Profile of a District: Avondale East and Avondale West
Located in the heart of the eccentric Montrose neighborhood, Avondale is a cozy community full of beautiful historic homes.
It was designed to compete with other upscale neighborhoods, such as Courtland Place, Montrose, and Westmoreland. Avondale would become one of Houston’s preeminent upscale “Streetcar Subdivisions.” Today, the original Avondale neighborhood includes two historic districts: Avondale East and Avondale West, which were developed in the early twentieth century.
Avondale came to be when, in 1907, Houston businessman Joseph F. Meyer, Jr. sold his 31-acre pasture to the Greater Houston Improvement Company for $105,000. The company platted the land into 129 lots along three main streets. The streets were paved with oyster shells and the curbs and sidewalks were concrete. The company hired Teas Nursery to plant 500 trees. Every lot had gas, water, and sewer connections. Alleys were cut through the middle of each block, at the back of the lots and all of the utility poles were in the alleys. Deliveries and trash collection also used the alleys. All of this was in an effort to keep the neighborhood more attractive. Some of the neighborhood’s red concrete sidewalks and curbs, carriage houses, and hitching posts are still present today.
When it came time to name the subdivision, the company held a contest. It offered a $25 prize to whoever submitted the winning name. Nine contestants suggested “Avondale”, based on William Shakespeare’s hometown in England: Stratford-upon-Avon. The prize money was increased to $27 so it could be divided evenly, with each winner receiving $3. The three main streets were named in keeping with the Shakespeare theme: Avondale, Stratford, and Hathaway (now Westheimer). (Shakespeare’s wife was Anne Hathaway.) Cross streets included Baldwin, Helena, Mason, and Taft.
The historic buildings in Avondale are mostly two-story houses. They were built in the popular architectural styles of the period. These included the Neoclassical, Prairie, Colonial Revival, American Four Square, and Craftsman styles. Neoclassical houses use details found in ancient Greek architecture. This style became fashionable after it was featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Many Neoclassical houses are two stories tall. They have two-story porches with classical columns. Sometimes the porch spans the entire front of the house. In other cases, the main entry porch is two stories tall, but the porches on either side are shorter.
Typical house details include:
- Exposed rafter tails and brackets: Rafter tails support the roof’s extended eaves and provide a decorative flourish to the home. Many of the houses in Avondale have highly detailed rafter tails with flourishes and cutouts.
- Low-pitched roofs and wide, horizontal forms: Typically called Arts and Crafts, Craftsman or Prairie styles these homes emphasized order and restraint in the decorative arts. They were wide, with flat, horizontal features, reminiscent of the flat, treeless plains of the Midwestern United States. In Houston, these deep eaves served a practical purpose of shading the house from the hot summer sun.
- Porches: Deep, shadowed porches supported by massive brick piers topped with tapering wooden columns welcome neighbors to stop and have a conversation. Many extend the full width of the house, in keeping with a time when capturing the breezes was critical for comfort.
Today, Avondale is sandwiched between hectic Westheimer Road and the bars and clubs of Fairview and Pacific Street, so it’s an easy stroll to entertainment, restaurants and cafes. Eight of Houston’s top 100 restaurants (according to the Houston Chronicle) are located within a five minute walk of the district, and the imminent relocation of Poscol Vinoteca into a currently vacant two-story house will bring that number to nine.
Many other businesses in the area also reuse historic buildings. Located a block away from the district, a cozy 1940s-era former Tex-Mex restaurant is now home to coffee shop Southside Espresso. Its next door neighbor is the former home of Felix Mexican Restaurant, one of the most important locations in the history of Tex-Mex in Houston. Today the building houses upscale sushi restaurant Uchi.
Avondale East and West are enduring examples of the value of historic districts. They provide unrivaled examples of uniquely American architectural styles of the past, but are also vibrant modern neighborhoods bustling with a diversity that defines Houston.
For more information about Avondale East and West historic districts, including photos, sketches and a list of appropriate building elements, see the Planning & Development Department’s Historic Preservation Manual or call the Historic Preservation office at 713-837-7963.