Best Of :: People & Places
The business of Houston has always been business, and while the world knows us as an oil town, real estate is where it's at. Ever since Houston's founding by the Allen Brothers, this city has been all about the art of the deal, Donald Trump style. What we've been lacking until recently is coverage of this industry with the sort of intelligence, snark and panache that Swamplot.com brings to the table. Whether rattling off the latest wrecking-ball casualties in their Daily Demolition Report, leaking renderings of upcoming projects for the ridicule or acclaim of the city's architecture buffs or posting photos of random interiors and having readers guess the home's locale, Swamplot covers Houston real estate with consummate humor and a wicked sense of fun. And like they say, "Swamplot didn't flood during Allison. Honest!"
This one is just waiting to be turned into a movie: In May, a Houston police officer pulled over Roland Carnaby for speeding. Carnaby presented some sort of ID with "Central Intelligence Agency" stamped on it, plus a concealed handgun permit. The officer also reported that Carnaby was acting nervously. After some talk about who at the CIA could vouch for Carnaby, the man sped away, resulting in yet another Houston chase. When he finally stopped, officers ordered him out, but he refused. Unfortunately, this one ended in tragedy — police shot Carnaby to death. Over the next few days, details of Carnaby's bizarre claims emerged, presenting a portrait of a man who apparently led a very weird — yet often convincing — fantasy life.
We have no idea when, or why, the big "Fear Factory" sign came to rest on the side of the abandoned house at Travis and Rosalie near the big HCC high-rise in Midtown, but it's hard to imagine a more appropriate sign or a spookier-looking building. A Google search for "Fear Factory Houston" offered no clues on why the sign wound up there or how the house came to be abandoned — it's one of those gigantic Midtown/Montrose houses that was probably split up into several different dwellings, the kind that line West Gray around Cecil's and Barnaby's — but filmmakers looking for a low-budget horror location could do a lot worse, especially since the overgrown courtyard looks straight out of Apocalypse Now. Since this is an election year, the house is also being used as a convenient — and presumably free — billboard for campaign signs, which, come to think of it, might be the scariest thing of all.
It was like a scene out of Grand Theft Auto IV: While vice cops were sorting out the detritus of a predawn raid on downtown's Pink Monkey nightclub, still more hell broke loose. A stolen ambulance with an (allegedly) intoxicated driver behind the wheel came careening down Franklin Street and smashed through the police roadblock. Before it came to rest, its windshield shattered and its hood ripped off, the ambulance had sideswiped or smashed into a trailer, another ambulance, a private car and a police car. The driver, who went unnamed in all the coverage of the chaos, was cut out of the wreckage with the jaws of life and headed to the hospital, before eventually joining the 140 other people headed to jail on that most dramatic of Saturday nights. Authorities later learned that the miscreant had absconded with the meatwagon from a Galleria-area 24-hour Starbucks.
Houston architect Brett Zamore was featured in Best of Houston® 2002, after he rehabbed a house as an architecture student at Rice University. The house won "Best Shotgun Shack." Zamore now runs his own company, and his designs are creating a buzz. Perhaps most notable are Zamore's "kit houses." The kits aren't preassembled, but all the materials are shipped to the build site. The houses take a builder about 20 weeks to complete. Zamore has seven designs for his kit house, and a couple are being built in the Heights. In 2006, Zamore won the Architecture for Humanity's Biloxi Home Competition for his post-Katrina work.
Let's face it, in a day and age when paying five bucks or possibly more for a gallon of gas has become a reality, not driving is more than just nice. It's great. Think of it: No hour-plus commutes each way with ridiculous amounts of traffic. Downtown, you can do this strange activity many Houstonians previously thought to be long extinct called walking. If you want, you can also ride that thing in the back of your garage you haven't used since you got your driver's license. It's called a bicycle.
Susanne Theis is the programming director for Discovery Green, the 12-acre, $122 million park opened in downtown Houston this year. As such, she'll be responsible for getting people to the park. If her track record is any indication, she'll succeed. Theis was with the Orange Show for 25 years, helping to make it — and the Art Car Parade — become a destination, signature place and event. She managed to do it without using the words "zany" or "wacky" to describe the offbeat aspects of either. She's got a great imagination and terrific energy, and she's absolutely devoted to Houston and its art scene.
No, it doesn't have the most verdant grounds or the prettiest headstones, but there is something utterly Houston about this 1,100-square-foot family graveyard in Spring Branch. Could it be that it is tucked in the corner of the parking lot of a tire store on the corner of two strip-mall-ridden Spring Branch thoroughfares? Why yes, it could. The Hillendahl Cemetery and its 19 slumbering German farm volks stand as a perpetual testament that even in bottom-line Houston, some matters, like family pride, can trump the relentless onward march of sprawl.
Is Lloyd Kelley the best civil attorney in Houston, home of some of the legendary giants of the courtroom? Probably not. But he is the best civil attorney this year, for no other reason than he gave us the vastly entertaining soap opera and career implosion of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. Clumsily romantic e-mails, dumb ethnic jokes, remarkably inept explanations to a federal judge — it was a wonderful show, watching the pious born-again DA go down in flames. And we owe it all to Kelley, who took a run-of-the-mill suit and used it to create the best soap opera of the year. If that's not good enough to make him Best Civil Attorney, we don't know what is.
Let's say it was any year up until 2008, and you were a tourist in Houston, staying downtown, and it was Saturday afternoon, and you had got your kids with you. (Bear with us here, we're on a roll.) What was there for you to do? The tunnels are closed weekends, as were most of the restaurants, and there are no museums worthy of note downtown. In fact, until this year, outside of the ungodly expensive Fertitt-arium, there wasn't a thing to do at all other than stroll parking lots and dodge crackheads. But now a vast prairie of little-used parking lots has been replaced by Discovery Green, a dozen or so acres of green space, bocce courts, lakes, water parks, performance spaces and restaurants. Sure, the name of the place is meh and they got a little sponsor-happy, but when you take in a concert at Discovery Green, you really feel like Houston is giving Chicago a run for its money as America's third city. Readers' Choice: Discovery Green
Probably everyone knows the apple trick, and we had a high school friend who once MacGyvered a crude bong out of a half-deflated basketball, but this one takes the cake: In May, Houston police arrested three teenagers for digging up the skeleton of an 11-year-old boy buried in 1921 and using his skull for a bong. They were charged with "abuse of a corpse" — a misdemeanor. (Unfortunately, there is no law against being a total dick.) They confessed to digging up the remains over a two-day period — and The Man says the reefer makes you lazy! Talk about a bunch of potheads — hey-oh!
In years past, Judge Mike McSpadden was regularly in the media, creating or joining an ongoing controversy. Nowadays the veteran isn't in the limelight as much, but he still provides the fairest trial you'll get at the hang-'em-high Harris County courthouse. He knows all the tricks, he knows when a defense attorney — or even a prosecutor! — isn't as prepared as he or she is trying to appear. He cuts through the B.S. and tricks and gets justice. What more can you ask?