Can you put a price on history? Sort of: The storied bungalow at 400 Cordell Street—a corner lot in Brooke Smith, the popular Greater Heights neighborhood named for the Brownwood investor who platted it in the early 20th century—is for sale for $949,000. Built in 1918, the home has had just three owners, most recently the late Michael K. Brown, who capped a distinguished art career as curator for the MFAH's Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the former home of Ima Hogg. Brown served as Bayou Bend's curator and lived at 400 Cordell until his death following a heart transplant at age 60 in 2013; a little over a month later, Houston City Council declared his former home a protected city landmark.
Today, it's a nearly 3,000-square-foot, three-bed, three-bath home on its 0.11-acre lot. A thoughtful renovation combined modern updates— like farmhouse sinks, soaking tubs, and a massive closet—with original salvaged elements, like the stunning antique staircase and restored wood finishes.
The most valuable feature, though, isn't an amenity at all, but rather the character imbued in the home over its rich 100-year history.
Though under a mil today, the property was a real steal back in 1916 when original owner Lee Roy Whitaker bought it—at that time, two unimproved lots—for a whopping $815. A "huckster" (better known as a small-time salesman), Whitaker moved from Illinois to Houston in 1907 and began investing in Harris County real estate shortly thereafter. He had his 28- by 42-foot wood frame home at 400 Cordell built in 1918, 1,176 square feet he'd later grow to 1,400. For 15 years, he lived elsewhere and leased the home to various families for extra income before finally selling it for $3,200 in 1944.
The new owners, Sicilian immigrants Peter and Anna Graliano, would go on to raise their family in the home, which they owned for 36 years. The couple bought the property to be close to Anna's brother and sister-in-law across the street at 401 Cordell; neighbors recall "the two ladies ... taking great pride in their yards and gardens," reads a historical portion of the city's extensive protected landmark designation report. "They also shared plants often with one another, including palms and other 'exotic' trees which may have been brought directly from Italy and planted there."
The home also benefited from Peter's hobbies, namely woodworking, upholstering, and refinishing furniture. He's said to have worked on staining doors and windows and refinishing a large window seat and the colonnade between the living and dining rooms. After their deaths—Peter's in 1967 and Anna's in 1978—the home was transferred from the bank to real estate investors who, in 1980, sold it to Michael K. Brown.
Brown cared for the property for 33 years, undertaking the aforementioned expansion and renovation, and he remained there until his death. The city agreed 400 Cordell satisfied five criteria for earning landmark status, an official designation that "recognizes [the] home as an integral element of our city's architectural and cultural heritage." As an incentive to preserve historic spaces, city landmarks are eligible for tax and energy code compliance exemptions and 50 percent discounts on building permit fees.