The Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate, 2011: The Runners-Up

Your votes have been tallied. Now here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Well, almost: It’s time to announce the second-place winners of the 2011 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate!

But first, a note of thanks — to all of you who voted, commented, nominated, campaigned, and cajoled in support of your favorite candidates. You made this extended moment of reflection, recognition, and honor possible. The Swampies belong to you!

You know what they say about runners-up: Should the actual award winners (they’ll be announced next) be unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, these second-place winners will be ready and willing to serve! Let’s have a big round of digital applause, please, for the 2011 runners-up in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate — the Swampies!

They are:


1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Second-place winner: The New Charlestorleans Style.

The nomination: “Take a 2,400-3,200-sq.-ft. box, stick on a Federal roof with some Italianate brackets on the cornice, Greek columns, a bit of French Quarter wrought-iron railing, and maybe a few Gothic Revival or Craftsman odds and ends and you have a New Charlestorlean home ready to sell to the couple that loves the look of historic homes but doesn’t want the burden of authenticity — or of keeping up repairs. Always 2 stories, porches on the first and second floors, and an odd mashup of historic references. Going up like wildfire on the peripheries of the new historic districts. Basically, the architectural version of Mr. Potato Head.”

  • From SevenFourteen: “They are all over the Heights. I don’t think they are terrible, but the ridiculous proliferation of them has made them a cliche.”
  • From shadyheightster: “Who knows, maybe 25 years from now the New Charlestorleans style may come to be viewed as a design vernacular for housing in Houston . . . ‘Heights Style’ or something.”
  • From Old School: “Instead of doing a quality reproduction/reimagination of a particular period (there are plenty examples in the Heights), designers just click and drag various columns, trims, etc. from their little tool box and come up with a mish-mash of styles so they can call it a ‘custom’ home and give people the feeling that it is historic-ish. To me, they represent the banishment of architecture from our daily lives. . . . With the New Charlestorleans houses, Architecture just ends up being for old ladies on vacation tours in Paris.”
  • From Walt: “I actually like them. Yes, they are the Mr. Potato Heads of architecture. But let’s consider what was there before. Usually Mr. Potato Head’s pop up where a run down ranch or bungalow existed in a transitioning neighborhood (East Sunset Heights is a good example). The run down bungalow sat on a 6 or 9 thousand sq/ft lot and was tax appraised at $150k – $200k. Then along comes a developer who scrapes the aforementioned ranch/bungalow, double or triple divides the lot, and puts up 2 or 3 Mr. Potato Heads that each sell in the low $400′s. So, whenever I see a Mr. Potato Head house, I see the city getting 5X the tax revenue it was in the past and a neighborhood that is on the upswing. So while the Mr. Potato Head concept is a little cliche, the Potato Head’s are actually doing some good for Houston – unlike any of the other nominations.”


2. Best Demolition. Second-place winner: Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel, 711 Polk St., Downtown.

The nomination: “Floor by floor, workers in Brookfield Properties’ Total Plaza cheered the delicate removal of this long-vacant 28-story Beatles-blessed 1962 hotel, which stood in the way of their southern view — and bequeathed them an actual plaza.”

  • From J.J.: “The most technically difficult of all the nominations. Tight downtown area, the Contractor did a great job.”
  • From Cam: “I work in Total Plaza so I now have an amazing view and Im also glad we now have an actual plaza.”
  • From Chris: “It felt like the never ending demo . . . wasn’t it on the ballot in 2008?”


3. Best Parking Lot Dining Experience. Second-place winner: La Vista, 1936 Fountainview, Westhaven Estates.

The nomination: “A great place to spend a relaxing evening outside . . . looking over a parking lot. The cuisine is inventive, the service is friendly, and you can bring your own wine (the place is a favorite for wine enthusiasts). They have both heaters and fans outside to keep you comfortable through hot or cold; some folks just hang out with friends and drink wine before sitting down for dinner. When it’s busy, there’s usually a bench out in the lot itself where you can sit and wait for a table.”

  • From heyzeus: “I have to vote for La Vista, as that is literally Spanish for ‘the view.’ And what a view it is.”
  • From Newhomeguy: “La Vista balances great food and atmosphere with the aroma of exhaust faintly sweeping by in the subtle breeze of a hot Houston night. If you have not been there you are missing a wonderful experience.”
  • From Paul: “I’m sure the others are good, but La Vista is a terrific place for dinner. I’ve been there at least 50 times and have never been disappointed.”
  • From Chris: “It is like neighbors’ night out, every night!”


4. Most Notable Recycling Effort. Second-place winner: Julia Ideson Library, 500 McKinney St., Downtown.

The nomination: “The just-completed $32 million redo gives the city back its grand original 1926 central library, rescuing it from a 35-year stint as the Metropolitan Research Center. The city’s archives are now stored in a new wing; the building’s main reading room, children’s room, murals, and almost all of the original furniture are back and good as new.

