Thursday, January 10, 2008

Houston Streets 10--Farnham Park & Charnwood

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On the advice of some posters at the Houston Architecture Info Forum, I decided to try to get into Farnham Park today. This is the street south off of San Felipe just before you hit Buffalo Bayou. It is a gated street, but the scuttlebutt is that it is actually a public street. So I asked the guards if I could ride around. They waved me through.

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This is a house I've always been curious about. A modern house with metallic skin, the back of it (shown here) is visible from San Felipe.

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Here's what it looks like from the drive-way. You really can't see all that much--I think you'd really need to go up the driveway and see it up close. But at least I've seen it from more than one angle now.

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This house on the corner of Farnham Park and Farnham Circle manages to be airy and boxy at the same time. It looked quite lovely in the late afternoon sun.

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This is a view of the middle of the house. It's hard to see, but the stairs are individual boards that project from the wall. No railings. Looks cool but kind of dangerous.

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Another modern house at the end of Farnham Circle.

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This curious house is a combination of modern and classical (those are doric columns). When I see that particular aesthetic combination, I inevitably think of Mussolini. Or Albert Speer. I mean, maybe it's not the best combination.

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Another modern house on Farnham Circle.

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Farnham Park has something very rare for Houston--a scenic overlook. It's amazing that the developer didn't requisition every square foot of Bayou frontage for development, but here is the proof. A beautiful bend of the Bayou behind a lovely metal fence. (This image is made of three photos.)

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This brown house with a metal roof is almost all the way to the end of Farnham Park. It looks like something you'd see in Colorado, surrounded by birch trees and rock. Quite lovely, actually.

Now apparently some residents were alarmed to see me riding in their neighborhood taking photos. So the guards gave me a lot of shit when I left, and they strongly implied that this was private property and that I was not allowed to take photos. It was a humiliating dress-down, which I would have gladly avoided. I was afraid they'd try to hold me or call the cops, but they took my personal information (which if I had any guts, I would have denied them*) and let me go.

(*Don't ever entrust me to carry out part of any secret spy mission. I crumble under authority instantly.)

I then rode around the corner to Voss, and entered the neighborhood of Charnwood. When I saw that, I thought of Charn, the ruined world in The Magician's Nephew. But apparently there is a place in England called Charnwood, which I'm sure is the origin of the name.

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This house at the corner of Inwood and Woodway had an intriguing curved ivy-covered fence.

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In an earlier post, I suggested that there was no public access to Bufalo Bayou between Memorial Park and Terry Hershey Park. Well, I am happy to report that I was not completely correct. Briar Bend Park is a little park on Woodway that faces the Bayou. According to the Bayou Preservation Association, it is the only park between "the upper and lower sections" of the bayou. They give instructions on using it as a canoe embarkation point (scroll down). (The bike leaning on the gazebo in the park is mine, by the way.)

Frankly, getting a canoe down to the Bayou would be tough. It has a very steep bank with only rough trails leading down, but it is worth it to go down and take a look.

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For one thing, you'll discover this chair built onto a fallen pine that straddles the bayou.

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Here's another view of the Bayou chair. Now, you may be asking--Robert, did you climb out on this log and have a little sit-down? Well, no. I chickened out. Maybe with a few beers in me, I would try it. If I were 12 again, I surely would.

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This structure is across the Bayou from Briar Bend Park. I wondered what it was--it looks a little like apartments with a mansard roof.

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But no--it's a sewage treatment plant. If you're canoing here, don't accidentally swallow the water! This plant is right at the end of Farnham Park. So these wealthy folks in their big houses with their uniformed guards who hassle innocent tourists--well, when the wind is right, their neighborhood must be quite fragrant.

This leads me to a theory. I was amazed to find a park anywhere on the Bayou besides the big ones. How did Briar Bend Park happen? Maybe the developer of Charnwood was thinking, "Even though I can charge a premium for Bayou-backed property, no one wants to live across from a shit factory. But if I put a park there, that's an amenity that adds value to the rest of the neighborhood!" Who knows?

