hi OJ, I live in East Sunset Heights. I love my home and I am lucky that my street hasn’t yet “turned”.

  • Emme,
    Did the prevailing lot size application succeed in ESH?

  • The prevailing lot size passed on some blocks. In fact, it passed across the street from us, but we had some hold-outs on our side of the street.

    I MIGHT have given up my anonymity with that comment. :)

  • Whoa, Nellie! The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Who’s next?

  • The minimum lot size prevailed when it was protested last March by the guy that owns the old post office. I don’t have one on my street yet, I need to get busy. I have been lucky that all the houses on my block have sold to rehabbers, so far.

  • Losers always lose.

  • That jerk wouldn’t leave his own block alone. Doesn’t speak to the middle class on his block. Only the wealthy. He says I’m an earlier article that he has a vision for the Heights. Sadly that vision doesn’t match that of his own neighbors – probably because he doesn’t speak to many of them.

  • Correction- The tearing down of old homes to build new was pioneered by Sterling Victorian Homes in the mid-late 1980s. It began on the 400 block of 22nd Street. These homes look very modest by today’s standards.
    It is likely true that Allegro pioneered the building of Disney-fied Hummer homes with cheese closets…

  • Interestingly that home at 622 e 8th was on the Heights Association historic home tour a couple of years ago so apparently that particular group of neihborhood preservationists liked it. Of course Allegro sponsoring the tour may have helped.

    Whilst I would agree that a lot of the houses have been getting out of hand I actually appreciate the commercial buildings that Allegro put in on Studewood. I think they add to the neighborhood and, having seen the derelict properties they replaced come down, I think they are a big improvement. Not all of the neighborhood bungalows are fit to be restored and so development is unavoidable at the end of the day. Personally I hope we can get more architectural variation like the house on 8 1/2 between Oxford and Beverly and the house on the corner of 8th and Arlington.

  • Well, at least the Heights is enjoying a slower “Tuscanization” than other redeveloping neighborhoods.

  • It seems like gentrifying neighborhoods go through a “sweet spot” where they reach a level where there is vibrancy, maybe a certain level of safety, and a great mix of interesting people both new and long term. People that were attracted to the area because of what it is and what it has, not because it is trendy or they think it will impress their friends to live there. Unfortunately these neighborhoods seem to progress past that “sweet spot” once they become “desirable” and people who really don’t care about the TRUE character of the neighborhood start coming in b/c it is a good investment, or they think it is prestigious or whatever. They then want to turn it into the suburb they left without the commute. I guess we all know where the Heights is on the cycle.

  • I’m wondering if that other developer – the one who tore down the big house at Heights and 10th to build “new history” – is also in similar state as Lambert? I’ll be curious to see if Lambert will be funding his busload of people for the Friday night hometour dinner this spring.

  • I was upset to see that house on Heights and 10th come down. The developer of that one also had a lot of trouble shifting another montrosity he put up on Oxford. I will also be interested to see how Whitestone are fairing, they have quite a few large properties languishing at the moment.

    In terms of the TRUE character of the nighborhood. I don’t think any of us can claim to know the true character of the nighborhood, that is something that is always in flux. Many of the bungalows near me replaced smaller shotgun houses that were there originally so they hardly represent the original Heights. And by coming in and renovating bungalows and complaining if our neighbors don’t keep their yards nicely groomed aren’t we similarly imposing our vision of the neighborhood on other people who may not have the same vision who were there years before we arrived?

  • Regarding the true character of the Heights? I love the old bungalows. And when done well with garages in back where they belong, I love the new bungalows and victorians. I also love the modern and contemporaries coming up lately. What I hate are the poorly built, poor quality straight up in the air garages as first floor homes. Be they townhome or stand alone, they are ugly. Garages should never be the first floor of a home in the Heights or any neighborhood of value. What makes a neighborhood? The neighbors do. Garages as first floor take away the community feel and cheapen the neighborhood.

    I also hate the fake brick Kingwood style cookie cutter homes. Again, they usually put the garages out front and the lookalike nature cheapens the neighborhood as well.