  • From Darbymom: “It was a charming place before, but now it is indeed glorious.”
  • From Hellsing: “Since the word ‘preservation’ seems to get so many scratching and hissing, maybe ‘recycling’ or ‘refurbishing’ will sound less progress-hostile.”
  • From Patrick: “The building was lovely to begin with . . . plus it is supposedly ‘inhabited’ by Julia Ideson’s spirit ! She wants to make sure YOU have returned the materials after you’re finished with them.”
  • From TheNiche: “The photos don’t do it justice!”


5. The “No Zoning” Award. Second-place winner: Proposed 40 percent increase in required number of off-street parking spaces for new bars, City of Houston.

The nomination: “Under the plan, new bars of a certain size would need 14 spaces for every 1,000 sq. ft., not the current 10. The change should allow more retiring bar patrons easy access to their vehicles at the end of the night — walking through neighborhoods all the way to a car parked on the street in the wee hours can be dangerous. No, there’s no zoning here in Houston, but we sure do regulate us some land use.”

  • From Commandrea: “Encouraging more people to drive to a bar is ludicrous beyond all reason.”
  • From a reader: “If this thing passes, new big bars will be zoned NBP, for ‘near a big parking lot.’”


6. The Swamplot Award for Special Achievement in Sprawl. Second-place winner: Houston’s Reverse Sprawl.

The nomination: “Outside the Loop, developers are at last creating big new mixed-use redevelopment projects (such as CityCentre) and even fitting urban-style grocery stores into older ones (the new Whole Foods coming to Blvd. Place near the Galleria). Meanwhile, it seems every time a large parcel of land opens up inside the Loop it gets filled with strip malls, Walmarts, and suburban-style grocery stores. The city has revived its plan to allow dense residential development outside the Loop; it’s simultaneously been encouraging suburban-sprawl-style development inside the Loop with free money for infrastructure upgrades through 380 agreements.”

  • From Vincent M: “It’s what saddens me the most.”
  • From Rob: “Both kinds of snobs (urban, suburban) are getting a nice taste of how the other half lives.”
  • From Michael DeVoll: “[Reverse sprawl] is kinda driving me crazy.”


7. Best Neighborhood Upgrade: Second-place winner: St. Agnes Academy Athletic Facility, Bellaire Blvd. at Fondren, Sharpstown.

The nomination: “A huge improvement to the corner of Fondren and Bellaire. So much better than a car lot or an empty lot — or a disco.”

  • From Kristi Lenderman: “Not only improving the city through community service and great education opportunities, but also through improving the look and feel of the neighborhood!”
  • From SL: “Good for St. Agnes, and good for Sharpstown, also another area to watch, but still several years from a full head of steam.”


8. Houston Neighborhood of the Year. Second-place winner: Montrose.

The nomination: “Houston’s food oasis: Where all the grocery stores — and grocery-store shoppers — want to be.”

  • From houstonalle: “For its excellent mix of high and low. We have street people, rich people, dog people, educated people, homeless people, tattooed people — we’ve got it all. You can be entertained without leaving the block. But, we don’t lack for services: great food, tattoos, groceries (up the wazoo), liquors, galleries . . . and all in a very walkable, tree-lined space.”
  • From Stephanie: “One of the most walkable neighborhoods in an unwalkable city. With all the new restaurants popping up, this neighborhood is constantly improving.”
  • From Charles: “Where else can you get such diversity! Great place to live because of the location and the beautiful homes. You can walk to dinner from almost all of the homes.”
  • From Rusty: “It’s the neighborhood many of the others are trying to be and it’s getting better all the time.”


9. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Second-place winner: Metro starts laying track again, August 10.

The nomination: “The end of Metro’s 10-year-long track-laying drought begins with an 80-ft. section put down for the 6.6-mile Southeast Line near Paige and Rusk streets, east of Downtown. Even better for rail fans: a few months later, $900 million in federal funding for that line and an extension of the existing North Line — delayed as a result of a procurement scandal — comes through, finally. Also in full swing now: construction for the East End Line, being built with local funds.”

  • From Karen: “Finally!!!”
  • From SL: “Metro laying track is also positive but the real question is will there be free wifi so you can browse naughty on the clock like upper management?”
  • From a reader: “When the new lines open, it should bring a lot of new attention to Houston’s east side.”


Congratulations to all! Coming up next: The Swamplot Award . . . winners!

Photos: HAR (New Charlestorleans and 304 Sul Ross St.), Swamplot inbox (Sheraton-Lincoln), Candace Garcia (La Vista, Ideson Library, Heights Marketplace construction, St. Agnes Academy), Flickr user Yu-Pu (parking lot; license), Metro

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