Best Of :: People & Places
"I love you!" That's how Karen Jennings, homeless liaison for all of Fort Bend ISD for a dozen years, always greets her overworked underlings. It's her way of acknowledging up-front all the good deeds they perform each day, keeping teens in school and out of trouble. This year Jennings took her efforts to help at-risk kids to the broader community, helping prompt plans to build a first-of-its-kind emergency shelter for suburban youths. Now what's not to love about that?
For a short while, this unhinged woman was a savior to our bummed-out, cynical nation. Iraq, the U.S. Attorneys scandal, dead Anna Nicole — it was too much bleakness for us to handle. But then God, who obviously wants to produce movies for the Lifetime Network, sent us Lisa Nowak. By driving from Houston to Orlando to beat up the woman she suspected of diddling her ex, Nowak delivered just what we needed. For a week, late-night talk-show hosts had material they would sacrifice their firstborns for. Headline writers were absolutely giddy. Unfortunately, this astro-nut's star burned too brightly too quickly, and the nation moved on. But for a while she was the opiate to our masses. Generations from now, troubadours will sing, "Where have you gone, Lisa Nowak? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you." We guarantee it.
Scott Ballard has worked on design projects as far away as Kuala Lumpur, but some of his coolest work is right here in Houston, where the architect lives inside the Loop in one of his own hip designs. Sleek and oh-so-modern, the homes he creates are fine enough to impress the most discriminating tastes and funky enough to amuse and bemuse anyone who loves interesting houses. His kitchens are user-friendly, with lots of nooks and crannies for kids and busy families to store stuff, but they feel spacious and airy at the same time. And his great rooms soar with high ceilings and loads of lofty, lovely light. Occasionally, he'll put a secret lookout right on top of your roof, where you can climb with the closest members of your entourage to sip wine while you gaze at the gleaming skyline.
Okay, so they were six months behind schedule, but it was worth it. No mere eye patch here. Developer Charlie Givens and partners have taken the city's premier Warwick Hotel and turned it into a mega-star. The grand opening on June 1 was so over-the-top, they had a live mermaid atop the entrance to wave in the bold names. (How she got up there is anybody's guess, but a ladder or crane must have been involved.) The Monarch restaurant is finally open and offering superb high-end comfort food; the rooftop pool sports shiny retro cabanas; and the rooms are right out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or maybe Captain Nemo's private quarters. Retro rock and roll never looked so hot.
We are lucky enough to know of Woodlawn's superiority over most local cemeteries not because we were clients, but because of a high school assignment to collect a "romantic" gravestone rubbing. The assignment wasn't easy. We went to the oldest cemetery, where stones — if they said anything at all — said stuff like, "Died valiantly, fighting women's right to vote." No luck. We went to ethnic cemeteries, where people left shrines with food and cigs (both presumed to be contributing factors to the deaths). Nada. Finally, we hit pay dirt (sorry) with Woodlawn, where there are inscribed poems and pictures — laser cut onto the stones, no less! — and even a few bronze monuments to what might be the greatest love of all: a boy and his guitar. Rock on, Woodlawn!!
The foundation supports the Children's Assessment Center, which provides medical, psychological, forensic and therapeutic services to aid in the healing of sexually abused children and the prosecution of their attackers. Charity Navigator has bestowed its highest (four-star) rating on CACF, stating that 89.2 percent of the funds go toward program expenses, with 10.7 percent for administrative and fund-raising costs combined. Support from the foundation has allowed the CAC to win state and national awards for its mission to help heal these most tragic of victims. If you're looking for a worthy cause, we strongly suggest you check out the foundation — it may be the most rewarding thing you've done in a long time.
Houston is a town full of swaggering lawyers making big headlines. And many of them deserve the accolades they get. But let's not forget there are also a bunch of lawyers here who stay out of the spotlight and just do good work for their clients. Dayle Pugh, of the firm of Bateman & Pugh, is one of those. A specialist in corporate law, he's more interested in finding solutions to problems than he is in running to the courthouse and running up bills. You don't need a GPS device to track him down in an emergency, and when you get him on the phone he doesn't filibuster his way to more billable hours. He may not show up in the papers talking about big-bucks class-action suits, but if what you're looking for is a talented, dependable attorney to handle your legal and litigation issues, he's the guy to get.
Still adapting to the Internet age, newspapers everywhere are emphasizing more localized coverage. Few do local news as well as the West University Examiner, which excels in identifying crime patterns, explaining development deals and crafting human-interest profiles. And, in the age of Craigslist, it's one of the-few rags out there still worth perusing for its classifieds section. Garage sales, anyone?
For ten years, the City of Houston has been in federal and state courts defending its ordinances against so-called "gentlemen's clubs," places where gentlemen ogle women who are (depending on who you talk to) either a) single-mom grad students working towards their MBAs, or b) cokeheads. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas upheld large parts of the ordinance, meaning the city can get to work enforcing it. Which means all the hypocrisy and self-righteousness that this issue tends to bring out, on both sides, will once again be in full display. City officials will try to pretend that Houston is known, among convention-goers, for something other than strip clubs (we're guessing there are more attendees of the Offshore Technology Conference spending time at Rick's than taking tours of NASA). Lawyers will get rich defending the right for businessmen to be idiots. And best of all, the "three-foot rule" and other aspects of the law will once again inspire the brightest minds in the stripping business to find loopholes. Let's get it on!
You're a Democratic state senator. The Republicans have proposed a bill that you think strikes right at the heart of the democratic process. It'll pass without your vote against it. The trouble is, you've just had a liver transplant and are pretty damn sick. What do you do? If you're Austin veteran Mario Gallegos, you bring a hospital bed into the Capitol and don't give up until the bill dies. That's what happened with the dramatic struggle this session over the Voter ID bill, which would have required anyone wishing to vote to produce a driver's license or state-issued identity card. Gallegos has been a bit of a hack during his tenure, but he definitely had his one shining moment this year.
Houston is a city hell-bent on tearing down every building that is the slightest bit old. Sometimes that can be a good thing: A year ago we were finally able to see the death throes of the Houston school district's Stalinesque headquarters. As the booms crashed into the walls, you could almost see the wisps of bureaucratic ghosts flying away (unfortunately, probably a few miles north to the new headquarters). Never again would parents or advocates have to risk getting forever lost in the maze-like setup that could only have been designed by a sadist. No longer would speeches in the lobby be lost to the atrocious acoustics. The new HISD headquarters is an anonymous office-park mediocrity, but it still beats the old building. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as the Limeys say.
Sure, most people think this award should go to some city official or corporate PR person, but you'd be surprised how hard it is to find a good publicist in the art world. Our entertainment desk is thankful there are folks like Jimmy Castillo of Lawndale Art Center, who is always quick to return a phone call and send over the information needed to finish a story immediately. We're sure Castillo has plenty of people at Lawndale to thank for making him such a valuable PR tool (especially because his official title is assistant director), but hey, somebody has to take the credit.