June 28, 2011

More Historic Districts: Houston Needs Three More Historic Districts – Including That Zoomy One From The ’50s

“Preservation fatigue” has set in, Houston City Council members say. But we hope they can pay attention a little bit longer.

Houston has already come a long way since Mayor Annise Parker took office. At the time, Houston’s historic-preservation ordinances were the weakest of any big city in the country, and the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission lacked the muscle even to prevent the bulldozing of a historic building in a historic district. During the last building boom, lots of those buildings disappeared forever.

Last fall, City Council voted to change that. Led by Realtors in the Heights, opposition was fierce. But basically, the changes made “historic district” mean what most people would expect.

Inside those districts, the commission can now actually stop a property owner from razing a historic building, and it can also nix changes that would screw up that building’s character in a way that’s obvious from the street. In the Houston Heights East, for instance, there’ll be no flat roofs or plate-glass windows slapped on Craftsman bungalows.

This means that the Heights will continue to look like the Heights; Westmoreland will continue to look like Westmoreland. For those of us who love those places, this is a very good thing.

Today, one last, long tabled bit of preservation business will come before City Council. This time, council members are scheduled to consider whether to approve three new districts: Heights South, Woodland Heights and Glenbrook Valley.

More than a year ago, all three submitted petitions from a majority of property holders requesting the designation. But the council’s vote was delayed first by consideration of new rules, then by the city’s budget crisis. By now, both preservationists and those who oppose the new, tougher rules say that they’re exhausted, tired of postcard referenda and what’s come to seem like a never-ending process. They want the council to vote.

We do, too. And we urge members to approve all three districts; they’ll make Houston a better place.

Although the opposition has been vocal, a solid majority of property owners in each district appear to want the preservation protections to apply to their neighborhood. In a mail poll of Heights South, where changes to the ordinance made the matter seem most in doubt, only 23 percent of property owners voted no.

As much as we love the prospect of the two Heights districts, we’re even more excited about a designation for Glenbrook Valley, a 1950s suburb near Hobby Airport. It would be not only the first historic district outside the 610 Loop, but also the first from the mid-20th century — the period when Houston really came into its own.

It’s a neighborhood where edgy flat-roofed architectural statements mix easily with sweet ranch houses like the ones many of us grew up in. Driving through those wide, curvy streets, you feel the postwar, sky’s-the-limit optimism of the tailfin era – a period when Houston, even more than the rest of America, brimmed with possibility.

We’d hate to lose those houses. We’d hate to lose that feeling. We urge City Council to vote yes.

The complete article can be found here

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