This is a little out-dated. I wrote this in 2014 and forgot to finish and publish it. Better late than never, right?! I added an update…
It seems a little sign war has erupted in our neighborhood. Some signs say, “I Support a Historic District in the First Ward!” while other signs say, “Stop Historic Districts!” These signs have cropped up like mushrooms in many yards because a vote is on right now to designate 18 blocks as ‘historical’.
A local blog called “Swamplot” also wrote up a blog about the sign drama.
Our neighborhood is in the midst of major renewal with new homes being built one after another. There are at least 5 new construction sights within 5 blocks from our house, and each sight has at least 3 town-homes being built on it. Things are changing dramatically and new people are moving in each day, while many of the old guard are cashing out, moving out, or just dying off. Things are changing all around us! It’s kind of exciting to witness this transformation happening right outside our front door. We can literally see changes every single day.
The downside, though, to this gentrification is this neighborhood may have a lot of history to it, and some of that history could be getting plowed into oblivion. Some people want to preserve that history and restrict what can be built. Preserve First Ward says the new buildings are ‘insensitive’ and the character of the neighborhood is being threatened, so they want to protect and preserve the historic homes in First Ward.
I get that. It’s about identity. They want to keep the identity (the constitution, personality, integrity, uniqueness, appearance, shape, form) of the neighborhood. They recoil at new progress because it makes like a loss to them, or like they are being erased and obliterated. It feels like being diminished. Obliterated. Forgotten.
Or… that could just be a lot of pretentious nonsense. Not everyone agrees and says that sanctioning something as ‘historic’ is just a sneaky way to thwart progress and growth, as well as place everyone under the arbitrary lordship of some judge or board. Who are these little administrative emperors? Who gets to decide what is ‘historic’? And who died and made you King or Queen? The times are changing.
So, it appears the age old battle between Preservation and Progress has erupted once again. Will the greedy, money-grubbing corporate home builders win and line our streets with uniform Townhomes? Or will the little band of moralizing and pretentious know-it-all snobs take charge and control our neighborhood by their loving hands?
I agree with both sides to some degree. It would be nice to preserve some history and maintain a certain character to the neighborhood, but I also like the idea that Houston is growing and changing and a new generation is moving into this area. The biggest problem with preserving history here is there really isn’t much visible or documented history. Even though the neighborhood has been around for more than 100 years, there are very few photographs or stories to go with it. As for ‘character’, well, some of it is kind of ugly and looks like poverty, deterioration, neglect, and ruin. Many of the ‘historic’ houses were known for prostitution and drug deals. In fact, the character – or maybe I should say reputation – of this neighborhood was that ‘it is where you if you want to get shot,’ as some police officers have recanted. It was known as one of the worst neighborhoods in all of Houston.
Perhaps progress would be a good thing. Make some new history? Develop a new character? I say, take a picture of some of the run-down old ‘historic’ houses, and then tear it down and build something much more beautiful. Which side do I predict will win? I anticipate eventually both.
An agreement has been reached and parts of the neighborhood have been declared a historic area, although it is a smaller area than originally requested. If one of the original plans were approved, then the historic area could’ve included our house. It certainly covered a large chunk of Summer Street. But now it is smaller and our house at 1511 Summer Street is not considered historic and not under all those restrictive codes.
Here’s a map of the approved historic district
New Drama – Would you like a High Speed Train in your Backyard?
It turns out there are plans to develop a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston. That sounded pretty awesome at first, until people in the neighborhood learned the train would go right through First Ward! Suddenly, the more hipster, artsy people are complaining and saying, “NO! Not in my back yard!” But I’m not so sure if it is a bad thing. There are train-tracks and trains that run through our neighborhood all hours of the day and night. We’re accustomed to it already. And supposedly the high-speed train would be built on a platform ABOVE the existing tracks. It would also be going very slow through our neighborhood as it would be approaching or departing the terminal.
Some say this will drive property values down, as well as add a lot of noise. I’m not so sure about that either. In fact, it might increase property values since the terminal for the train would be within a mile or so of this neighborhood.
It remains to be seen even if this high-speed train is going to be a reality or not. It is still in the discussion phase. For now, though, it is fun to think about. It would certainly make travel to Dallas and back fast and fun!
Just Some Cool Stuff in Our Neighborhood
- Swamplot blog – Current news and photos of development and drama in the First Ward!
- Blighted corner of Houston sees rebirth – “It was a bright yellow wall and a blue door that recently coaxed me off I-45…”
- Ecclesia Church – “We believe that the Gospel impacts every area of a person’s life and culture. We reject unfounded categories that divide the world into uniquely sacred or purely secular. God is redeeming all of creation through Jesus.” This church is famous for tattoos. Yes, tattoos! CNN ran this story on Ecclasia Church in 2012 – Inking for Jesus.
- Coffee Shop – Paper Co., which opened this past July, is tucked inside of a refurbished paper factory just outside of downtown that also houses Ecclesia Church. If you aren’t familiar with Ecclesia, it’s a “holistic missional Christian community” church famous for its Cruciformity tattoos.
- The Artist Lofts – Great before and after pics. This is a Loft that used to be a hospital that was built on top of a cemetary. A municipal cemetery was established on the site in the 1840s, and over the next few decades thousands of people were buried here. The cemetery was not maintained, however, and in the early 1920s the Houston City Council decided to build a new municipal hospital on the site.
- First Ward Houston – The Official First Ward Website.
- First Ward Wikipedia info – Just the facts! Wikipedia rules!
- Chronicle Coverage of Uptick in Housing -The area has been dubbed the “First Ward Arts District” for its collection of artist residents and studios. A bike trail runs through the area, which is one of the closest neighborhoods to downtown just north of Washington Avenue.
- Winter Street Studios – Art and more Art
- Spring Street Studios – Art here too!
- Houston First Ward History – Like it says.
- East End Renewal – This isn’t in First Ward, but it is right next door. We used to live in an a Loft over there. This article contains some good information on the renewal going on in Houston.
By the way, our Congresswoman is Sheila Jackson Lee and she is a moon bat.
Some Info on Washington Avenue
Other Websites on the topic of Historic Districs and/or Property Rights
- The Ups and Downs of Living in a Historic District – “To newbies, the law can read like YOUR HOUSE IS HISTORIC AND YOU BETTER NOT TOUCH IT, but to others it’s a siren song, preserving that aspect which makes your house or neighborhood exceptional.”
- Myth: Local Historic Districts are an un-American violation of property rights – “The myth states that local historic districts cause a loss of property rights. Local Historic Districts no more infringe on property rights than do many other laws and private rules that Americans have long accepted.”
- Six Reasons to Say NO to Historic Districts – Despite the opinions of all the “experts”, Historic Districts are simply another scheme for government control of private property, and despite all the slick reassurances and arguments to the contrary, Historic Districts are another layer of bureaucracy.
- Enough! One Town Abolishes Their Historic District – For 20 years, town residents and property owners have chaffed under what has been termed an “unneeded layer of government.” A majority of residents were fed up with what they called “arbitrary decisions,” “ego clashes,” “arrogance” and “bureaucratic restrictions” on economic development, home improvements and private property rights by the Architectural Review Board (ARB) which applied Historic District “Guidelines” for new construction, renovation and demolition. The “Guidelines” were, in fact, not guidelines, but enforceable local regulations patterned on federal and state standards, and their formulation and publication were partially funded through the National Park Service.
- Historic District vs Property Rights = Serious Business – This local news report ultimately favors the side of Historic District, but at least airs the complaints of the other side: “There are allegations of refusals on the part of bureaucrats to go along with reasonable requests for repairs and upgrades, claims of long delays in getting any decision and reversals once those decisions are made.”
- National Historic Register Challenges Private Property Rights – This entire website is dedicated to preserving Property Rights and opposing designations of Historic Districts. “The word “challenge” derives from the Latin calumnia, meaning trickery, from calvi, to deceive.”
- Basic Facts: Wikipedia overview of Historical Districts
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