A while back I penned a rant about rising rent in Montrose, and how the place was losing something of its essence. Turns out I was participating in a Houston tradition with roots as deep in the mire of time as Ronald Reagan's first months in office.

Image: Keith Dotson

Writing about a murder in Houston City magazine, way back in November 1980, Dick Reavis portrayed a transitional Montrose in the following elegiac terms:

The neighborhood...was the kind of place where young friends could drop in on each other unnanounced and share meals, ideas, drugs, even sex.

As the Seventies meandered toward the Eighties, Montrose changed. Some of the youth culture crowd bought real estate and turned wrecks that had housed hippie communes into $100,000 and $200,000 redos. Rents went up. Many erstwhile Montrose street people moved away to take mundane jobs in East Texas towns such as Tyler, Jacksonville and Palestine. Of the hard core that remained in Houston, many left Montrose for cheaper digs in neighborhoods such as the Binz or the Heights, while others retreated to the few slumlike niches within Montrose. As had happened in New York's Greenwich Village a generation earlier, gays and the youth culture began to set the tone for Montrose, culturally and politically. Neighborhood balladeers moved to the suburbs of Bellaire and Meyerland. Drug dealers became hip capitalists and opened restaurants and clubs. A co-founder of Space City!, a Montrose-based underground newspaper of the Sixties, became a public relations man. Some of those who had experienced the rush time the Sixties imparted—the exhilaration of moving faster than events, of seeming to change the world—tried to recapture the sensation through drugs or drinking binges or living dangerously outside the law. But it was never the same. The younger crowd paid its ritual visits to Montrose clubs and scenes, but they didn't know the old faces that tried to blend in as the avant-garde ambience drifted from rock to new-wave and punk.

So other than the music styles, and the fact that few exiles are seduced today by the siren call of Palestine, Texas, Montrose then was not much different from today. But then two years later -- in 1982 -- the price of oil tanked. Houston's economy imploded, even in Montrose, which was also beset in horrific fashion by the AIDS epidemic. Crack cocaine helped spawn a citywide crime wave, one exacerbated by the poor economy.  Property values plummeted, rents settled back to earth, and Montrose's reign as Houston's Bohemia continued for another decade or two.

But at what cost? Plague, addiction, and the worst economic times Houston has ever known outside of the Civil War years and the Great Depression.

It appears that in a healthy, wealthy Houston, Montrose would inevitably become one of its most expensive districts, and maybe this time it will stay that way. As Bruce Hornsby and the Range put it...  

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