Hidden Houston

Courtland Place: Going Behind the Gates

How one Montrose neighborhood conserved its century-old charms

By Jeanne Lyons Davis October 24, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Clockwise from left: Wagner knew he wanted to move in as soon as he saw the well-preserved neighborhood, a rarity in Houston; an old postcard shows not a lot has changed; Brock Wagner's Tudor-style home was originally a spec house.

If you aren’t looking for Courtlandt Place, you’ll miss it. Through its inconspicuous gated entrance just off Spur 527 to downtown, a canopy of hundred-year-old oaks shades equally old homes, each painstakingly preserved or restored. It looks like a movie set, which is to say, it does not look like Houston.

Founded in 1906, the private Montrose neighborhood was established for the city’s elite business and manufacturing families (rather than the era’s new oil-moneyed citizens). Over the next couple of decades, 18 half-acre estates, favoring Beaux Arts, Neoclassical and Mediterranean architectural styles, would be built along Courtlandt Place’s two-lane boulevard.

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Brock Wagner and his wife, Karen, bought a Tudor-style home here in 2012, some years after the street’s spacious lots and well-kept homes first made an impression on the Saint Arnold Brewing Company founder. “I had never been inside the gate, but as I drove down the boulevard to drop off beer at a party, I loved the homes,” Wagner says. “It was unlike anything I’d seen in Houston.”

Just down the street is Robert Taylor’s three-story, 5,500- square-foot Georgian Revival, which he’s shared with wife Amy since 1994. Inside, an awe-inspiring walnut stairwell holds court in the grand entryway, while a grandfather clock chimes in a nearby seating room, which offers views of the huge yard and former stables. The property is a conversation piece, says Taylor, an architect who serves as the neighborhood civic association president. “I’ve always had a strong desire to preserve the past,” he says. “I love how well older homes are built. You rarely see this craftsmanship in newer homes.”

All 18 of the boulevard’s original mansions still stand today, a rare preservation success story in Houston. But for a time, the area was threatened. “Starting in the ’50s,” says Taylor, “people started moving to the suburbs, and Montrose declined over the decades.” Nearby homes were bulldozed, abandoned and inhabited by squatters.

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Clockwise from top: Original blueprints for the neighborhood; the home, Taylor says, is a conversation piece; Robert Taylor's Georgian Revival home in Courtlandt place at the time of its construction.

Courtlandt Place homeowners, semi-protected by detailed deeds written in perpetuity, fought to protect their property. In the late ’70s, one resident found a game-changing document proving that the neighborhood had agreed to make the gated street public in 1912, as long as the city would “protect the Boulevard from heavy or objectionable traffic.” The civic association argued that the city had not upheld the agreement—and won. It repurchased the street and resurrected the gate in 1988.

Today, the entire street is a designated historic landmark, and residents feel a responsibility to their hidden piece of Houston. “We don’t think of ourselves as homeowners,” says Wagner. “We consider ourselves stewards, taking care of the house for the next generation.” 

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