Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Historic Heights

There are a lot of reasons to live in The Heights. We've published something like 110 posts on this blog. Since most of our posts highlight positive things about The Heights, we're talking more than a hundred reasons to live here (and we're just getting started!).

One of the things we haven't talked too much about is the historic nature of our neighborhood. Our streets have history. Our homes have wisdom. I take immense pleasure in knowing that my house (built in 1930) connects my family to the families that have come before us and will continue to connect us to the families that come after us.

I live in Proctor Plaza, which is essentially the triangular area east of Studewood, south of Cavalcade, and north of 11th Street. Our neighborhood is a designated Historic District. Our neighborhood association goes to great lengths to maintain the historical integrity of our neighborhood.

I received an e-mail from the president of the Proctor Plaza Neighborhood Association about a proposed demolition in our historic neighborhood. I know this house personally because my friend seriously considered buying it after her house was destroyed in Hurricane Ike. My friend said the house was in need of renovation, but she was excited about the restoration process. In the end, she decided to purchase a nearby house that had more space (including an artist studio and a guest house in the backyard).

Here's what the president of the Proctor Plaza Neighborhood Association says about it:

If you have driven around the neighborhood lately, you will notice a large sign in the yard of 801 Pizer. This request is for a TOTAL TEAR DOWN! We were friends with the former owner, Gladys Foyt, and have been in the home on a number of occasions and can tell you this house does not meet the qualifications of a tear down. To qualify, a house has to be dilapidated or dangerous. As a historic district, it is imperative that tear downs of perfectly good homes be stopped!

There will be a public hearing on Thursday November 19th, but IT IS NOT THE LOCATION LISTED ON THEIR YARD SIGN. It has changed to be a block away at 611 Walker Street in the 6th floor conference room at 3pm. This is the tall gray building that is located on Walker between Smith and Louisiana streets.

If you are outraged (and I hope you are) PLEASE contact Betty Trapp Chapman or Thomas McWhorter at the following:

Betty Trapp Chapman, Chairperson, Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission
Thomas McWhorter, Sr. Planner
City of Houston
Planning and Development Department
Office of Historic Preservation
611 Walker, 6th Floor
Houston, Tx 77002

Tel: 713.837.7963

All e-mails will be read at the commission meeting. Cover 'em up with paper!!!
Kathy Cameron, President
Proctor Plaza Neighborhood Association


  1. I am sure you have received a lot of comments concerning the house slated to be torn down on Pizer Street. I wanted to provide a slightly different viewpoint on the entire ordeal. I understand and realize that Proctor Plaza is designated as a deed restricted area and that preserving ‘historical’ housing is very important. However, the severe limitations and restrictions placed on housing renovations often times causes people to be discouraged about the possibilities they have with a house. The housing in the heights area is old, but it is 1920’s and 30’s tract housing- which I might add is not too historical or unique. I believe I heard that the owners of this house submitted a proposal to renovate the house and that their proposal was denied. They then realized it was more cost efficient to tear down the house and re-build. If that is what they chose to do so be it. Is there special historic value placed on this house? Is it simply because it is old, or is it actually unique? If they plan on bettering and beautifying the neighborhood by building a home that would fit their needs and fit the deed restrictions then let them do it. I have noticed that a lot of ‘historic’ area activists, pushing the preservation of houses, pick and choose who they want to go after and what they think should be preserved. There are plenty of rental houses that are unsightly, plenty of houses that are not ‘fit’ for their idea of what belongs in their little historic area. The joy of the Heights is that there are no strict suburban guidelines placed upon owners. The environment has mixed incomes, mixed architectural leanings, and a diversity of cultures. Why can that not be reflected in the housing? Don’t get me wrong, I love the 1920-30’s tract housing. I find it charming and unique for today. In a world full of cheaply-made suburban houses these attract me because of the size and saving of resources, but we should not be attacking people for their own personal decisions. If the house they propose to build on the property meets the deed guidelines than they should be allowed to do what they want with the property they bought. Don’t let the word ‘historic’ be interpreted incorrectly. Help keep the heights unique, but also inviting to people who would like to join the community. You should not have to conform in order to be a part of the area. There should be limits placed on tear downs, but there should also be some logical and rational thinking when someone proposes to better a neighborhood. Honestly, I am often embarrassed by how nettlesome ‘busybees’ feel they can be simply because they feel that they have a sense of entitlement and absolute control on their surroundings. The community might be improved by the building of a new house and the introduction of new neighbors—you may never know.

  2. Just a couple of comments about your post, Anon:

    The preservation of this home is not about The Heights in general. It is specific to the North Norhill/Proctor Plaza neighborhood. This neighborhood is largely in tact and is the largest historic district in Houston. The couple who bought this house already live in the neighborhood and are very, very familiar with the restrictions and guidelines for renovations. They knew full well what they were getting in to when they bought this house. When every other homeowner in this area follows the process and adheres to the renovation guidelines, why should these people be any different?

    This house is not "unique" in its architecture. True enough. But it's not "just old"; it is a *contributing structure* to the historic designation. When these historic homes are destroyed, Proctor Plaza edges closer to loosing its designation. Additionally, every house surrounding Proctor Park was built a certain way. In fact, our deed restrictions dictate that every house facing the park must be brick. It was the opinion of a builder on the HAHC committee that the amount the owners of this home were quoted for their rebuild was not realistic. They were quoted $100/sq ft. He said more like $150-250, esp since it would have to be brick. He was also the one person on the HAHC who voted in favor of the demo permit.

    No one in this neighborhood is in favor of dangerous homes being kept. That is why there are 2 vacant lots currently available. The owners of 801 Pizer could easily buy and build on one of them. They are not without options.

    Also, you said "The joy of the Heights is that there are no strict suburban guidelines placed upon owners." That is NOT the case in this neighborhood and the beauty of this neighborhood for the majority of homeowners is that there are indeed guidelines. That is why this area voted for the deed restrictions and why there is a committee in place to enforce them. There are vast stretches of property in The Heights where these people could build their large, new home. They would be unencumbered by deed restrictions and could enjoy the "no guidelines" approach to building which you discuss. Whether or not that is what is special about the Heights is up for debate...

    Thank you for reading our blog and contributing to the discussion.

  3. And as a follow up, the HAHC did vote to decline the variance. There were 44 letters written to the HAHC in opposition to proposed demo and only 1 in favor. Additionally, there were ~12 people who spoke at the hearing, all opposed.

    It is the sincere hope of many in the neighborhood, easily the majority, that the homeowners will go back to their original plans of renovation, making the small changes suggested by the PPNA and saving this contributing home and it's special place on the border of Proctor Park.