08 September 2008

Don't Fence Me In

 

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In Houston, Sunday driving is best done in our nicest neighborhood, River Oaks.  Home to most  of Houston's who's who, it was founded in the 1920s by philanthropist Ima Hogg (yes!) and her two brothers who hired the architect John Staub to build its original speculative homes.  The wealthiest of Houston  still live in the neighborhood and there is really no better place to cruise around and look at gorgeous houses and lush landscaping.  The center of the neighborhood is the grand parkway, River Oaks Boulevard  with a high school at the beginning of the street and the private, exclusive country club located at the end.  At Christmas time, the streets are filled with cars from all over the city who come to ooh and ah at the spectacular light shows many of the residents put on.  I should know, I've been driving through River Oaks looking at Christmas lights since I was just a babe.   My family would load up the station wagon with blankets and pillows and we'd slowly make our way through it's winding streets, admiring the huge estates almost as much as the glorious twinkling lights, and giant candy canes. 

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They say not much changes in life, and many years later, I still like to drive through River Oaks, looking at the palatial homes, though mainly I do it now for inspiration from  both the old and new construction.  And, as always, its the French inspired architecture that attracts me, like this beautiful house, in the midst of getting a new roof.   The stucco with its walls damp from a light rain, is a soothing shade of creamy yellow, it's wood shutters a weathered, natural gray.

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And then there is this French stucco home, with its rustic, wooden shutters and slate roof.  I especially like the alcove with a bank of french doors on the very left of the house.   It could use some landscaping, even though it's more authentically French to have none.

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This light pink stucco with its pale, blue shutters has long been a favorite.  I love the portico at the entrance - it looks like a little gate house - just charming.  

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This southern colonial is an original.  It's been here longer than most houses in the neighborhood.  Right on River Oaks Blvd., next to the country club, you can't get a better address than this.  I could tell you this was a plantation in Louisiana and you would probably believe me, so authentic looking is it.   Yes, driving through River Oaks looking at houses is always exciting.  Just driving along, admiring the view, all the while hoping the unmarked security cars that sit parked outside houses like this don't radio the police to come arrest you as a potential house burglar.   Yet, it's all worth the risk to get a glimpse of  the beautiful houses.....

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Beautiful houses like this.  Oops!   Can't quite see this one.  But the locked gates are really beautiful.  Stucco with finials,  The gates are French looking too.  Judging by them, I would say the house is creamy stucco, French inspired.  New construction.  I'll never know for sure though. 

What is interesting about this gate and the others like it in the neighborhood, is just how many houses are now hidden behind these gates.  While people tend to think of a gated community as one where there is a set of gates that keep non residents out of the neighborhood, slowly yet surely, River Oaks has become a gated community of sorts without anyone realizing it.  Instead of the  one set of gates leading into the neighborhood, house after house is located behind their own iron gates now.  Until my latest drive through, I hadn't realized how many houses were gated in what was once a more accessible neighborhood.   In America, we tend to think of gated communities  as being far away, out in the suburbs, a place where people take flight against a rising crime rate.  But here, in River Oaks, in the heart of the city, in the shadow of our downtown, this community has chosen to hide themselves behind formidable walls,  and thus, have changed the look and atmosphere of one of our treasures.  Not that I blame the owners for putting up gates, I don't at all.  But still, it's sad to see that this is what it has come to.    Not everyone in the neighborhood lives behind gates.   The smaller houses that surround the heart of the neighborhood are left gateless, and thus, vulnerable to crime.  It's the estates on the larger acreage  that are now increasingly gated.   Driving through River Oaks just admiring the houses, is not quite as easy as it once was and I suspect it will be get harder as the years go on.

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Here's a beautiful southern colonial, hiding behind a rather unattractive gate.  The house is barely visible now, but I would think the low hedge would be easily scaled by a ne'er do well.

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Wait!!!!  These  gates are actually open!!!  This house must be really special, there are several historical markers on the gateposts.    Very southern, and very romantic looking, these gates mimic the design of the house.   I love the long, gravel driveway.   OK, now I'm reduced to commenting on driveways.

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This English styled new construction has a very attractive wood and iron gate.   The best thing about it is you can  sort of see the house!

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It even has a little door for deliveries that matches the bigger gate.  Isn't this cute?

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Hi!!!!!  You open for visitors?  I'm here!!!!  

