Houston Historic Districts: Houston Heights South Historic District

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I’ve been traveling and working, celebrating holidays. I’ve even started writing some fiction in my free time. All of the usual excuses of those who fall behind on their blogging.

Continuing on into the Heights South Historic District. Whereas the West Heights is my idea of the prototypical Heights neighborhood, the South Heights has a surprising number of larger Victorian houses.


Enjoy the photos!


Houston Historic Districts: Houston Heights West Historic District

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I was visiting family in Ohio, where it was most certainly not 70 degrees. Now that I’m home again, it’s back to reality. But you know what that means for you? More blogs!

We’re moving our tour of Houston historic districts to the Heights now. Unlike the Boulevard Oaks area districts I’ve written about the past few weeks  (here, here, here, and here), the Heights isn’t known for large mansions.

Developed in 1891 as a suburb, the Heights got its name for its elevation 23 feet higher than that of the city. One of America’s oldest planned communities, the Heights didn’t become part of Houston until 1918. Many of the neighborhood’s signature bungalow homes remain to this day, and it’s common to see homeowners in the Heights either renovate their houses in the original style or build new in the style. You’ll also notice Victorian-style homes, as well as many historic churches, commercial buildings, firehouses, and other structures. The Heights, quirky and village-like, is the poster child for Houston gentrification.

Next week I’ll continue touring the Heights, moving into the area’s five other designated historic districts.


Houston Historic Districts: West Eleventh Place Historic District

Post FAIL.

West Eleventh Place is a gated, private street, thus the lack of photos.  I would have pulled over to snap some quick pics, but it looked as if there were a guard at the gate. I’m sure intrepid journalists would always get that shot, and that’s why I’m not a journalist! So today’s post is entirely second-hand information, courtesy of the Houston Association of Realtors.

West 11th St. is four blocks past the Shadow Lawn district, adjacent to Bissonnet and across the street from the Contemporary Arts Museum. Like most gated streets, the houses are huge and the streets are tree lined–magnolias, oaks, and palms. The homes were built in the 1920s by Houston’s best architects, and the brick and stone gate (the one I neglected to photograph) is also original to the neighborhood.

But thanks to the magic of the Internet, here’s a photo of West 11th St. that euthman has courteously taken.

West Eleventh Place Historic District

Houston Historic Districts: Shadow Lawn

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Shadow Lawn is one of the smallest historic districts in the Houston area. It is, in fact, one street, a circle comprising only fourteen houses, adjacent to Bissonnet. Built in the early 1920s by some of Houston’s best architects, Shadow Lawn is home to an array of architectural styles.

Situated just north of Rice University and only steps from the Museum District, Shadow Lawn is right in the heart of Houston’s cultural scene. It’s also just blocks from Montrose, one of 2009’s “10 Greatest Places in America” .

This is one of those neighborhoods that’s worth a quick drive around if you’re passing through the Museum District. It won’t take more than a minute, but you’ll see some wonderful houses on your way.

An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

So we’re making Coq au vin, and Martha Stewart asks me to help with the pasta. I’ve never made pasta in my life, and she asks me, ‘Have you ever worked in a restaurant’? I wanted to say, ‘Yeah bitch I have.’ But I didn’t. She’s an ex-con.”

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

So goes an evening with Anthony Bourdain. Now that he’s older, he prefers not to be called the bad boy of the culinary scene anymore, but he’s as opinionated as ever. We saw him last night at Jones Auditorium in the midst of his R-rated “Guts and Glory” speaking tour.  We were extra lucky, though, as his weekend appearances are billed as “Good vs. Evil” with fellow celebrity chef Eric Ripert.

Ripert is an engaging speaker, but make no doubt about it, Bourdain is the main draw, as the crowd of Society of Performing Arts season ticket holders, chefs, hipsters, and hipster chefs can attest. Whether answering questions or interrogating Ripert, Bourdain is opinionated, incisive, and brash. Topics included sustainability and endangered species, the proper way to manage a kitchen, his attack on Paula Deen’s hypocrisy, the effect of different recreational drugs on cooking, and vegetarians and their “Hezbollah-like splinter faction, vegans”. He also expressed his outrage after the Travel Channel aired a Cadillac commercial during last week’s No Reservations finale, using his quotes from the show, without asking his approval.