    Come on in, be creative, but keep the value of the neighborhood in mind. Otherwise, you are a predatory developer and we will do what we can to stop or slow you down.

  • I don’t know what part of the Heights Jimbo is referrring to, but no- bungalows did not replace shotgun homes. The history of the Heights is quite well known because it came AFTER the invention of the photograph. (The natatorium is gone, though…)

    As to the “character” of the Heights, I think the real damage is one of scale, not of style. When modest dwellings on tree-filled lots are replaced by gigantic faux-anythings without yards or trees, something changes. These places become gated communities of one, with the “help” being buzzed out and buzzed in. Ponder the sociological implications of dramatically changed demographics. Soon the Heights, the whole western inner loop will be available only to the wealthy. Is that what we want for Houston? Does it matter what we want? Sadly, it does not.

  • Sheila, I agree with you 100%. I have the same issue with privacy fences in the front of the house. Just ruins a street. And further to your question of, “does it matter what we want?” The ones who seem to win out in the end are those that come from other communities, cities and/or states that want to come in for a quick profit and get out, community be damned.

  • I happen to live in Rice Military. I lived in the West End 20 years ago. I previously lived in the Heights and enjoyed living there. I moved back to the West End area because I liked what it had evolved into. While I like bungalows, I doubt I’d buy one instead of something visually appealing, but more efficient in modern design. One thing I never liked about the Heights was crime, as well as a high percentage of dilapidated old unkept residences still all over the area. The reason we bought where we bought in Rice Military was that there were no ratty old houses around our new home. I’m not ragging on old well kept bungalows or victorians, but unrenovated/not worth restoring shotgun type frame houses and corrugated metal buildings.

    My house has a gated front yard. The garage also takes up the majority of the ground floor. However, we use the ground floor office quite a bit on a daily basis. Since crime is still an issue in the inner city, I value a gated front yard. In fact, I’m going to enclose the driveway and rest of the side yard by extending the fence as well to protect any vehicle(s) in the driveway at night. I have met more neighbors in the almost 4 years I’ve lived in Rice Military than the 17 years I lived (and even served as a HOA board member) in my previous subdivision almost. Several of my neighbors congregate in front of our garages quite frequently, as well as in front of our house, or others. Mine is one of a few who’s garage is not the front of the house. I would have loved to have been able to have a quality fence around the front of my previous house, but deed restrictions would not allow it. Fences don’t necessarily discourage comraderie if the right people are involved.

  • The problem comes when the houses are no longer new, or there are vacant places and rentals and some get run down and then you have the same old problem – people whose income and/or esthetics are not the same as yours. Given the current economy, we may soon see a lot of vacant or rent property, like we did in the bust of the 80s.

    That is why some areas have deed restrictions that cover almost everything – for people who like uniformity and like knowing their neighbors are of a similar income level.

    As to the crime in the Heights- been here since ’81 and there isn’t any data to back up the contention that the Heights is crime-ridden. I know because I have looked. (HPD records are on line.) What the Heights suffers from is the fear many people have of low income folks or “renters: – that is the euphamism I hear around here, but it really means is Hispanics.

  • Well if they weren’t shotgun houses they must have had two bungalows back to back with one facing into the alley. All I know is that I have seen several surveys of homes in the Heights particularly at the Eastern edge by Studewood that show that the current bungalow is on a double lot with total lot size 6000-7000 sq.ft. So either the original builder used a double lot or there were originally two homes there. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about the history to know what else to make of it but the last shotguns came down on Oxford near us just last year so I jumped to an assumption.

  • Lot sizes in the Heights are on average 3000 sf but the average build size consists of two legal lots adding up to 6000 sf. There was a reason that the lots were small (memory fails) but it wasn’t for shotgun houses. Not to say there aren’t or weren’t any in the Heights, but they were the exception, not the rule.

    CK: when I speak of privacy fences in the front yard, I do not speak of metal fences or 3′ picket fences. I speak of 6-8′ and higher picket fences that completely block out sight beyond the fence.

