Last week, I blogged about this story in the Chron regarding the proposed demolition of a historic home in the Old Sixth Ward. The subject of the article, Maria Isabel, has left a lengthy comment which appears to be a copy of a letter to the Chron. In the interest of equal time, I'm reprinting it here so everyone will be more likely to see it. Click the More link to see her response.
Mr. Bob Carlquist
Executive VP & General Manager
The Houston Chronicle
801 Texas Avenue
Houston TX 77002
re: Zest story “ There goes the neighborhood”
Lisa Grey printed a story that reads like an editorial with attacks to our character, both personal and professional. Without fully researching sources and facts, Lisa peppered the story with sensationalism including such statements as “monstrosity”, “McMansion on steroids“, “aggressively modern”, “defeating the principles of good architecture“, and even a quote by Texas Anderson suggesting us as an “obnoxious neighbor“.
According to British Historian Sir Banister Fletcher, the style known as “Queen Ann” merged with the Gothic in England in the 1860’s. It was characterized by segmentally pedimented windows, dormers, handsome brickwork, and imposingly grouped chimneys. Terra-cotta decorative details and Dutch gables were also part of the Queen Anne idiom, which became the hallmark of the London Board Schools designed in the 1870’s. This “little Queen Ann cottage” built in 1885 was originally a modest two room home, built by the working class of it’s time, and does not contain any of those details typical of the Queen Anne style.
Over the course of history the footprint of this little house was extended to accommodate needs and requirements. These additions were made with no attention to a particular architectural style, and using lowest cost construction techniques and materials. One major addition includes a tin roof and shingle style siding. The last time this house was worked on it was created into a duplex for leasing purpose. Professional experts found very little historic architectural interest or value. In fact the house has six different floor materials and multiple floor levels, five types of base, five styles of windows, and six different door configurations. This little house has not been properly maintained over an extended period, with roof leaks leading to ceiling collapse, structural and floor deterioration. The house has been abandoned for years during which time it has been used as a refuge for vagrants and as a dump. This careless treatment has led to the extensively damaged condition in which it’s found today.
In regards to the statement "he knew he was buying property in a historic neighborhood, but he had no intentions of keeping the little Queen Anne Cottage"; when we contacted Karpas Properties, Wendy the agent handling the account for the Taylor’s, informed us that the property was not available for inspection due to the hazards of structural failure. Our closing documents confirm this noting that "This property is being sold for lot value only". We purchased the property from outside the fence. Recently we found that the Taylor’s decided to sell the property because they could not afford to renovate the little house, and the commission would not approve demolition.
After the closing we launched a tremendous investigation effort to discover the actual historical value, the materials and architectural details, and the condition of the building. We met with historic commission members and associates, including JD, Bart, and Lynn to assess and discuss the possibilities for refurbishing, and or relocation. We met with four local builders, including Doug Smith who has a column in your paper, and two craftsman to establish renovation costs. From Oct 9th, 2004 till March 11, 2005 we continued our research. We found that the actual cost to meet city code, and refurbish the home, in addition to the lot investment, would set the property outside market value. Due to Lisa’s lack of research and knowledge about our case and our efforts to save the little house, she failed to post in the article that we are offering a $5,600 incentive to help with the moving expenses.
In the story, it is erroneously stated that (he) “in fact was applying for permission to tear it down“, when in fact the original application form to the planning committee on March 11, 2005 was to “relocate”.
Regarding "aggressively modern", the materials were carefully chosen to mirror elements existing in the neighborhood. Our intentions as stated in the application to the planning committee were to encompass inspired modern style concepts, developed during the Victorian period from the 1860’s through the 1920’s by Norman Shaw, Mackintosh, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The dimensions of the proposed structure are incorrectly stated. The actual height of the proposed two level home is 29’, in scale with similar two level Victorian “like” houses in the area. On the southeast corner of the building we created a small 14-foot square exterior space, a Widows Walk, which rises above the main house to a total height of 37’, not 49’9”.
Preservation of the 30 year old Palm and other trees in the front of the property are the source for “the setback” of this plan. Alternating the placement of houses in consecutive lots on any given residential street allows the side windows of the homes to gaze at the neighbor’s garden landscape, a clever “architectural principle” used in urban communities where properties are often close in proximity. Concerning the adjacent neighbors, Maria on the west side has become a friend, she is excited that we are building a home for our family and chasing the bums away, eliminating the dump site that now exists, cleaning up the standing water that harbors pests and odor. She also expressed her concerns about the teenagers in the area using the abandoned house for unmentionable activities. The property on the east side is a parking lot for the business next door. Our back neighbor Mark, facing Kane Street, has a two level home with the typical gable roof, and in the rear of his property stands a two story dilapidated, rusty, dented, metal, non Victorian building he calls “the apartment“. By the way this apt is encroaching on our property by one foot. I also have established a relationship with Mary across the street. She is looking forward to “viewing” something nice from her front porch. A few weeks ago Maria and I were attending an Astros game, and she called to let us know that our gate was open and she suspected trouble. We have made it a point to know our neighbors and let them know our intentions.
The garage entrance is a typical two-car size and set back 17’ as per code. The size and design of the interior of the garage space is personal. Perhaps Lisa and the commission would prefer we keep the RV and other vehicles outside the fence on the driveway or street. The proposed driveway is made up of stone tiles, set on a sand bed, and framed with dwarf grass. We are also planning a garden outside the fence and around the culvert.
We would like to invite Lisa for a visit to the property at 1814 Lubbock, to look at our proposal for new construction, and to walk our street and meet the neighbors. We believe that if she were to do so she could see for herself that our proposed home is carefully designed, will be an asset to the neighborhood, and that the real “monstrosity” is the dilapidated homes in the sixth ward, some of which are owned by members of the HAHC and OSWHA.
Committed to the Revitalization of OSW,
Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 21, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston
Barry Norman and Maria Isabel
1518 Washington Ave, Apt H
Houston TX 77007