The laughs were not all Bourdain’s, however. Grilling him on the infamous Namibia episode of No Reservations, when Bourdain ate the tribe’s prized grilled warthog rectum–a delicacy that tastes like “fur, dirt, and shit”–Ripert noted that in all of his research, he had never heard of any people or tribe that ate “the asshole of a pig.” “Do you think,” he asked in his thick French accent, “they just wanted to make fun of the gringo?”

After an hour of quizzing each other, the pair took questions from the audience. Admitting that they wouldn’t get a chance to try any Houston restaurants (“We’ll be lucky to have time for a can of Pringles in the hotel.”), Bourdain noted that he’d had great Vietnamese in past visits, and the mark of a burgeoning culinary scene is the fusion created by young chefs experiencing and borrowing from many types of cuisine on a nightly basis.

He did cop, however, to a newfound love for Texas BBQ after visiting Franklin and JMueller in Austin. “There’s nothing better than good Texas barbecue,” Bourdain declared. “That’s what he said last week in Virginia,” responded Ripert.

Houston Historic Districts: Broadacres

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Today we continue our journey into Houston’s historic neighborhoods right down the block from where we began. (See part 1: Boulevard Oaks.)

Broadacres is an extension of the Boulevards Oaks District, centering again on North and South Boulevards. The neighborhood is small, with only 26 houses.

The biggest difference is that the homes are set farther back from the road than in Boulevard Oaks, often behind gates. Each boulevard is divided by a median shaded by oak bowers. It’s a pleasant avenue to stroll the brick walkways while admiring the lovely homes. Hollywood agrees. It’s been used in movies such as Terms of Endearment and Rushmore.

Next up: Shadow Lawn.

Houston Historic Districts: Boulevard Oaks

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I’m inaugurating a new feature here on the Three R’s. Houston has 19 designated historic districts, and since I’m both a Realtor and a history PhD, I thought it would be fun to document the city’s historic neighborhoods. This is a little bit strange since Houston is a relatively young city that didn’t blossom into a major metropolis until the 20th Century, particularly after the 1900 hurricane devastated nearby Galveston. Nevertheless, these districts are all on the National Register of Historic Places.

So I set out with my camera and started taking photos of the buildings that make up these districts.

First up, the Boulevard Oaks Historic District. Located between the Southwest Freeway and Rice University, this district consists mostly of North and South Boulevards. Lined by stately oak trees, these streets are home to a mix of beautiful 1920s and 30s era houses and out-of-place modern styles. The older homes were built by Houston’s finest architects in the revival styles popular at the time, including Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival, as well as French Manorial, Neoclassical, and English Picturesque.*

The homes are well kept, and when I visited one afternoon, the streets were full of contractors ensuring that the beautiful homes continue looking beautiful for many decades to come.

Does this look like somewhere you’d like to live?

*H/T: Houston Association of Realtors: Boulevard Oaks Historic Districts

Texas Renaissance Festival

Saturday, my wife and I attended the Texas Renaissance Festival in Magnolia, about an hour outside of Houston. Mind blown.

I’ve been to renaissance festivals. This is no ordinary Ren Fest. First of all, it’s permanent. Second, it’s like walking around a small town. The site covers 55 acres. We made a mistake by not buying the program/map because it took us 20 minutes to find our way out after a few hours walking around. And I’m still pretty sure we didn’t see every part of the park.

There were the usual medieval costumes, crusaders, barbarians, kings, queens, dandies, and pirates. Since it was also Halloween weekend, there were plenty of scary costumes as well. I saw a centaur and multiple men wearing nothing but a loincloth (and judging by the length of the cloth, I’m not sure they wore underwear either). So many people were dressed up and acting of their time period that I don’t know who worked there and who was just visiting. Continue reading

Back to School

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to blog. I spent that time working on a different project, which was a lot of fun. Since this summer was the 40th anniversary of the Watergate burglary (which was my dissertation topic), I was invited to return to my high school to speak about it. I’m a terribly slow writer (I was making edits in the hotel the night before), so it took me all of my blogging time to put together my talks.Tuesday morning I spoke to the high school students at the end of their assembly. It was awfully strange to see several of my old teachers in the audience. It’s been 14 years since I graduated, and I never imagined myself gracing the other side of the podium on that stage with them there. It’s funny, I barely remember having such assemblies, much less those that were moderated by students. I certainly was never the kid who asked for the teachers to stand up if they had any announcements to make. But I guess it really did happen that way.

