Midcentury Modern

Glenbrook ValleyJust before my father died our family was searching for a new home. Our weekends were spent inspecting houses in different parts of Houston. My dad was quite particular about building standards and such, so only certain neighborhoods appealed to him. I vividly recall him inspecting properties with the intensity of an appraiser. Walking through a home was far more than just deciding if the floor plan was pleasing and the colors were fitting for his taste. He insisted on knowing how well built the places were.

I liked those weekend house hunting adventures and I listened carefully to all of my father’s commentaries on various neighborhoods. His relatives wanted us to move into Oak Forest with its new post war homes, but Daddy insisted that the places were poorly built and after one visit to the subdivision he sniffed that he was not willing to invest his money in “junk.” He refused to even look at the houses being touted by a builder named Frank Sharp in southwest Houston, noting that they were built as cheaply as possible with little concern for how they would fare in the future.

The homes that my father found the most appealing were in Glenbrook Valley and Braeswood.  Both areas featured midcentury modern houses designed by the leading architects in the Houston area. Daddy was impressed with their features, but mostly with the hardiness of the way they were built. We returned to each area again and again as he and my mother tried to decide which home was the best. Since we had previously lived in southeast Houston I suppose that my father’s ultimate choice had more to do with wanting to try something different than thinking that one house was better than another. He and Mama had their eye on a home on a street named Bluebonnet Lane in Braeswood.

Of course fate changed all of those plans. When my father died we had to choose a far lesser house back in  Overbrook, a place where we had once lived in the splendor of one of that neighborhood’s midcentury modern homes near Sims Bayou. My mother made do with what we could afford, but she and I both understood that my dad would never have selected the house that became the home where I grew into an adult.

Over the years after my father’s death so much changed in Houston that he would hardly recognize the place. Glenbrook Valley endured a long period of blight during the eighties and nineties while Braeswood continued to be a sought after locale. In spite of their differing fortunes the midcentury modern homes in each area withstood both the tests of times, and in the case of Glenbrook Valley the sorrow of neglect. They were indeed as well built and classic as my father had predicted when most of them were brand new.

Glenbrook Valley has been designated an historical district because of the amazing homes located there, but the area has been slow in regaining its once glorious status. Braeswood has suffered in other ways. Some of the houses have flooded on more than one occasion, and hurricane Harvey seemed almost to signal the end of many of the magnificently designed and constructed places. Even a year and a half since the devastating storm many of the homes in Braeswood are still empty as owners grapple with just how to proceed. Many of the lots are now empty after the houses were razed. Newer elevated homes lacking the distinctive features of their predecessors dot the landscape. Some have even attempted to raise the original houses in an attempt to save the stunning architectural designs.

I drive by Bluebonnet Lane quite often. I can no longer remember which house on that street tantalized my parents. I often wonder if it survived hurricane Harvey without incident. I try to imagine how different my life would have been if we had moved there. It’s all a silly exercise because changing anything about where and how I grew up would have been akin the the story in It’s A Wonderful Life. Things worked out quite nicely for me and my brothers back in Overbrook. We were happy in our much smaller and less impressive home that is still standing although in need of many repairs. It has never flooded, not even when hurricane Harvey dumped over fifty inches of rain all around it. I suppose that it was a good choice on my mother’s part in those sad days when she was just learning how to be a single parent.

Glenbrook Valley is still a jewel that is almost hidden in the fabric of Houston. It’s stunning midcentury homes were once featured in national magazines. I remember visiting many of them as a teenager when my high school friends who lived in them invited me for visits. They were truly remarkable and helped me to understand why my father had been so taken with them. Today there are urban pioneers who are reclaiming them and restoring them to their former glory. I would so love to see the whole area enjoy a renaissance as people rediscover a once premier neighborhood. I dream of a time when the homes there will be as treasured as they once were. Perhaps if Glenbrook Valley is revitalized neighborhoods like Garden Villas and my old haunt of Overbrook will be noted as well. Each of those places have much to please a discerning home buyer with their rich histories and close proximity to the downtown area.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Houston in the coming years. I certainly pray that the glory of the great homes and a long ago era will be as well preserved as they have been in places like the Heights. In many ways a beautifully built structure deserves our love and care. Hopefully we can hold on to some pieces of our past. 

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