Houston has a long history of hard-fought battles over whether and how to preserve the city's landmark buildings, neighborhoods, churches and other structures. By inclination, Houstonians are not so much interested in looking back at the past as we are peeking around the next corner to see what the future holds.
So when a group of preservationists organized in 2008 to seek historic district status for the Glenbrook Valley neighborhood in southeast Houston, some eyebrows were raised. Glenbrook Valley, a neighborhood built from 1953 to 1964, as a historic district? Why, that was barely a half century ago, well within the lifetimes of hundreds of thousands of Houstonians. Where's the history in that?
After much debate, the ranch-style neighborhood was approved for historic district designation, the first postwar neighborhood in Texas to be so recognized.
But the skeptics and doubters remained. We, too, had some second thoughts about the wisdom of elevating such recent construction to historic district status.
We were wrong. The decision to make this postwar subdivision in far-from-fashionable Southeast Houston was the right thing to do. The proof in that pudding is the work done to restore the residence at 7919 Glenbrook Drive by owners Cheryl and David Bowman. Their efforts were honored last week with a Good Brick Award by the group Preservation Houston.
The Glenbrook Drive residence is stunning enough to change the minds of even those with a built-in bias against '50s ranch-style construction as tract housing that is nothing out of the ordinary.
Tens of thousands of ranch homes were built in this area, especially in the 1950s and '60s. A lot of them were ordinary. But some were brilliantly conceived and have stood the test of time architecturally.
We're not the experts.
We'll leave the sorting to those architects and preservationists who are. But what we are coming to realize and appreciate is that historic preservation is a living organism. It must move forward with the turning of the pages of the calendar.
With the passage of 60 years, the midcentury architecture in some subdivisions is worthy of recognition and preservation, especially in Houston, which came of age in the postwar era.
Judging by the applause meter, the preservation work done in the Glenbrook Valley residence may well have taken best in show at the Good Brick awards event. We can't say for sure.
What we do know is that with postwar residential architecture taking its rightful place as historically noteworthy, all of Houston is becoming that much more interesting historically speaking.
The 1950s and 1960s were the era when new design ideas for residential and commercial construction alike were popping up and being tried on with great zest and enthusiasm around here. Houston was a veritable petrie dish of design and architectural ideas.
We look forward to seeing more examples of Houston's architectural best from that fertile age receive the attention they deserve.