And here they are: the results of the fifth annual Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate! Who won what in this year’s competition? You’ll find the answers below.
This announcement caps an almost month-long process that began with calls for nominations in 7 separate award categories. Official ballots were assembled from reader nominations. Then voting was opened up — to everyone.
Winners of the 2012 Swampies: We salute you for your unique contributions to this city. It takes something special to stand out in Houston’s real estate landscape. On Swamplot, Houston real-estate fans have noticed you!
Big thanks are due the many Swamplot readers who took time to nominate, evaluate, vote, and comment on competitors in each category. It’s your judgments, your descriptions, and your observations that are featured below. Does this honor roll of award winners — along with the list of runners up — provide a good snapshot of the year in Houston real estate? All were determined by reader votes. Let us know what you think!
The winners of the 2012 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate are . . .
1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Award winner: Humping Bungalows, aka Humper Houses.
The nomination: “They look like a McMansion or awkwardly proportioned 2-story bungalow went into heat and decided to mount an old bungalow from behind. Many preservationists consider this sort of ‘back door’ addition a way to ‘save’ an old house by, uh . . . pumping new life into it. City design guidelines for historic districts actually encourage this renovation strategy, though they refer to it more gently as a ‘camelback’ addition. Whatever you call it, the resulting indignity is usually difficult to ignore — though it’s often not entirely obvious who’s getting screwed.”
- From Carrie: “Silly looking on the outside, awkward on the inside.”
- From bigintexas33: “How else can you have a 1910 bungalow with 90% new construction?”
- From RobertInHeights: “The Humping Bungalow is a uniquely Houston design atrocity.”
- From heyzeus: “Humping bungalows are happening here in Austin too, perhaps even moreso because of the ‘McMansion Ordinance’ that prevents almost any other kind of expansion.”
- From Roy: “The humper is just the latest form and revival of the camelback shotgun, it is just being done to bungalows now. My grandmother was living in one during the Mississippi flood of 1927, so it is an old solution.”
- From ex-Park Memorial: “It takes a good architect to make one work. Sadly, good architects are not being hired very often.”
- From Spencer Howard: “I refuse to design these. I always tell my clients they should just buy a different house in a different neighborhood because they obviously don’t like bungalows or historic districts.”
- From chris: “I think the humper houses are pretty awkward looking, but it is better than tearing the old house down and building town houses.”
- From Annie: “We are proud to have built the Heights’ only non-humping addition to a bungalow in 2012.”
Runner-up: The Sago Palm. Other nominees in this category: “Urban-Style” Neighborhoods in Far-Flung Communities, Gentle Arc Roofs, the Mixed Glass and Concrete Gridded Look for Highrise Office Buildings, Whitewashed and Partly Whitewashed Brick, Knock Out Roses.
2. Best Demolition. Award winner: Park Memorial Condominiums, 5292 Memorial Dr., Rice Military.
The nomination: “The demise of this garden-style condo complex already qualified as a slow–motion real-estate disaster long before the body was discovered. Yes, this was the compound at Memorial and Detering that city officials, fearful of imminent structural collapse, ordered shut down more than 4 years ago. Locked out of their homes, many residents were forced to sell their units at a significant loss, go bankrupt, or both; others took the city to court over the hasty eviction order. A few residents fought plans to sell the property. Earlier this year, JLB Partners finally managed to carry out a purchase agreement with as many as 108 separate property owners. The developers plan to build a new 5- and 6-story apartment complex on the property, more than tripling the density of the 4.85 acres. By the time demolition crews moved onto the scene this past summer, though, it seemed as if the site’s problems were ancient history. And indeed they now seem to be: Skeletal remains discovered under a removed foundation — which authorities at first thought might be signs of 1980s-era foul play — have since been identified as remnants of a somehow-forgotten African-American cemetery that once stood there.”
- From Old School: “The only building nominated that actually had to be torn down.”
- From Lost_in_Translation: “So much suffering finally put out of its misery.”
- From NorhillJoe: “Emergency evictions and skeletal remains. No place but Houston.”
Runner-up: 3640 Willowick Rd., River Oaks. Other nominees in this category: Former Home of the MuffinMan, East Montrose; Houston Main Building (former Prudential Tower), Texas Medical Center; Ben Milam Hotel, Downtown; 77018; Katy Prairie Animal and Plant Habitat.
3. The Swamplot Award for Special Achievement in Traffic. Award winner: Private Traffic Cops.
The nomination: “Throughout the Galleria at rush hour, off-duty cops hired by office buildings stop traffic so people can pull out of lots and garages, causing huge backups through multiple intersections on the main roads. Why is this even allowed?”
- From matx: “It’s an overused privilege and disrupts traffic patterns.”
- From Al: “A problem all over town.”
- From #328: “I find it odd how the needs of the few individuals in their cars trying to exit a parking garage should impede the needs of the many other individuals already on the streets.”
