Houston's Witch's Hat Finds a New Home

Longtime Houstonians will remember the famous Witch's Hat house, the hard-to-forget Victorian-era home with a pointed roof turret that stood at 2201 Fannin for close to a century.

Constructed around 1901 (though some reports date it to 1883) and designed by architect George Dickey, the house was also known as the Allen Paul house and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In earlier years, the Queen Anne-style home housed the Hallie Pritchard School of Dancing. There are other legends about this property, though harder to substantiate in the pre-Google murkiness of Houston lore. Bloggers passionate about architecture and our city's history have posted on that Pritchard taught rising young stars Ann Miller, Tommy Tune and Chandra Wilson. Another poster on the forum remembers taking piano lessons from Olive Rouse on the top floor, just under the hat, while others believe that it was placed on the market in 1990 for $200,000.

The house was loved for awhile, getting a facelift in the early '80s from Phillip Martin AIA. The sword of Damocles, in the form of a wrecking ball, began to sway over the house when a later owner – Athletic Ventures of Florida, Inc. – needed the land to expand its Club Houston next door.

There were heroic efforts to save the property, including City Council voting to suspend demolition permits in 1991. Even the owners agreed to donate it to the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, though the height of the structure rendered that option unrealistic, between the power lines, red tape and city permits.

D-Day for the Witch's House was November 25, 1997, when contractors set about demolishing the structure. Don Quixote was there, however, in the form of local antique shop owner Cary Pasternak who purchased the turret at the 11th hour.

Pasternak, who owned The Emporium across from Lanier Middle School, always had it in his head that the turret would make for a nice gazebo in a park. While the antiquer-turned-preservationist passed away in 2008, his dream has finally been realized. The Old Sixth Ward Redevelopment Authority and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 13 stepped in when The Detering Company notified them that the turret was rotting away in their yard and was headed to the dumpster if unclaimed.

Claude Anello, chair of TIRZ 13 and the redevelopment authority, says the witch's hat was indeed falling apart ("it had kind of melted"), but that you could still see its bones and shape. It would have been easier to create a new turret, but he (and many, many other advocates) stayed true to its history, and lovingly rebuilt the turret for use in a new park in the Old Sixth Ward.

The Witch's Hat has a new home in an Asakura Robinson-designed park at 901 Sawyer, called the Park for Humans and Dogs, that backs up to Glenwood Cemetery and sits adjacent to 2411 Washington. “[It will have] misting stations, doggy waste containers, a device that will spray mist, a dog drinking fountain and obviously the gazebo,” says Anello. The new gazebo is 37 feet tall, has three benches, and is 16.5 feet wide.

The luxury apartments at 2411 Washington have agreed to maintain the park in perpetuity, which makes the new park a win-win-win for the community, the city, and the tenants of 2411 Washington. “It's a labor of love,” says Anello. “I live a block away, no dogs but two boys. We kick the soccer ball around.

“It's part of our overall effort to try to make Houston better, one place at a time. We're all Houstonians, all trying to make small pieces of Houston better.”

There's a ribbon cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. on September 3, at The Park for Humans and Dogs, 901 Sawyer.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney