The Beer Can House sits on a crowded street just a few blocks north of Memorial. It's right in the heart of one of the fastest growing neighborhoods, surrounded by high-dollar townhouses. And for anyone who hasn't seen it...just picture a small bungalow house completely covered with beer cans.
"My father lived all of his life very conservatively, never threw anything away, saved baby jars from when I was a child that we still have. Anything he could recycle he did and when the seamless aluminum beer can first was introduced in the early to middle '70s he was so fascinated by that thin-wall can that didn't have a seam and he just started saving those aluminum cans."
That's Ronnie Milkovisch. His father, John, took all those cans and flattened, cut and carved them into dozens of shapes. It's a sort of monument to cheap beer. Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Coors, Texas Pride. Fifty-thousand cans of it. Stephen Bridges is with the Orange Show, the arts organization that restored the house. He says John Milkovisch never considered himself an artist. And he never really knew why he built the Beer Can House.
"He said himself that he had no idea. And he would sometimes lie awake at night wondering why he did it. And that is typical of a lot of folk artists and a lot of self-taught artists. It's this sort of innate drive to create that they just have to do and they're not really sure of a reason."
John Milkovisch spent 20 years working on the house. He died in 1988 and his widow lived there until her death in 2000. That's when the Orange Show stepped in to purchase and restore the house.
"The thing about the beer can house is it was really built as a lark. It wasn't built to last. And so that's been quite a challenge, how do you restore something that was never meant to last? And just the Houston heat and humidity and the sun really took its toll on the house."
Grants from the Brown and Cullen Foundations along with a lot of volunteer work have fully restored the house. It's now open for the public to go inside. That wasn't possible before. And people come from literally all over to see the Beer Can House. Ronnie Milsovisch says there's some irony in that.
"A quote that I like to use is he's sitting over here and people are so fascinated with his work and he said 'you know, I wouldn't walk around the block to see this place.'"
Despite that less than ringing endorsement, if you do want to see the Beer Can House it's open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to five.
Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.
First aired Thursday, March 6, 2008.