    As for the dilapidated houses near newer or more updated homes, that is part of what I love about the Heights. DIVERSITY. We get along, whether we are of the same income, ethnic or anything else you want to use to exclude. We don’t get all uppity if someone can’t get to their paint job as quickly as we might like. We might even pitch in and help them to do so if they need it, without resentment. We are a community of many, inclusive of all.

    As for crime, I am a single woman and many or most of my neighbors are single women and we often talk about how safe we feel. Safer than anywhere we have ever lived.
    Community. Inclusiveness. Kindness.

  • I want to say that while I argue for what I think the Heights should be, it does not mean that I think all neighborhoods should be that way. Neighborhoods should reflect what the homeowners want, and what they bought into. I bought into the Heights because I loved it exactly the way it was. And for the most part, I love it for what it is now. I did not and never will want to buy into something like Kingwood and I hope Kingwood never buys into the Heights. Unfortunately, the Heights was the first suburb in the city of Houston and therefore was not zoned for what it is today, but then again, it wouldn’t be what it is today if it had been.

  • Actually you are correct – we are nearly all on double lots. My guess is that it was a marketing ploy by the developers, The Omaha and South Texas Land Company. It was platted in 1891. The Woodland Heights was a different developer and it was platted in 1907.

  • well this is a developer’s town and that won’t be changing anytime soon recession or not. having said that i loved west u the way it used to be and owned a home there. it is long gone of course. having served on the board dealing with the few areas dedicated to historic preservation at one time i can say that the law had no teeth in it and still doesn’t. white made a pass at changing that but nothing happened. sad really!

  • shelia, i recall the kidnappings of the young hispanic girls in recent yars in the section of the heights close to 610. that was scary.

  • “shelia, i recall the kidnappings of the young hispanic girls in recent yars in the section of the heights close to 610. that was scary.”

    I recall the kidnapping of the jogger in River Oaks, the home invasions in Quail Valley, the armed robberies in the driveways of Tanglewood. Crime is everywhere.

  • If you are referring to the Ertman/Pena murders, they were about 10 yrs ago on the edge of Oak Forest and Mangum Manor in a wooded area between the railroad tracks north of 34th St. and White Oak Bayou. It backs up to a real nasty apartment complex area rife with criminal activity.

  • One more note…. high non-owner occupancy rates never is good for a neighborhood, but when the dirt price remains high, the rental prices correspondingly have to reflect higher rental rates leading to usually better caliber renters overall. Where this doesn’t occur is in suburban areas where the dirt prices are lower. There, high non-owner occupancy rates are disastrous to neighborhood integrity and where stringently enforced deed restrictions are crucial.

  • Darn, I feel horrible.

    After selling my condo, I lease a garage first floor, 3 story townhome on the edge of the 6th ward. It has a fenced front yard to keep the bar patrons from urinating on my hedges and tree. At least the garage door is on the rear.

    I actually know many of the owner-neighbors in our 7 unit structure and the folks across the streets in two direction, we are quite friendly… and they are nice enough to now look down their noses at a … “renter.”

    Frankly, I find many of these comments disgusting and felt the need to say so.

  • Many of my favorite neighbors are tenants.

    I do have a fenced front yard. It is a 3′ picket. It holds the pets in, keeps the door to door salesmen away, and surprisingly it keeps the thiefs and vandals out. I can step over it myself, but thiefs prefer to go to the homes with no fence at all (or with no dogs within the fence). I am all for front fences, just not the privacy ones. I don’t like first floor garages.

    Bottom line for me is keeping the neighborhood in mind when making exterior choices. I could build a home that looks beautiful from the inside out with no care of what it looks like from the outside. The choices I make for the exterior can have significant impact on the values of neighboring homes and mine. A home with a tall fence in the front and a garage on the first floor, in my opinion, devalues the neighborhood, particularly when done en masse.

    I have spoken enough today. Back to work I go.

  • You grave dancers should be ashamed. Emme’s “bye bye” comment is so unfortunate. Such snide, snotty comments.