After the Orange Show, the Beer Can House, and the Third Ward home of the Flower Man, probably no Houston home has accumulated more outsider-art street cred than Charles Fondow’s decades-long transformation of a former Riverside Terrace daycare center into a bubbling stew of half-timbered gables, turrets, and towering rooftop decks. The ongoing Wichita St. skyward expansion project had an air of mystery, too. In Jennifer Mathieu’s 2001 Houston Press profile, Fondow comes across as shy and self-effacing, though he had by then spent $300,000 and countless hours of hard work on his grand, mostly-DIY creation, inspired by visions he had collected from visits to exotic far-away lands like Russia and Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Fondow, who loved to travel, passed away in March after falling ill on a Caribbean cruise. His gotta-keep-adding home-improvement project had lasted 31 years. And earlier today, a for-sale sign went up on the property. The listing features a first public viewing of what everybody wants to see: the building’s innards. Could this place be just as weird and wonderful inside as what Fondow carefully assembled outside and on top?
Maybe, but the few photos included with the listing don’t show it. Sure, it looks nice and all, and the pilasters and coffers and gewgaws you’d have had to expect are all there, but . . . where’s the excess, the pride of pointlessness so clearly on display from the street? Is it hidden in moving boxes, stacked up in back rooms to make way for a layer of something closer to normal and salable?
The listing says 2309 Wichita St. measures 4,861 sq. ft., with 5 bedrooms, 4-and-a-half baths and a 2-car garage. The lot is 8,450 sq. ft. The asking price is $325,000 — likely well below what Fondow put into it over the years. Saddest of all is the absurdly brief description, nowhere near ornate enough for its rich subject: “3 Story brick home. Victorian in style.”
- 2309 Wichita St. [HAR]
- Withering Heights [Houston Press]
- Previously on Swamplot: Charles Fondow Leaves His Wichita St. Mystery House Unfinished