A Brief History of Houston Heights and Prominent Architectural Styles
Attention, history buffs: do you know the history of the coveted Houston Heights neighborhood and the story behind its architecture? This community boasts a rich history that has influenced much of the rest of the city’s suburbs. Keep reading if you’d like to learn more about the area’s development and its wide variety of architectural styles.
Houston’s First Suburb
Houston Heights was one of the first planned developments in Texas, and it was Houston’s very first suburb. When people refer to the “historic” Houston Heights, they’re not kidding – it all started here! The community was developed in hopes of creating a place where people could reside comfortably and still find good work.
The Omaha & South Texas Land Company purchased the land on May 5, 1891. Daniel Denton Cooley, aka “the Father of Houston Heights,” invested significantly in the formation of the community. Of his many contributions, he was particularly passionate about Heights Boulevard. Modeled after Boston’s Commonwealth Boulevard, Cooley aimed to make Heights Boulevard elegant, charming, and locally prominent. It’s safe to say he succeeded: the Houston Chronicle described Heights Boulevard in 1955 as “the most gracious street in all of heavenly Houston.”
In addition to its aesthetics and job opportunities, Houston Heights offered a lot to residents who highly valued public transportation and well-thought-out infrastructure. A steam railroad built in 1892 connected locals to 12 railroad depots in the City of Houston, allowing residents to live in the Heights and work or travel elsewhere. Graded and paved streets with sidewalks were advertised to prospective buyers who weren’t used to these particular features. The community also offered an artesian waterworks system, electric light and power, and sewer drainage. The improved waterworks system was particularly important at the time since cholera plagued early settlers. Schools and parks were also included in Omaha & South Texas Land Company’s massive investment. Retail lots were developed on 19th, 11th, and 20th Streets, and of course, have since expanded. Due to early planning and improvement projects, Houston Heights remains one of Houston’s most beloved communities for its easy accessibility.
Another contribution to the neighborhood’s success? High elevation. The community was built on land plotted 62 feet above sea level, 23 feet higher than Downtown. At the time, the higher elevation was extremely helpful in evading flooding. Yellow fever and malaria, transmitted by water-loving mosquitos, also spread slower on higher land, allowing construction projects to be completed swiftly.
Heights Home Styles
In 1893, Cooley’s new ornate, Victorian-style home was considered an example of the kind of home that should dominate the Heights. His home was sophisticated, with eye-catching chandeliers, inlaid wood floors, a marble tub in each bedroom, stained glass windows, and even an early-stage intercom system. Although his house was demolished in 1968, you may have seen the Texas Historical Commission marker while out and about in town! However, not every home was as lavish as Cooley’s. In fact, individual lot prices began at a mere $250, and many original homes no longer stand.
Today, most existing homes are one or two-story single-family residences. Common architectural styles include Queen Anne, Craftsman bungalows, and Folk Victorians, among others. Many Heights homes were constructed at the turn of the 19th century when the preferred architectural styles were changing. The wide variety of home styles present in the Heights reflects this transition.
The next time you take a stroll through the neighborhood, keep an eye out for these home styles:
While the Victorian era ended in 1901, you can certainly spot some beautiful Heights homes inspired by both it and the Gothic era. Certain qualities, such as steep roof pitches, irregular shapes, bay windows, patterned siding or shingles, and wide, striking porches define this style. They tend to be one or two stories tall, although like anything in real estate, there are exceptions.
1908 Decatur Street, sold in June 2020, is an ornate Queen Anne Victorian in Old Sixth Ward. It’s found on the National Record of Historic Places and is a perfect example of blending historic preservation with modern amenities.
There’s actually more than one style of Queen Anne house. You may have noticed that some of these homes feature decorative spindles and ornate wooden trim, like in the photo above. Many people call this the “gingerbread” style. Another style of Queen Anne home includes classic porch columns instead of spindles and is called “Free Classic.”
The Arts and Crafts Movement gained steam in the early 1900s. This period designated a departure from elaborate stylization. Craftsman homes became popular during this time; they were even the most popular building style in America between 1900 and 1930! Craftsman homes are bungalows, the qualities of which are described below.
The typical bungalow home is highly distinctive – it’s boxy with a low-pitched roof and wide eaves. While Craftsman-style detail is often found on bungalows, not all bungalows were constructed to reflect the Arts and Crafts Movement. In other words, while most bungalows don’t feature intricate details, it’s not impossible to find one that does.
Folk National/Folk Victorian
Folk National homes were built in the 1800s and early 1900s. They were easy to build, making them more affordable than Queen Annes and other more decorative alternatives. However, buyers often added decorative elements like spindle work later. Today, these homes are often simply referred to as “Folk Victorian.” Many of these structures are two stories tall and feature double front porches that surely kept residents cool in the Texas heat in the balmy days before air conditioning!
Colonial Revivals were popular around the Revolutionary War era, but the blueprints made their way to Houston many years after the war ended. These homes tend to be two stories tall and rectangular with a hipped roof. Emphasis is on balance, with the front door typically directly in the center of the façade with windows arranged symmetrically.
Keep in mind that many of these styles were mixed during construction as well as after the fact. For example, you can spot Folk National homes in the Heights with stereotypical modest Craftsman qualities. Many of the community’s most historic homes have been carefully remodeled to reflect modern living without sacrificing on vibrant history. Since some homes in Houston Heights were crafted from designs featured in pattern books, you might even spot a handful of homes like the Milroy House that stand out as truly unique.
If you’re thinking of buying or selling in the Heights, call 713.398.8719 today to discuss your real estate goals! I’m happy to answer all of your questions, including those regarding special considerations for historic homes.
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Nestled in Norhill in Houston Heights, this 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom Craftsman bungalow has retained many of its 1920s features without losing out on modern luxury. As you enter, you will find the living room adorned with a custom shiplap wall that continues into the kitchen. Enjoy original pine hardwood floors, an oversized utility room, a sizable backyard and deck space, and restored original cabinetry as well as new cabinetry built to match. The new owners will also have the peace of mind of knowing that the home comes equipped with a new roof. Other updates include a gorgeous renovated bathroom, modern stainless-steel appliances, and a gas range with double ovens. Since the garage has a dedicated, built-out space with an A/C, you can use the additional square footage as a home gym or as an office. Walk to some of the Heights’ most popular destinations for shopping, dining, and entertainment, and take advantage of one of Houston’s most accessible neighborhoods!