Rafter Tales: Mad about Mid Century?
Welcome to the Glenbrook Valley Historic District! Established as Houston's 20th historic district in 2011, Glenbrook Valley is a planned community of 1,254 homes in Southeast Houston. It was developed by Fred McManus between 1953 and 1962. McManus noted that the area was situated on Sims Bayou, similarly to how River Oaks is situated to Buffalo Bayou and he set forth to replicate the older neighborhood in southeast Houston. He even hired the famous landscape architecture firm Hare and Hare (the same firm that designed River Oaks and many of Houston's city parks) to lay out the neighborhood. McManus may have fallen short of his goal, but not by much. From its inception, Glenbrook Valley received national attention as a great place to live. Most notably, Better Homes and Gardens magazine featured it as a Neighborhood of the Future.
Houstonians flocked to the new neighborhood. Within 10 years, all of the lots were sold and had homes on them. Many homes were designed by prominent Houston architects, and the original owners include several prominent Houston families: the Caliva family owned businesses in construction and land development; the Carrabbas and Mandolas families, noted Houston restaurateurs; Grammy award winner Steve Tyrell; and Paul Boesch, the famous wrestling promoter. They all called Glenbrook Valley home.
For many people living across the Houston area, their first introduction to Glenbrook Valley was the famous Christmas light displays held in the 1950s and 1960s. Because large holiday light displays were still a novelty in those years, Houston families came from all over to witness the spectacle. So many Houstonians visited, that off-duty police officers were hired to handle the traffic.
Because the neighborhood was planned and built as a master plan, the homes have remarkable similarities in shape, detail and style. Most are one-story, some are split-level. Typically they have lower roof pitches with deep eaves. Fenestration tends to be horizontal, unlike homes from the pre-war years that tended to have vertical window configurations. Similarities, yes. Cookie cutter sameness, no. Homes in Glenbrook Valley seem to have personality and flair. Some would say, just like their owners.
The Historic District includes the entire original neighborhood. According to Building Modern Houston by Anna Mod, “Glenbrook Valley is Texas’s first postwar historic district and the largest postwar historic district in the country.” Glenbrook Valley wears its historic label proudly. Home prices have increased annually since the District was created and there have been many a bidding war for homes still intact with formica, wood paneling, terrazzo floors and sputnik light fixtures. Long live mid-century.
For more information about Glenbrook Valley and all of Houston’s Historic Districts, including instructions for obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for historic properties, visit the City’s Online Preservation Manual found here.