- From kbates2: “There are a couple of cops downtown that will tell pedestrians to stop walking as well as stop 200 cars from driving to let the one person come out the second that they pull up.”
- From Golyadkin: “. . . when you are actually trying to pull out, they get VERY angry with you if you don’t pull out incredibly quickly and into the exact lane they want you in.”
- From bigintexas33: “Depends mostly on the cop directing traffic. When directed properly, flow isn’t impeded as much. And apparently none of the complainers have ever been on the beneficial side of this — in some instances without the cops people would never get out of their garages. Not to mention the dangers of pedestrians crossing in front of blind exits, etc. Definitely abused in some places, but on the whole is a necessary service.”
Runners-up: The West Alabama St. Reversible Center Lane and Feeder Road Construction Along I-10 between Washington and Taylor. Other nominees in this category: The Yale St. Bridge, Ashby Highrise Bissonnet Park-In, Free Tuesdays at the Houston Zoo, Low Speed Limits in Unincorporated Harris and Northern Brazoria Counties, HOT Lanes, Ella Blvd. between 43rd St. and Loop 610.
4. The “It’s Alive!” Award. Award winner: 1624 Holman Apartments, 1624 and 1630 Holman St. and 3508 Mosley Ct., Midtown.
The nomination: “We thought for sure this place would be a goner. A few months ago new owners took over and it’s been completely different. We haven’t seen any of the drug dealers or prostitutes we’d see daily before. No more condom wrappers and needles in the street. My wife literally cried with joy at the improvements; we no longer feel we have to move. No, it’s not much different looking from the street, and there’s still plenty of work to do. In the common area of one of the buildings, most of the interior windows were boarded up; there was busted drywall and hand drawn ‘NO SLEEPING IN THE HALLWAY’ signs. But that’s all been fixed. It’s now clean and painted, with new hall windows and doors. This complex was for sure bound for the wrecking ball or at least to be boarded up. Now it’s becoming quite a nice place.”
- From Cody: “It was knocking on death’s door. The city would have loved it blown up. It’s old and ugly in a ‘hot’ area of town. It had all the markings of something about to be toast.”
- From coconutbutter: “This is a building that had ‘tear me down’ and ‘put me out of my misery’ written all over it. Instead of destroying it and putting up a bunch of townhomes (or whatever is the trend du jour), the new owners began restoring it while bringing in/attracting stable tenants. . . . For a property that looked like it was condemned to die, it certainly got a well-deserved second chance!”
- From Superdave: “It exemplifies taking the high road in real estate . . . saving a building that still has residual value, giving it a noble purpose, and most importantly . . . keeping townhomes at bay.”
- From Robert Boyd: “It demonstrates that when a owner or manager of a property decides not to to be a slumlord, it can make a huge difference.”
Runner-up: Penguin Arms Apartments, Upper Kirby. Other nominees in this category: The University Line; I-45 Expansion; Repurposed Commercial Buildings in the Greater Heights Area; Lucky Burger, Montrose; AIG, America Tower, North Montrose; the Astrodome; Crooms Cemetery, under Park Memorial Condominiums, Rice Military.
5. Most Overlooked Neighborhood. Award winner: Sharpstown Country Club Terrace.
The nomination: “It’s only a matter of time before the location, lot sizes, availability of good private schools, and affordability get noticed. For now, though, the Sharpstown stigma helps keep it under wraps.”
- From Diane: “One of the least-expensive neighborhoods close in. Well-built homes, lots of people moving in and renovating. Plenty of new commercial/institutional investment into the area, as well. St. Agnes Athletic Complex, new Neff Elementary, new St. Francis de Sales Church, etc., as well as more building to come (HBU, Sharpstown International, etc.). Great restaurants of every cuisine – various Asian, Mexican, Indian, American, etc. within walking distance.”
- From ZAW: “Sharpstown County Club Terrace offers larger, somewhat newer houses than Sharpstown – and it’s amazingly close to everything. The single-family areas of Sharpstown are very safe; the Sharpstown Stigma is almost entirely due to the multifamily and commercial areas around it; not the neighborhood itself.”
- From Michal Woods: “Sharpstown in general has made many improvements these past few years; I think it’s time people take notice to these changes.”
- From Skarner: “Great location and very under-rated value wise, and that abundance of luscious Latinas is a perk.”
- From jose: “I LOOOVVVVE the food in the area and the neighborhood itself seems to be picking up. Apartments are bad but the worst ones are being demolished. The complex next to Sharpstown high school was destroyed thankfully because it was a crime hot spot; I’m wondering what they will do with the land.”
- From Amy: “The lot sizes are large, great neighbors, and the crime is low (you can leave your garage door open at night and nothing will be missing in the morning). I love that long term residents still reside here as well as a mix of families . . . the houses and yards are well kept. The apartments are a whole nother story . . . but Rome wasn’t built in one day!”