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Oops.  I guess not.    The gates quickly closed as soon as they saw my camera.  This house is a quite a complex.  I've actually been inside it, not as a guest, but as a paying person on a house tour benefiting some charity or another.  The house backs up to the golf course and the lot is immense.  There are several different buildings on the estate, a main house, a carriage house, and a pool house with his and her dressing rooms, among others.  It's a Mediterranean design and it's very unique and quite fabulous.  The gate's unusual design reflects the owner's artistic sensibilities.   This is the gate on the east end of the property.  See the little manned guard house with the red roof just inside?

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In the middle of the property is the front gate for visitors without cars.  Not sure in Houston how many people would actually come visit without a car, but if they do, they have their own gate. 

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And on the west end, a matching drive in gate.   The property has never been published, but the owner's Aspen vacation house was recently shown in Veranda. 

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This is a beautiful gate, with elaborate yet tasteful scroll work.  You can just glimpse the matching pink stucco home inside with black and white awnings.  

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Here is an unusual contemporary styled gate:  an art nouveau inspired design, with gold leaves, and a wall  made of limestone blocks.  The large speaker on the left kills the beauty though.  Most gated houses tend to hide the security speaker under a cover of ivy. 

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Another unusual wood and iron gate with limestone fence.  Impossible again, to even glimpse anything of the house except it's red tiled roof.

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This gate allows an expansive view of a newly constructed Georgian styled home.  The wooden gates, though, don't do justice to the elegant stucco white house. 

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Limestone and scrolled ironwork - a sure bet this house is a newly constructed, French design.  You can glimpse the garage at least.

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This is a more unusual gated estate in River Oaks:  an original home.  The rather plain gates seem to say they have been here for quite a long time.  The house, a red bricked colonial styled home is not nearly as flashy as it's newer neighbors.

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OK!  We can take a hint!    These people really want their privacy.    I would suspect the gate was added on after the house was built as the approach to the house is so wide open - hence, the rather austere design of the gates.  Unattractive and overbearing, these gates are certainly not inviting.

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Now this is a pretty gate - stucco limestone, with a rather plain, but elegant design.  I like the large gas lanterns and the way the fence is gently curving.  The landscaping is nice, too.   Who am I kidding?  The landscaping is gorgeous.  Behind these gates I would guess is an elegant, stucco home built to the highest of standards.

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Open for visitors, except the two rather scary birds of prey on top of the gate posts which are not exactly inviting.  The brick fence is handsomely covered with creeping ivy, the drive way is long and curving.   Again, a beautiful, brick house most likely lies at the end of the curving drive.

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And lastly, this house takes a different approach to the gated issue.  Their front door itself is gated, as are the driveways on the left and right of the house.   At least you can see the house and enjoy its beauty.  For the other houses hidden behind gates, they are for the enjoyment of the owners alone.    I wonder if one day soon these owners will add a gated fence around the home, as well. 

                                               

All in all, it wasn't a great drive-by day for pictures in River Oaks, though it was an eye opener to what is going on in the neighborhood.   On the streets I drove down, the majority of houses were hidden.  I'll have to go back on another day to  admire the houses on the smaller lots where there aren't a lot of gates.   If you are interested in reading more about this historical neighborhood, there are several excellent books available at Amazon:  here and here.  Both are about John Staub the famous architect who developed River Oaks and built many of its most beautiful homes.   

51 comments:

  1. Thanks for the glimpse of the old hometown, Joni. I never noticed all those gates before! Many of the homes here in England hide behind amazingly TALL hedges (miss those azeleas!), brick walls, and gates. Even some of the terrace homes in the city have low pedestrian gates to keep out the riff-raff.

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  2. How Magnificent!!! OMG ! Their so beautiful.One can look at them forever.Thank you for sharing their stories and pictures.You see houses are my fav things to look at.i even have a French Quarter Canister set in my Kitchen.I got it back in the eighties.I want to thank you again for your well wishes during Gustav.now I'm sending you thoughts and prayers that IKE the Terriable don't head your way or mine either.I have family that live in Houston.I hope maybe it will weaken anyway.May God bless you and keep you safe and I will be checking on you.Hugs Marie Antionette PS. What the heck is up with all these storms this yr?

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  3. How Magnificent!!! OMG ! Their so beautiful.One can look at them forever.Thank you for sharing their stories and pictures.You see houses are my fav things to look at.i even have a French Quarter Canister set in my Kitchen.I got it back in the eighties.I want to thank you again for your well wishes during Gustav.now I'm sending you thoughts and prayers that IKE the Terriable don't head your way or mine either.I have family that live in Houston.I hope maybe it will weaken anyway.May God bless you and keep you safe and I will be checking on you.Hugs Marie Antionette PS. What the heck is up with all these storms this yr?

