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.