Margaret Wallace is the assistant director of the City of Houston’s Planning and Development Department and oversees the historic preservation of buildings and neighborhoods.
“It’s unfortunate that Houston has lost many historic properties that were not protected in any way, including the more recent one that people are talking about, on Lovett Boulevard,” she says.
She’s referring to the Bullock-City Federation Mansion in Montrose, reportedly Houston’s first house to have air conditioning. It was demolished last week.
Wallace says if the owner of a house or building wants it gone, there’s nothing the city or anyone else can do — unless it’s in a historic district or it has been designated a protected landmark.
“That offers great protection, because that demolition request then does have to go to the historic commission and the historic commission does have the authority to say no, you may not demolish that property.”
But to get to that point the owner needs to apply for historic preservation status.
For a neighborhood to be designated a historic district, two-thirds of residents need to vote in favor of it. Then the city’s historic commission and City Council need to approve.
Currently, there are 20 historic districts within the city of Houston, most of them around the downtown area, four of them in the Heights. And City Council has just voted to designate a 21st one in the Independence Heights, just outside the North Loop.
Wallace says the increasingly popular Heights could be an indicator of what kind of a community people prefer to live in.
“I think there is an increased desire to live in a home that has some character, that is located closer to the inner city and that has some of the things the Heights character is so strong for: front porches, walking, all different types of people,” she says.
“I think that there’s a growing interest in people who want to live in these types of communities. And because of that we will see more activity in historic districts.”
On the flipside, more people moving inside the loop could be bad news for historic homes. Wallace cites the Montrose area as an example where townhomes are replacing more and more of the older homes.
“What’s happening is the neighborhoods are becoming more dense,” she says. “And developers are choosing to increase the density by building townhomes.”
Once a neighborhood is designated historic, its character will be preserved. It also means homeowners need to apply for a permit to the city whenever they want to make any exterior changes to their homes.