I tutor at a school deep in the heart of southeast Houston. To reach my destination I drive down Telephone Road, a street with a somewhat notorious reputation. Just past Hobby Airport I turn into a neighborhood called Garden Villas and get to the campus where I work by crossing a bridge over Sims Bayou. I know these places well for I grew up very nearby and then lived in the area for well over thirty years after I married. There have been many changes since I was a young girl riding my bicycle under the pecan trees to get to Garden Villas Park so that I might visit the mobile library in search of books to read on hot summer afternoons. These days many of the homes that I used to pass have iron bars on the doors and windows and some of them have been severely neglected. Still there is something quite appealing about the neighborhood that makes me wonder why Garden Villas hasn’t become a mecca for gentrification.
The yards in Garden Villas are enormous, so much so that many people have built more than one structure on the land and still have huge green spaces. There are gigantic trees that have been growing since before I was even born. Most of them bear pecans in the fall so it is not unusual at all to see residents combing through the grass on their hands and knees filling huge bags with nature’s bounty. The canopy that reaches over the road shades those of us passing by creating a delightful path that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. Ironically the location is so close to downtown Houston, the Medical Center, the University of Houston and other major areas that it takes little or no time to be in the thick of business and commerce with little effort.
I have seen so many sights in Garden Villas that make me smile from ear to ear. Only this week I had to slow down to allow a flock of peacocks and peahens cross the street. I’m not sure where they came from or where they were going but the mere sight of them brightened my day. It’s not unusual at all to see families sauntering along the roads hand in hand forcing everyone to proceed a bit more slowly than they otherwise might. I love the leisurely pace that the area engenders. It literally helps me feel quite calm and often fills me with nostalgia as I think of the times when I once traveled along the same streets in search of childhood adventures.
Many of the homes in Garden Villas date back to the twenties, thirties and forties when the area was mostly farm and ranch country far from the city center. By the fifties and sixties new homes and neighborhoods were going up all around the area. None of them had the big yards and homey feel of Garden Villas. It was like a different place in time, unique to the usual ways of building in the Houston area. Many of the people who lived there came and stayed for all of their lives with some even passing down their homes to their children.
Progress changed most of southeast Houston. The neighborhoods that had been modern just after World War II became cramped, outdated and in many cases almost dilapidated. The home where I grew up is a shell of its former self. Its paint is faded and peeling. The roof is worn. The yard is filled with weeds and signs of neglect. It reminds me of the sad little house overtaken by a growing city in a picture book that I used to love. It pains me to even pass by my old homestead. It doesn’t even seem like the same place where I knew so much happiness with my mom and my brothers. Garden Villas on the other hand still has a spark of dignity and possibility. Somehow it seems to be a place with both a history and a future. People there appear to mostly love the hidden jewel that is their neighborhood.
I’ve never really understood why we so often abandon perfectly good areas in favor of new and shiny places. We hear the siren call of the suburbs and too often forget the pleasures of living in places that were built to last for longer than our short attention spans. The Houston Heights area has become one of the most sought after and prestigious addresses in our city. Time was not so long ago that it too had been mostly forgotten. It took the loving interest of people willing to be pioneers of sort to bring it back to its former glory. There are so many other perfectly good neighborhoods in Houston just waiting to be rediscovered and Garden Villas is one of them.
I sometimes drive to my tutoring sessions feeling a bit tired and out of sorts. I want to stay home and work in my yard or make new revisions to the book that I have written. I have to push myself out of the house. As soon as I make the turn from Telephone Road into the shady heaven of Garden Villas I feel instantly revitalized every single time. It would be worth the drive just to enjoy the tranquility that the area exudes.
Garden Villas is just across the road from Glenbrook Valley, a national historic district of elegant mid century homes. Many people predict that Glenbrook will one day be as sought after as it was back in the late fifties and throughout the sixties. Perhaps if that actually happens there will be enough of a renewed interest in the area that the businesses that once flourished will return and there will be a renaissance that will spread to Garden Villas and maybe even to the place where I lived as a child. In the meantime I will just enjoy my little secret and look forward to the surprises that keep coming each time I go there. Maybe it is actually best that not too many people find this treasure because I would hate to see it change too much. Right now it has a special ambiance that brightens my spirit just the way it is.