- From Well…: “The solution to the neighborhood being overlooked is probably not voting here, but getting rid of the dicey apartments that engulf it — or perhaps even working with the owners to clean them up.”
Runner-up: Sharpstown. Other nominees in this category: Park Place; Willowbend, Willowbrook, and Post Oak Manor; Afton Village; Acres Homes; Mangum Manor; Shepherd Park Terrace; Westbury; Spring Shadows; Museum Park.
6. Neighborhood of the Year. Award winner: Meadowcreek Village.
The nomination: “A beautiful neighborhood with an active civic club and park director. Huge wooded lots, with the majority of them backing up to Berry Creek or a natural gully. Right outside the 610 Loop, close to everything but far enough away to have the kind of lot space that’s usually unheard of so close to town. Plenty of midcentury Mods here — one of which was recently featured in the Houston Architectural Guide. Reasonable home prices; home to some elected officials, journalists, and young professionals. A true gem!”
- From ECP: “Kids leave their bikes in the middle of the street & neighbors walk them back over to the owners. The civic club is active and has a good relationship with HPD. The lots are spacious and so are the houses. The neighborhood enjoys a great nature life as well – blue herons, fresh water otters, turtles, ducks, fish and lots of mature pine, oak, weeping willow, pecan, lemon & orange trees. Its location is perfect – just outside the loop makes for great house prices & great driving distance to downtown, Reliant Park or NASA!”
- From Philip Misner: “Still ‘undiscovered’ country living in the city! Quiet, beautiful, clean community of family, churches & schools with all the city conveniences — 24 hours a day, surrounding but not invading the neighborhood. Hope this doesn’t send us a rush of ‘yuppies’ (remember them?) but that’s what is really cool, everybody is welcome & lives here, very culturally diverse, and ALL wonderful friendly neighbors . . .”
- From Jan Forrester: “My dad and grandfather built our home in the original 5 street Meadowcreek Village neighborhood in 1955-56. I even remember the evening we ‘officially’ moved in. My parents moved out of our home last year, the last of the original families to leave. 2 months later I moved back in. It has taken a bit of getting used to living outside of the Loop after all these years but I don’t regret the decision at all. I really love being ‘back home’!”
- From Susan & Larry Fox: “More than 30 years ago Meadow Creek Village was the only neighborhood we looked into, and we are still here! The big trees snuggle us into our homes. The Gold Crested Herons make their nests 40 feet above in the pines. These birds are our symbol, part of our identity.”
- From Ken Reed: “We’ve lived in Meadowcreek Village 53 years. It has held up well, and we expect to remain here the rest of our lives . . . in peace and happiness. If we won the lotto, we’d stay put.”
- From robert: “That place is one huge cancer zone, you could never pay me to live that close to all those refineries.”
- From W.R.S.: “On the bayou are many water fowl, all types of wildlife, we even have an eagle at times, the neighbors are tops, and it is a clean & a quiet neighborhood. I would not want to live any other place.”
- From Diane Barber: “The East Side is where it’s at, baby.”
Runner-up: The Greater Heights. Other nominees in this category: Alden Place, Old Sixth Ward Historic District, Montrose, Oak Forest, Garden Oaks, Piney Point Village, Springwoods Village, Braeswood Place, Knollwood Village and South Braeswood.
7. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Award winner: Voters Approve Funding for the Bayou Greenways Initiative, November 6th.
The nomination: “The Bayou Greenways program will turn stormwater detention projects along the city’s bayous into parks, with continuous trails for running and cycling running along both sides. The new park space and improved drainage and infrastructure included in the plan could attract major new development to areas that have been neglected for decades, and help large sections of the city avoid flooding problems as well. The election victory gave voter approval for $100 million in bonds dedicated to bayou work, but an additional $105 million will need to be raised from private, state, and federal sources to complete the improvements.”
- From Matt: “Transforming the unsightly bayou into a true city treasure will have a lasting benefit for decades to come.”
- From joel: “The market will come and go with the oil money, but the parks and trails should outlast everything else on this list . . . or at least they should.”
Runner-up: Houston’s Real Estate Market Marks Its Comeback. Other nominees in this category: Construction Finally Begins on Regent Square?, KBR Sells Its Former Fifth Ward Campus, Grand Parkway Contractors Agree To Rebury Their Ancestors in Concrete, 806 Main St. Comes Out of Its Shell, Asia Society Texas Center Opens.
Congratulations to all who participated in this year’s awards!
Images: HAR (1615 Columbia St., Park Memorial Condominiums; 7711 Lacy Hill Dr.; 2042 Forest Oaks Dr.); David Hille (Park Memorial demo); Michael Coté (Galleria traffic [license]); Mary Benton (officer); Candace Garcia (1624 Holman); Houston Parks Board.