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  4. Thank you for the tour, Joni! I had an English professor in College who had us write an essay on the changing dynamics of rights of privacy in America. Funny that these pictures would have been nice in a presentation with the report. I chose to write about homes, the most private of anyones personal belongings; and how gates are now being used to keep people out, as opposed to keeping things in. Before the Western Movement - when people started to build fences as a way to dictate property lines - fences were used to keep belongings (goats, sheep, horses, cows, children) inside of a persons land, those things, for the most part remain gated, but now, people are gating homes, driveways, front doors, even entire neighborhoods as a way to evoke exclusivity and create curiosity. I think that gated properties would attract more crime, as the goods inside must be so good that they're worth protecting, right? Ah, sorry for the blog within a blog - but a wonderful post that I agree with on all levels, 5 years ago to today, it's a shame they're using gates to cover up all that beauty.

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  5. What a beautiful tour you've hosted. I would love to drive through such a neighborhood. There are many here in the greater Chicago area but I would hate to have to live behind gates. I love my little spot in rural America where you don't have to lock your doors. Really.

    - Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife

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  6. You leave me speechless almost daily....thank you for such a sweet love note last night.....


    WHEN do find time to honor us with such therapeutic blogging? Stopping here is helping with my "healing"

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  7. Interesting post Joni. I find myself waffling between sympathy for people trying to find a sense of safety(I'll bet motion detectors are part of the package) and privacy (I've had snowmobiles doing wheelies on my lawn and I would kill for a budget that allowed gates) and sadness at the psychological transformation of wealthy americans into something closer to landed aristocracy. Another place I used to do driveby's was Glen Cove on Long Island, and many of those homes have been gated this past century. Some communities here are talking about making them illegal, but I don't think they'll get too far.

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  8. I am in love with the last house. It is gorgeous! The landscaping is divine! I wish I could go inside all of these homes to take a look. Great post! Daisy~

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  9. I love the neighborhood tour! I think it's really sad that these estates and yards are gated in a city neighborhood. I think it just makes the street quieter and more prone to crime as no one can see whats going on in the street or in their neighbor's yard. Gates are for country estates, not city neighborhoods! This is just bad urban planning (on a localized level)

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  10. balsamfir: snowmobiles? at first I thought that was a veiled reference to Palin - haha!!!

    unlike Glen Cove - these are private gate communities of 1. These people are just scared though. they are the wealthiest and as such, the most vulnerable to kidnappings and such. I understand and don't fault them, but it's just sad to see it!!

    thanks for a great comment!

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  11. What a great tour, Joni. The Denver Country Club area is similar, though with less French style and more Tudor homes. The gates are beginning to go up there as well, not yet as many as Houston.

    I went with a friend to St. Louis where a similar area has "seceded" from the city and where all the streets are privately owned. We parked our car and walked around a little bit, but were chased off by the police for "trespassing" - on city streets! No gates, just armed guards. We, too, were admiring the architecture and gardens, for a short while, anyway.

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  12. I think that the gating is just another commentary on how our country is all about "me"... it doesn't matter how ugly the the street looks to people driving by, as long as I am safe and protected because my safety is more important than the aesthetics of the overall look of the area. Is there really such a big danger of being kidnapped in Houston that people need these huge gates?

    When I was on the Eastern Shore, a new money banker neighbour had built a huge gate, with cameras and a guardhouse. However, the local fire department couldn't fit their equipment through it and so the banker had to build a little side road to the drive. That's what everyone uses and everyone knows about it.

    Just my $.02.

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  13. You picked some beautiful homes and lovely gates for your tour, Joni. I love driving through River Oaks. The second and third houses you posted are gorgeous!

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  14. Great post! The homes that can actually be seen are stunning! At least the neighborhood is still intact and eventhough alot of the homes are gated in...they are probably still as grand as they used to be!

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  15. THose are some stunning homes! I think every city has an area like that...magnificent & pricey.

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  16. Thanks for taking the tour and sharing it with us. Your commentary always has me chuckling. You write as though you're speaking with good friends.
    "Hi!! You open for visitors? I'm here!"
    I eagerly check in daily for your new posts.

    Penny

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  17. Very interesting post! I love artistic gates; one of my favorite things about visiting Charleston is seeing the beautiful gates all around the city.

