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Outside The Loop (Historic) Style

It's a mod, mod world at Glenbrook Valley: A new look at Houston's preservation battle

It's a mod, mod world at Glenbrook Valley: A new look at Houston's preservation battle

When it was first populated in 1953, the Glenbrook Valley subdivision just east of Hobby Airport oozed with the hope and guarantee of prosperity that characterized the emerging American middle class of the post-war era.

At the time, the home prices rivaled those of River Oaks, and executives from the Ship Channel sought out the city's top designers to present plans to the Glenbrook Valley Inc. architectural control panel. The enclave won the heart of the nation, receiving recognition from Better Homes and Gardens as "the model home for all America."

Today, over 1,200 custom-built mid-century modern and contemporary ranch homes grace the neighborhood's expansive lots. And while the just-outside-the-Loop territory has gone largely unrecognized since its initial glory days, the neighborhood's preservation efforts were spotlighted recently during a home tour organized by Houston Mod.

In excess of 200 original residents, architects and historic preservationists gathered at the mod Park Place Baptist Church, overlooking the banks of Sims Bayou, before stepping into six original homes nestled in the showpiece suburb. Vintage cars, including an impeccably restored '65 Cadillac Fleetwood, Shelby Cobra and early '60s Thunderbird convertible dotted the driveways.

In recent years, Glenbrook Valley has emerged as the home base for in-the-know architects and young families, many of whom were at the on-display houses to explain their enthusiasm for the neighborhood and mid-century style. This American interpretation of modernism, which brought a comfortable organic quality and a splashy palette to the hard-edged, Eurocentric aesthetic of the Bauhaus and International Style, has been immortalized in the select homes. Glass curtain walls and open floor plans flood the homes of Glenbrook Valley with the southeast Houston sun.

And while the area is unique for its architectural integrity, it's also characteristic for the neighborly vibe that persists, decades after its utopian upstart. Resident Maureen Murphy's home is appointed with authentic swank finds she's scoured from estates sales and flea markets, but her connection with Glenbrook Valley is not just about style. She elaborates on the neighborhood's community blog:

For me, that is the surface. What I love most about Glenbrook Valley is the community. How many people live in neighborhoods and do not even know the people next door? Here, people know each other. And care. That is no small thing. And worth much more than a vintage Herman Miller chair.

The neighborhood stands at a critical moment in preserving its mid-century heritage and community continuity. The subdivision has met the criteria to become the first post-war historic district in Houston and Texas (more than 90 percent of the original homes are still intact). Neighbors like Murphy have coalesced to document the historic mod manses, and are anticipating future designation as an official historic district.

"People automatically understand the need for a preservation district of an area if there are Queen Anne Victorians or Arts and Crafts bungalows," Robert Searcy, a real estate broker specializing in mid-century modern, tells CultureMap. "This is something new, arguing for the preservation of Atomic Ranches and the like, but the evidence is there."

Today, City Council passed changes to the city's historic preservation ordinance, meaning that if Glenbrook Valley does achieve its designation, property owners will be forbidden to demolish homes if a city commission denies their request.

Now, the neighborhood's proposal must be approved by the Houston Archaeological and Historic Commission, Department of City Planning and City Council. But at the moment, preservationists and residents are celebrating one battle won for Glenbrook Valley, and the future of mid-century marvels in Houston.

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Who says Mod style isn't worth preserving too?
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Glenbrook Valley could soon be a designated historic district. Photo by David Bucek
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Swank lounges abound.
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The home at 7911 Santa Elena St. is one example of Glenbrook Valley's distinctive mod style. Photo by David Bucek