If you want to know what Houston looked like 75 or a hundred years ago, take a drive through the Heights, a few miles northwest of downtown. Despite decades of gentrification, much of the Heights looks just as it did in the Roaring 20's. Many of the oldest houses are gone, and more are coming down all the time to make way for the newm and old timers like retired firefighter Paul Carr worry that developers are killing the neighborly atmosphere in the Heights.
"We call ourselves the town in the city here, and we do have a lot of that feeling. I have people that will visit with me here, and you can go to the restaurant, or the store here, and you see people you know. You get the small town feeling, and the homes and all are part of that also, they have this feeling to'em."
Carr says change isn't always bad but he wonders why so many of the old houses have to be torn down? In some places, entire blocks of houses have been replaced with apartment complexes, townhouses and office buildings. This is happening because Houston doesn't have zoning, and deed restrictions expired long ago. Longtimer Mark Sterling says they're trying to get deed restrictions renewed, and they're trying to get the Heights declared a historic area, but that's complicated by a requirement that a big percentage of the homes have to be in their original condition.
"That's correct, either in its original state, or rather easily brought back to its original state. Those would be your potentially qualifying homes. Beyond the percentage of the physical housing stock, there needs to be the acceptance of 67 percent of the homeowners in the area that you're trying to protect as well. So it's a high bar."
Sterling says Houston's preservation ordinance is so weak that several Heights houses on the National Register of Historic Places have no protection from development. He and Carr say getting owners to actually live in the houses they buy and rehab would solve part of the problem, because they would learn why it's important to protect what they have.
"Very often, people will come to town, see this neigborhood, and pass through, in a relatively short time, and if you're an old codger, that's distressing. But even more than that, a neighborhood's character is the people that live here, and I think that's best embodied by the long time residents."
While this fight to preserve the Heights goes on, the Houston Heights Association is sponsoring its annual Home and Garden Tour this weekend. To show people what the city will lose if their preservation efforts fail, half a dozen beautiful old homes will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday. There's more information about the tour on our website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.