By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Another address operated for a year or two as a University of Houston frat house; another as an informal group house of Rice students. A house at the east end of the block was an operative armory, with a shooting room in the backyard and Wednesday-night meetings and Thursday-morning curb trash full of bullet-shredded targets. One house, The Nice Couple say, was rented to a woman with four sons who ankled one another out the windows when she was away. One day a different woman arrived at this house and asked Mrs. Nice Couple, out in her yard, to hold her baby. Mrs. Nice Couple held the stranger's baby while the stranger broke through a window and re-emerged herding her sheepish husband, his boots in his hand.
The same house later rented to gamblers, who nailed black boards over the windows and hosted the occupants of expensive cars at late hours. Mr. Green, the then-elderly "Mayor of Lexington," now deceased, regularly patrolled the block with his cane, and the blacked-out windows made him suspicious. When the cops arrived, the gamblers were gone. Moved out in the middle of the night.
And remember the time that girl was so mad at her boyfriend in those corner apartments she smashed her car through the brick wall and told the cops she'd do it again?
As a place to live, The Nice Couple agree, The Street has been "safe, convenient and quiet."
Lexington's second major formative experience -- after the installation of U.S. 59 -- arrived in 1982, when a group of investors fronted by Richard Skotak began collecting 2100 Lexington properties, of which it owns ten. In '82 the properties were distressed, and with the local economy beginning its long swoon, Skotak bought as investment, waiting for land values to go up. It took longer than he expected. Nearby Kirby was still a previtalized connector of River Oaks and West University, not the upscale continuance it is today. And 8.0's art/chic fusion had yet to launch the Shepherd Square boom. Lexington's houses were already too shabby to restore, too expensive to bring up to code. When the real downturn hit around '86, people were moving out of Houston and looking for jobs in Michigan, and Skotak struggled to keep the houses rented. Rent, consequently, was cheap. Cheap rent attracted, as it will, musicians and other members of the marginally employed classes.
Rich Prader, now in San Francisco, rented on the street at various addresses since 1983. His property manager was J.R. Delgado, then-bassist with the then-popular Party Owls and later manager of The Axiom, punk-rock central for much of the '80s, who has lived on Lexington off and on from 1983 to now. Both remember neighbor Ronnie Bond of local punk pioneers Really Red and his rooms stacked with vinyl. Prader noticed a hippie chiropractor on the corner whose teenage daughter ran the block naked, and a house across the street full of skatepunk kids from Clear Lake. He scammed liquor from the frat house and sneaked food from Whataburger and sometimes when he stumbled downstairs in the mornings he'd find three or four strangers passed out on his floor. They were mostly California bands on early tours through Texas. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Suicidal Tendencies and D.R.I. and Jello Biafra slept on Lexington floors. Prader remembers one night playing cards in his kitchen and hearing a fight escalate outside. Then it was a gunfight, and a bullet whipped through the wall and lodged in the Sheetrock between the refrigerator and his head.
Delgado remembers an early Lexington band called The New Day, a Cure-wanna-be group who affixed the vinyl flower decals to the front door of 2135, establishing it thenceforth as the Flower House. Rusted Shut's drummer lived on Lexington in the late '80s, and the band practiced in the garagelike Boathouse, formerly Jerry's Cabinet Shop.
Kevin Blessington, then with Elevator Up, lived in the Flower House from '89 to '91 with Chad Condon of Circus Glass and E-Colie, Jeffrey Moore of Field Day, and Greg Moore (no relation) of Dry Nod. Rent was $600 split four ways. Blessington remembers Mr. Nice Couple sneaking into the Flower House from his gig as a baker at Whole Foods and delivering the gift of stale bread. The living room was a permanent rehearsal space, and 3 a.m. practices generated no noise complaints. A Whataburger, Stop N Go, Kinko's, record store and coffee shop were within walking distance. No car was needed to live on Lexington. High-rent neighborhoods all around buffered the low-rent enclave. For all the strange crap going on, Lexington was safe. Nobody locked their doors, like the whole street was behind an invisible gate, or deep in the country somewhere.
"There were a lot of people hanging out with nothing to do," Delgado remembers, "but it was the only place I know with that consistent party atmosphere. You just walk around on the street. Like a group house, but it was a group block."
Skotak, by all indications, didn't mind. He was glad to have his properties rented. He was in essence a slumlord, doing just the bare minimal repairs but otherwise letting the property deteriorate. Money, if there was ever to be any money, was in the land, not the structures. But Skotak renters over the years have called him slumlord far less than they've called him den mother, which he uses proudly himself, or father figure. The rent was cheap, and so were the expectations. Skotak would spruce up a house by painting only its facade, but he'd let the rent slide in an "emergency." He was one of those bill collectors who would, as the commercials say, work with you. It was a fair deal.