    I recognize some of those homes in River Oaks. I wish I could see more of that new Georgian...it looks right up my alley!

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  18. Well....gates certainly take the "Mayberry" out of the neighborhood. My daughter bought a house with history and presence but the requirement was...."I have to be a part of the neighborhood, open and friendly." Her town of San Marino, Ca. has exquisite homes built mostly in 1920s but one section has the gated, walled, hedged....keep out, I'm important look. To each his own....Ginny

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  19. No wonder we are scared of our neighbors, we don't know them. Why buy such beautiful grand houses and then hide in them? I understand gates but you can do it in a manner where you can actually still see the house. I, (if I was a burglar) would have to get at the most hidden house because I would be sure they have the most stuff and nobody would be able to see me doing it!!
    Don't put a fence up near me, I will just have to see what is behind it!!!
    Thanks for risking jail time to give us a glimpse of what looks like a lovely neighborhood. xo, MB

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  20. As a resident of the Houston area off and on for the past 30 years, I have driven through River Oaks once or twice. While a beautiful area, it is very intimidating. I prefer neighborhoods where gracious lawns, welcoming porches and not quite so much money beckon me in. They are beautiful, but their exclusivity is a big turnoff for me. It does not represent what I have come to regard as a true Texan trait - friendliness and neighborliness. It represents the "Ewings" of the "elite social circles" and firmly puts the other 97% of us in our places. Which is fine with me! I'll take a neighborhood where the welcome mat is out and the dobermans are inside as pets and not outside as security.

    I felt the same way driving through Dallas and the area around Turtle Creek although they are not quite so closed off from the rest of the world (with fences, hedges, etc.)

    Having said all that, thanks for the tour - I especially like (shocking) the English style house - they did do a good job on both the house (what could be seen of it) and their fencing.

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  21. Thanks for the tour -- a few years ago I went on the Azalea Walk by the River Oaks Garden Club -- and saw inside seveal gorgeous homes and their gardens too! Simply wonderful! It is a real shame about the gates and fences -- but even in my VERY very modest little suburb -- many of the homes are going for gated yards in the back -- and lots of folk would like to have in the front too!

    Jan at the very tiny Rosemary Cottage

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  22. How sublime is your tour Joni especially after the messiness of the french countryside where I am and the urban chaos of London.

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  23. I remember years ago driving through River Oaks ( I think it was the colonial one next to the club?) and seeing a security guard sitting on a chair in the driveway. My host said..."There's always someone there, day or night." I guess the walls are a way to obtain security and privacy..

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  24. I'm all over the gates. I actually like that the houses are hidden from view.....a lot of people are very private and a lot of people are very nosy. (me included) I wanna see houses, but I completely understand the owners stance on it, b/c I AM that owner of the house with the gate.

    We have a big wrought iron gate in the front of our house and I LOVE that it's a barrier. People are constantly driving by our house really slowly and checking it out, I like that there is *something* between me and them. I DON'T want them to stop by for a chat (and believe me, they will), or think it's okay to peek through my windows when I'm not here. Now, my neighbors are a different story; we are all visiting each other all the time and have even considered installing a side entry-gate into each others yards so we don't have to walk all the way around.

    Now, if any of YOU want to stop by, that would be different! you could come over and chat me up anytime! Ha ;)


    Andrea

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  25. I could move into any one of those glorious homes. Thank you for sharing.

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  26. Ooo - and yes, I almost forgot. Ima Hogg. She had a sister named Ura, well so the story goes. My Texas History teacher in 7th grade gave us the run down of the family history, and we learned she only had brothers - apparently brothers who were fantastic neighborhood planners, along with Ms. Hogg.

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  27. FABULOUS home tour...I just want to scale those fences and go peek in the windows! I also would love to some day have a house with a fancy shmancy gate...some of those are gorgeous!

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  28. Looking at Andrea V's comment made me remember when we had a really tall fence at the front of our property. We took the fence down when we were rebuilding part of the house and it was really interesting how people would pull up in their cars or stand in front of the property, staring at the new facade. It definitely took some getting used to...

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  29. Lol at "ok - we can take a hint!" My thought exactly. I love seeing these french style homes in Houston that you sometimes feature. They are beautiful and so different from homes in New England. Now, if only you could get inside one of those places and take more photos.....!