Update: Well, someone knows. I got an email from a former resident of the neighborhood, and she wrote:
Prior to about 1985, the “park” was an under-utilized, scrubby odd-shaped piece of land owned by HISD with a shabby playground that was actually rather dangerous. My recollection is not exact but HISD decided to sell the property. The neighborhood formed a committee to work with the Houston Parks and Recreation (I think that’s the name) to create a neighborhood park. I’m fuzzy on details as I was not in any kind of a lead position on this. Anyway, we raised money and got the city to contribute money and the land was purchased for use as a park. It was a big endeavor and I think I remember that it was initially difficult to convince the city that a) we deserved a park and b) that the land was large enough.

Fo
lks in our neighborhood had terrific input as to what would go in the park and worked very closely with the parks people – the gazebo was a big deal as I remember and so was the jog trail. The playground was (in the 80s anyway) state-of-the-art and we were very proud of it. There was a splashy opening ceremony and the park was an instant hit – everyone in Briarbend and Charnwood at that time had little kids and we just lived down there.

So there you go. My cynical speculation was completely untrue! If anyone knows interesting history of anything I write about, please let me know. At best, I get intriguing glances of interesting places, and I really enjoy gaining a deeper knowledge of a place, when it's possible.

One final note. Key Maps really messed this neighborhood up. I want to support Key Maps, since they are local and all, but they make a lot of mistakes. First of all, Del Monte connects with Woodway and is not a dead end, as they depict. Furthermore, Burgoyne does not make a right angle turn and connect with Woodway as shown. There is a greenway that connects the two streets--perhaps at one time, the city intended to make a connecting street. But Burgoyne dead-ends where I have shown in the map at the beginning of this post. Finally, Briar Bend Park does not extend all the way to the end of Woodway as shown. There are some houses and apartments after the park, which is smaller than depicted on the map, alas.

(Thanks to Swamplot for the great mention!)

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8 Comments:

Blogger Ben said...

Bravo, good sir! So the guards didn't give you any trouble at all? Did you ride up or drive in?

9:32 PM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Oh no--read all the way through. The guards stopped me and gave me the third degree as I was leaving, after getting reports from residents that I was taking photos.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

That's really a shame. I understand that these people are wealthy and value their privacy, but if you don't want people taking pictures, don't build such a great house.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Greg Banville said...

Interesting. I've just had a similar experience. Here's what the tree bridge looks like after you cross it:

http://flickr.com/photos/sightrays/2275233235/

I found your blog after doing a search on Briarbend Park. The odd thing is, maps I find on the internet usually show a large rectangular area which seems to be undeveloped land between apartment complexes and the Bayou actually labeled as Briarbend Park. Is this another park, or something mistakenly marked.

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Fence Atlanta said...

What a cool fence...or bush. I have never seen shrubbery look so close to the image of a fence. I am seriously blown away by it. Also, the image of the modern fence and gate above it is killer as well!

1:55 PM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

You sound like someone whose knows his fences, Fencwe Atlanta. That was definitely a fence with a kind of decorative shape, covered with Ivy. What is especially cool about it is that it is on an ordinary suburban house in an ordinary neighborhood (not on Franham Park, which had all the cool modern mansions). So the fence really stood out there.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Greg: Sorry for the tardy reply. Yeah, I think the maps online (and in print) are wrong. Pretty strange, and I have no explanation.

3:18 PM  
Blogger tristienm said...

I've been to the forested area just east of the Briar Bend Park, and I've found trails, a camp, and an old boating launch. Did you happen to find out if the area is public or private? I was told just yesterday that there was a killing just inside the entrance to the western edge of the forest, and that the area was private, but the person could not tell me who or how far the ownership extends. Therefore, I am disinclined to believe them, but I have little information to make sure. By the way, the Briar Bend launch has been developed now with stairs and a stone platform. I saw a kayak docked when I was there the other day. The fence dividing the park from the bayou is now gone, and the tree bridge with the bench is also gone.

2:08 PM  

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