I remember lots of presentations from high school. They brought in Kenneth Jackson once. He’s a big time historian, and he spoke about what we can learn from cemeteries. That part was fine. It was the field trip I didn’t like.

Anyway, I taught the kids the Watergate story. It’s a topic they never really get to study. US history classes typically have a lot of time getting through anything after WWII before the end of the school year. So I laid out the narrative and threw in a few tidbits why it’s still important to remember. With the presidential election only a few weeks away, it’s topical to discuss Nixon’s abuses of power, the current state of campaign finance reform, etc.

The good news was that I only counted 3 sleeping students.

That night I presented a longer speech to the public. About 60 people showed up, including a few of my high school friends, which was a surprise. I related Watergate much more to current events, assuming that my audience knew more about the actual events. These days, who knows though?

I asked the audience to imagine how Watergate would be treated if it happened today. What would Fox and MSNBC say? Would the blogosphere explode? Would today’s Republicans vote to recommend the impeachment of their own party’s leader? Would Democrats ramrod impeachment through Congress without GOP votes? It’s a very different world than it was in 1972. It’s a very different world than it was in 1998 when Bill Clinton survived impeachment.

On the whole, it was a very successful trip, and I got lots of great feedback. Thanks to everyone who came! I had a great time.

Reality TV Christmas

Tonight might be my favorite night of the reality TV year: the Big Brother finale and the premier of Survivor. It’s Christmas and New Years all rolled into one.

What do I expect from Big Brother? The most epic jury speech of all time from Dan Gheesling. The man is a Big Brother maestro (he already won Big Brother once before), who has weaved an improbable masterpiece this season. Big Brother is infamous for its ‘cat lady’ fans: women (usually), who pick favorites based on how cute or nice they are. They don’t reward gameplay and they vote in the millions for America’s Favorite Player based on those criteria. Dan, suffice it to say, has not pleased the cat ladies of America this year. He has unleashed a cut throat game, and he is up to his elbows’ in the other house guests’ blood. Big Brother has seen more than its fair share of bitter juries, and I would not be surprised to see the final vote come down to personal issues rather than gameplay.

Because, without a doubt, Dan has played one of the most remarkable strategic games in all of reality television history. For three weeks now the question has been, is Dan the greatest player in Big Brother history? There are plenty of arguments on both sides, but to be mentioned in the same breath as Dr. Will Kirby is a victory in itself. It’s those two, and no one else is in the ballpark’s parking lot. If Dan wins tonight, he is the best, bar none.

But in order to win, and to win over the jury’s cat lady contingent, he’s going to need to make the speech of his life tonight. This has the makings of a very bitter jury. And a very bitter jury is bound to reward his competition, be it Danielle or Ian. I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself because there are three people left in the house and only two spots, but I think it’s inevitable that Dan is a finalist if Ian wins the final HOH. Danielle has played a coat-tail rider’s game, and her few competition victories should not persuade the jury to vote for her. Ian has played a very good game, but he’s going to take credit for things that he doesn’t realize Dan did. Ian’s strategic masterstroke, which would seal his victory, is to win HOH and take Danielle to the final 2. But he won’t do it. He’s confounded by Dan’s ‘mist’ and has promised Dan final 2 because “to be the best, you have to beat the best.” This year, he’s not the best, but he still might win if Dan doesn’t convince the jury to put aside their prejudices and reward his gameplay.

And what do I expect from Survivor? Frankly, not nearly as much as I expect from Big Brother. We’ll see three returning players who were taken out of Survivor because of injuries. For the most part, I’m against returning players competing against newbies. It creates an unfair advantage and makes the newbs look naive. (Why am I supporting Dan Gheesling, then? Well, the BB newbies weren’t afraid to kick out veterans, and Dan has worked miracles even after the newbs knew he should be gone from the game.) I expect some of the vets to be supported by the tribe and others to be immediately feared. I don’t expect anyone to recognize former baseball player Jeff Kent, but someone might recognize Blair from “The Facts of Life” (I wouldn’t). I expect Jeff Probst to plug his new talk show (even though I’ve read that it’s about to be canceled). It’s hard to know anything about Survivor until after the first episode, especially since I haven’t watched any of the interview videos and bios of the players.

What I do know is that one way or another, Twitter will be alive with cat ladies tonight.