Monday, August 20, 2007

Houston Streets 7

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Today’s bike ride took me to Hedwig Village—I rode most of the streets, excepting a few in the far eastern part of the Village. Hedwig Village is located just south of I-10—unlike Bunker Hill, Piney Point and Hunter’s Creek, no part of it touches Memorial Drive or Buffalo Bayou. The children in the Villages (and beyond them) attend Memorial High School, which is on Echo Lane in Hedwig Village. That’s where I went to school, and consequently I’m quite familiar with Hedwig Village. Like all the Villages, it is quite well-to-do. But unlike Piney Point and Bunker Hill, it does contain some apartment complexes. Not every resident is a home-owner. Unlike some of the other Villages, Hedwig Village has offices, stores, a public park, a public library—in other words, Hedwig Village is a little bit more like a real town than the other Villages, which mainly feel like excuses not to be governed by the City of Houston more than anything else.

My ride started outside Hedwig Village. I rode past Memorial City, which has been there for decades. When I was a 12-year-old boy, me and my pals used to hang out there a lot to play video games and check out girls. It seems teenage boys still check out teenage girls there, but Memorial City is a little different now. It’s much bigger than it was, the customer demographic is much more Mexican-American, and shockingly there are no bookstores—no B. Dalton, no Waldenbooks, both of which used to have stores there. Amazing, huh? There are still plenty of these two booksellers (98 B. Daltons and 550 Waldens—although Borders announced they are closing 250 of them) in the nation, but they’ve left Memorial City, for some reason.

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There’s a little neighborhood south of Memorial City but not quite in either Hedwig or Bunker Hill Village. The houses here were fairly modest, but as this is increasingly valuable prime Memorial area land, those old tiny houses are being torn down and replaced by McMansions. The two houses here are both on Holly Ridge, right next to each other. I’m guessing the larger of the two has at least four times the square footage of the other.

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Church architecture is one of the few arenas where architects in Houston have a chance to be creative. This is St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church and school on Bunker Hill. Even as a kid, I thought it looked like an Empire starship from Star Wars.

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I love big old majestic oaks, like this one at the corner of Constance and Lou-Al. (Note, Historic Houston Streets suggests that Lou-Al is named after two early Hedwig Village residents, Louise and Alfred Reidel.)

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Hedwig Village isn’t very distinguished architecturally (to my eye). But I did like the entry-way on this house on Duart.

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It’s an old story, but as land becomes more valuable, people try to use the land they have in for more things with greater economic value. That’s why there are McMansions—McMansions are an economically more efficient way to use a parcel of land than a modest ranch house. That’s why Montrose is gradually filling up with tall thin townhouses, why Midtown is full of mid-rises instead of single family houses, and why there are no more factories in Manhattan when there used to be hundreds. It may also be why this monstrosity on Cawdor Way was built. Amazingly enough, it appears there is more floor space on the third floor of this house than the first—it actually get bigger the higher up you go.

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I don’t know what this is. It doesn’t look quite big enough to be a house. It’s set in a huge yard with just a bare dirt driveway that doesn't seem to lead anywhere. According to Zillow.com, it is a property that only is accessible from Frandora, but it doesn't appear that anyone lives there.

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This is the new front of Memorial High School. (It actually says Memorial High School, but the metallic façade was reflecting so brightly that the word Memorial was washed out.) The new additions to the school are impressive, but don’t match the rest of the school at all. Instead of using tan bricks, the additions are dark grey, red and metallic. Maybe this is an attempt at school colors—I don’t know.

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This seems simultaneously exceptional and typical—Memorial celebrating both academic and athletic achievement. But when I was in high school, we had a sports nut principal, and despite our academic glory, there was still a lot more love for the football team than us National Merit Semifinalists, even though the football team sucked.

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Hedwig Park is, as far as I can determine, the only public park in the Villages of any size. (I can’t see any parks in my Key Map, but it also doesn’t indicate Hedwig Park, so there you go. It also lists a street called Silicon Ally in Hedwig Village that is, as far as I can determine, nonexistent. This may be intentional. According to Historic Houston Streets, the publishers of Key Maps deliberately put in fake street names to catch plagiarists. This might also explain little errors like making one of the Arrowwood cul-de-sacs face south instead of north.)

This plaque gives a little history of Hedwig Village. It reads “Hedwig Village, Hedwig Road and Hedwig Park all derive their name from Mrs. Hedwig Schroeder, whose family came here from Germany in 1906 and settled in the area. They gave the right of way for Hedwig Road in 1920, and when Hedwig Village was incorporated in 1954, Mrs. Schroeder’s name was also used for the city. Her name was selected in 1972 for Hedwig Park.”


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In 1986, they put a time capsule in Hedwig Park, not to be opened until 2036 (Texas’s bicentennial year). Not much to say about this except to note with amusement that the co-chairman of this project was named Mopsy, a name I didn’t think existed outside of the Preppy Handbook.

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Right next to Hedwig Park is the Spring Branch Memorial library, part of the Harris County library system (as opposed to the City of Houston library system). This arrangement of benches behind the library seems set up for small open-air performances. I wonder if they have musical events there.

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This tree seems to have tipped over from someone’s back yard right in the center of the turnaround at the end of Heather. It must be really frustrating for people who live on Heather. Amazingly, the tree still seems to be alive. If I remember, I’ll return sometime in the next few weeks and see if it has been removed.

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This sign on Shadow Way communicates its message very effectively, don’t you think?

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My problem with McMansions is not that they exist. Wealthy people are always going to live in big houses, and if we as a society want to discourage this (perhaps to reduce the amount of energy generated to heat and cool them, thus reducing greenhouse gasses), we have ways of doing so legally. Still, as land values increase in an area, a McMansion is an economically more efficient use (if not efficient in terms of energy consumption) of the same parcel of land than a small house. My problem is that so many McMansions are freaking ugly. They’re monuments to the fragile egos of their owners. They show off their McGrandiosity in a way that says “I am the home of an insecure asshole.” (I get the same vibe when I see people driving Hummers.) The ostentatious entryway of this McMansion on Jan Kelly shouts out that message loud and clear.

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I somehow managed to miss this when I rode up Blalock a few weeks back, but there is a cool little pedestrian cut-through connecting Dunsinane with Blalock. The Villages might not be very good about parks, but they do provide a few strategic pedestrian/bike cut-throughs to give joggers, dog-walkers, and bikers some nice alternatives to walking along busy streets like Blalock and Piney Point.

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This modernist house on Merridel isn’t that interesting, but I have never seen a lawn in Houston terraced quite like that (terracing is a landscaping concept almost completely without utility in Houston, one of the world's flattest cities).

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I showed a Strake Jesuit lawn sign a few weeks ago. Here are two for Memorial High School in front of a house on Whiporwill. I like that they eschew fancy graphics for a bold silhouette. Take that, Strake!


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