Wichita St. Mystery House Goes on the Market Today: Your First Peek Inside

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.”

23 Comment

  • This house will more than likely be torn down. It’s a shame, really, because it’s one of the most unique structures in town, but the list of people who, a) could afford the $300K price tag, and b) would want to live in a house that looks like Castle Greyskull, is probably pretty short.

  • If it was formerly a childcare, presumably it can have a commercial purpose. Wedding chapel, anyone?

  • Great house, great interiors, but is that neighborhood making a comeback?

  • It’s beautiful. Yes to the wedding idea. Nice venue for small weddings.

  • I say we as a community all put our money together and buy it collectively and preserve it as a museum or something.

  • I was hoping it would look like the Winchester House in CA which I have been to and is really bizzare.


  • Those ceilings are fantastic. There’s a lot of potential here. I hope someone saves the place, either with or without the superfluous decks and turrets.

  • Stormy: $300k isn’t much if you are one of the dozen or so people in this country that can actually get a loan. Payments would be $1500 or so a month. Get a few roomates and you could actually live for free

  • I’ll be waiting and watching. Honestly, when we moved a few blocks away, this house was one of the most exciting things to me-every time I drive by I try and get a better look.

  • Well, it looks like they are selling for Cash only – so talk about a narrow market! The A/C is also not functioning according to the seller’s disclosure. Private remarks in MLS: “Some parts of this house, especially in the back & garage apartment are not finished. USE EXTREME CAUTION WHEN SHOWING. Cash only. Sold in ”as is” condition. Pool and spa are not currently in working order.”. I will definitely be setting up a showing to see this place tomorrow!! But IMO, 3rd ward is not really making a comeback yet, so probably won’t be torn down, does not make sense to me at least. I’ll update tomorrow after I see it!!

  • I am praying that either the Orange Show or Project Row Houses can pick this property up. Would love to see it preserved.

  • The area is not exactly primo…to say the least…when it comes back maybe worth 300,thou right now..well may 100,000

  • 300k isn’t that much for a house. Is the ‘hood really bad? Why wouldn’t someone buy it…?

  • When I was a kid I remember driving to and from the medical center and Herman Park on 288 and seeing the turrets. That was at least 20 years ago. Its one of my best memories. I always thought some evil doctor lived there because of the proximity of the hospitals….. SERIOUSLY

  • yeah, 3rd ward has been slow. And from what I remember there was some resistance from the community (& congressman too I think). Eventually it will get there, but I think it will be one of the last inner loop areas. But in all honesty, if someone wants a tear down house there, many are much cheaper houses falling apart. I have no idea what will happen to this place, especially cash only… but financing this would be a nightmare, I don’t even want to imagine the appraisal…

  • Since so many people are mentioning the neighborhood, I’ll throw in my 2 cents. My husband and I moved into a duplex a couple of blocks away about a year and a half ago. We both went to UH and I’ve lived in third ward before, so we kind of knew what to expect.

    The good: I actually feel safer in this house than I’ve felt anywhere else. We have nice neighbors-we’re not best friends or anything, but friendly. The location is excellent-right next to 288 and the 59/45 interchange.

    The not-so-good: We live one house away from Dowling, and it is a heavy traffic street filled with folks from the neighborhood with very bad driving habits. There’s also a bar down the street, which is not really an issue, but there’s some sort of biker gang that hangs out that that cruises down Dowling on the weekends. We had this problem in Meyerland though, too. There are so many vacant, falling-down houses in the neighborhood-holes in roofs, the whole 9 yards. They’re an eyesore. Because we’re the minority in the neighborhood, we end up driving past the stores in the neighborhood to get to the ones that have things we like to buy. But, that’s just personal preference. Lastly, there seems to be a lack of respect for personal property by the people in the neighborhood who have been there forever-there’s so much trash and dumping. it’s very sad that so many people don’t care what their surroundings look like at all.

    So, all in all, it’s not a bad neighborhood if you are aware of your surroundings and can handle seeing a mattress on the side of the road every now and then. Plus, you can’t beat the prices.

  • @ Amanda: Biker gangs in Meyerland? Girl what part of Meyerland did you live in? We lived there for 12 years on Indigo St., the part between Endicott and Rice, and never once experienced biker gangs or ANY undesirable folks at all. Even with our close proximity to Meyerland Plaza, we never saw such people. The only gangs we saw were families walking to temple, especially during Passover. That is one of the most homogenized neighborhoods in Houston, next to Bellaire. Biker gangs? Yeah, right.

  • @MarketingWiz – I should have been more specific, but my comment was getting so long… We lived at the corner of Braeswood and 610 for several year, right next to the 610 curve. Every weekend night, we would hear the motorcyclists zooming around 620 over and over again, all night. Probably not technically a “gang” I admit. You probably couldn’t hear it from your house. So, no, the “gangs” were not “in” Meyerland, but passing right though.

  • Went to the estate sale at this house 2 weeks ago. The house is really choppy and poorly done in the inside. It was also a death trap with all the unfinished areas in the back. The only part you could live in was the original part of the structure. It even had a creepy half full swimming pool.

    The part of the house that was finished was very Clue. I was waiting for Tim Curry to pop out somewhere.

    It’s going to take a lot of coin to make the house habitable.

  • “Mr. Fondow, would you like me to fix the A/C unit?”

    “No thanks. I think I’ll just go with another turret.”

  • Who thinks $300,000 is completely unaffordable? Seriously? I won’t be dropping that on this unique piece of history, but that’s a remarkable price for that house. You’ll have to put in another $300,000 to make it livable, but in a city where West U bungalows with 2 bedrooms and one bath go for that much, or a simple 4/2.5 goes for a cool million, that folly is a steal. All it needs is a dedicated, kooky restorer/designer and a ninth fence! From that top platform, you can see enough to pretend you’re in another neighborhood, or even Admiral Boom himself!

  • HAR lists it as sold: http://www.har.com/homevalue/dispSoldDetail.cfm?mlnum=53774096

    My apologies if this has already been mentioned.