The oldest neighborhood in Houston also happens to be one of the stickiest to define. For decades the Houston Heights sat quietly just a few miles northwest of downtown, rotting. As residents fled from the inner city for burbs like The Woodlands, Clear Lake and Kingwood, the Victorian and clapboard cottage homes saw property values dwindle as some became overgrown, dilapidated eyesores while others clung to the halcyon days of years long gone. By the early '90s, you could get a bungalow for around $30,000.
Today, a vacant lot is worth well over a quarter million dollars thanks to the neighborhood's resurgence in popularity among young professionals and empty nesters looking for closer proximity to the city center and all the amenities that come with it. The community even voted to strike down the quaint but often limiting alcohol ban in last year's election, if only for grocery and liquor stores.
But where exactly is the Heights? That question can be the source of rather contentious arguments between longtime residents, those new to the area and developers doing whatever they can to tread on the name for greater profit margins. In fact, a few blocks can mean thousands and thousands of dollars' difference in a property's value, so there's a lot on the line for anyone hoping to buy or sell in the area.
The truth is, it can be difficult to define the exact boundaries of the Heights area unless you stick with the original map drawn near the turn of the last century. But those borders were there to outline the "dry area" and aren't really reflective of the neighborhood as it is today. And there are those who would seek to see the Heights expanded well beyond what any of us would consider reasonable. The Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce, for example, is an organization for businesses and concerns well northwest of the Heights, into places like Oak Forest. It is not affiliated with the Heights Association, which oversees things like the beautification of Heights Boulevard and is basically the opposite of the other organization in concept and philosophy. As you can see, there are a lot of people vying for the right to call their neighborhood or development "Heights," so we've set out to provide a few ideas about how best to define this hotly contested historic hood.
Historic Houston Heights
This might be termed the "dry Heights" because it's the original area mapped for the 1912 ordinance that barred the selling of alcohol, what purists consider the true Houston Heights. It is an oblong rectangle going south to Interstate 10; as far north as 26th Street (22nd is the northern border in the eastern quadrant); heading east to a spot between Oxford and Beverly before jutting west to Yale at 22nd Street; and spanning west to Dian (across Shepherd, shockingly) before heading east along 16th Street over to what is now the hike-and-bike trail between Herkimer and Nicholson — previously a rail line that was converted in the early 2000s.
While this oddly shaped region may follow the historic lines of demarcation for the Heights (and it contains its most valuable land), it's hard to imagine that most Houstonians would consider only this narrowly carved out area worthy of the name "Heights."
Houston Heights Commons
We'll call this the "commons" simply because, from very unscientific polling on social media, it seems to be generally accepted as the modern Houston Heights. Its borders are much more simplistic than those on the 1912 map, including Studewood (east), I-10 (south), Shepherd/Durham (west) and the North Loop (north). The one slight adjustment is where the northeastern edge shifts west over to Yale along 20th Street to exclude Sunset Heights. This area represents the most coveted homes and the area the vast majority of us would consider the Houston Heights.
Houston Heights Plus Annexes
If we were to expand the "commons," it seems reasonable to think most would have little issue with including most of what we will call the annexes, smaller satellite/pocket neighborhoods adjacent to the Heights proper, while retaining the use of the name. These include the aforementioned Sunset Heights and Woodland Heights as well as Monte Beach and even Shady Acres, which runs pretty well northwest of the heart of the whole area, somewhere between 11th and 20th streets on Heights Boulevard. All fit in with the rest of the area in terms of style and history.
This could conceivably include Independence Heights, but that would take us "outside the Loop," pretty much off-limits to any Inner Loop snob, so we will leave that out for now even if it does make us feel bad for doing so. The borders in this region are, roughly, I-10 (south), Interstate 45 (east), Shepherd/Durham (west) and 610 (north), with the exception of Shady Acres, which runs farther west to White Oak Bayou above 14th Street.
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Few longtime residents of Houston would disagree that corporate interests have gradually crept into the area for better and worse, in some cases stirring rousing protestations (cough...Walmart...cough). The tenuous relationship between encroaching business and the quaint historic area underscores the city's lack of zoning and causes many to question how long the neighborhood can retain its character.
In their rush to capitalize on the popularity of the district, businesses and developers have awkwardly assumed the mantle of the name "Heights" even though they're clearly outside the zone of its accepted borders. In this incarnation, the spread includes Rice Military and the Washington Avenue corridor. Just check the liberal use of the name "Heights" for apartments and other multi-use developments and you'll get the idea. For simplicity, this area expands south to Washington Avenue and even to Memorial Drive west of Shepherd to include the Sixth Ward, and west all the way to Wescott. It feels vulgar to even suggest it, but there it is.
These are mere suggestions, obviously. We are not here to try to define the Heights so much as we are attempting to frame a debate that has been as vigorous and passionate as any we've seen involving contentious subjects like historic preservation and zoning. We would expect nothing less than for Houstonians to feel protective of their neighborhoods, particularly one with a history as long and storied as the Heights.