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  30. Okay, I am a horticulture inept, gal. Can someone tell me what type of vine grows on the walls like that? I have a dream of ripping out all of my existing landscape and doing a boxwood sculpture garden. Very manicured and precise, just the way I like things ;)

    Thanks in advance,

    Andrea

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  31. Home, home on the range...
    I am so intrigued with houses, like you and wonder what makes a house a home. All I can think is how lonely the people must be there, I much prefer open doors, screen porches and children playing in the street. Don't fence me in either!

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  32. I would have loved to have gone along on this ride Joni! Beautiful post!

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  33. A perfect mix of beautiful imagery, great narration, a bit of history and a little social commentary (it is sad to watch as neighborhoods seek ways to increase security and privacy, although, at the same time, I can understand the need to do so.)

    I love taking "home tours" and exploring new places. Thanks for taking me somewhere new today, Joni!

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  34. I truly enjoyed this tour. I'd live in any of those gated beauties.

    Penny

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  35. The French style houses are amazing...I can only dream! Your neighbourhood tours are always a treat!! Amanda

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  36. some beauts there, Joni.

    But when everyone loads up the station wagon and kids and pillows slowly going through the neighborhood...I kinda see the fence thing being important to them.

    Just sayin'. ;~P

    The old and graceful TREES are just as gorgeous as some of those old (and new) homes!

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  37. How awesome!! When I come to Houston to visit my gal-pal I'm going to make her take me there so I can see all these homes for my self. I LOVE looking at wonderful old neighborhoods. I love how they are designed in a particular style. I desperately wish I could figure out what style my house is supposed to be! Very frustrating to me (but I tend to obsess about those things).

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  38. Lovely tour, Joni, thank you!

    I loved a lot of the houses (well, all of them, really!) but especially the newly constructed white Georgian. But, egad, what is up with its wooden gates?! They don't seem to me to go with the house at all (though they're better than those solid metal ones, I concede).

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  39. What a beautiful tour. Don't George and Barbara Bush live in River Oaks?

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  40. I was in Houston about 6-7 years ago for a Junior League conference- I remember sneaking out of the hotel( Westin at the Galleria) and hopped in a taxi to give me a quick tour of River Oaks....Lovely, Gorgeous, Magical!!!- I seem to remember that is was less gated then, as well....this is all recent?

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  41. This was a great drive by! I enjoyed it so much! Added it to my stumbleupon favorites in fact!

    Thanks for the tour!

    happy day,
    Melissa

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  42. These are beautiful pics. It reminds me of the Hancock Park area here in LA. From whay you post, I think you would like it. Great post.

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  43. When I saw the first couple of homes I felt butterflies in my stomach. Weird...but I love this style of house. Now, I agree with gates and fences but out of pure curiousity, I'd be tempted to get some stilts and go a'peaking. I did that last evening on my boat around some of the islands here with homes that have been in-the-family for 3 and 4 generations. Of course I forgot the camera...next time.

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  44. That was a fun tour, thank you! I'm in Fort Worth and although we drive through Houston to get to Galveston, I've never gone through River Oaks. Someday! :-)

    Andrea, from what I can tell, the ivy growing up a couple of those walls is English Ivy. It's very easy to grow and keep trimmed, spreads extremely fast, but grows best in part/full shade. Not a sun lover (unless you're in a cooler climate than we are!) It's also evergreen.

    ~~Jill

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  45. Hi Joni:
    Thanks for the great home tour. I do hope you had your Starbucks with you.

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  46. Such an interesting tour. I like the little visitor's gate the best, I fear!

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  47. House cruising is one of my favorite sports. Lots of great house cruises here in Atlanta. You only get a "zen view" of the most of them but it keeps me coming back. Ummm...love those gravel driveways.

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  48. Linda - well - the bigger houses are gated, the smaller ones aren't. so hard to tell if you just didn't go to the bigger estate area or not. hope this helps?

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  49. They are not supposed to be inviting! If I lived San on Filipe or Kirby Drive, the only thing you'd see of my house were the two gun-ports on either side of the gate and a Doberman high peephole. However, that last steel gate looks like ass, and would never have been allowed in the River Oaks of my childhood.

    Joni knows like I know, many things have happened behind those gates in River Oaks, including Murder and revenge of murder. Right Joni?

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  50. I would really wish that American houses like the ones you show, also be obtained in Norway - they are incredibly beautiful :)

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  51. You are making me miss Houston, my old stomping ground when I began my career years ago. So glad to know that the beautiful white colonial house by the Country Club is still guarding River Oaks Boulevard. Thanks for the tour. It's nice to know somethings never change.
    Sam

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