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Montrose is Dead. Long Live Montrose?

A requiem for Houston’s coolest neighborhood.

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The 1996 Houston Gay Pride Parade.
Photograph courtesy by Frank Parsley

As Austin is to Texas, so Montrose has long been to Houston: a liberal, weird oasis in a sea of red, a refuge for musicians, artists, bohemians of every stripe, and the nexus of the city’s LGBT community. Indeed, when Austin was still a relatively straitlaced Southern college town, Montrose had already unfurled its freak flag. Founding Texas Monthly editor William Broyles claims Montrose, and not Austin, as the true birthplace of Texas counterculture.

And just as in Austin, Montrose old-timers love to let you know that you are a few years too late for the real party. Hippies, punks, and LGBT folks alike will all tell you, a wistful look in their eyes, “You should have been here when…” Followed, of course, by the declaration that Montrose is dead.

Over the last forty or so years, the roughly seven square miles southwest of downtown Houston (bounded by South Shepherd on the west, Bagby on the east, West Gray on the north, and the Southwest Freeway to the south) has been declared dead more often than Blues Clues host Steve Burns.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Houston needs Montrose. Way back in 1973, the late Montrose architect and professor John Zemanek called Montrose “essential to the city of Houston”:

It provides a humanistic element at its core, like the Left Bank in Paris. If the Montrose as it is now was wiped out by high rises and commercialization, the city would become sterile and materialistic to the point where culturally stimulating people would move out, and everyone would lose in the long run.

I was conceived in Montrose by hippie parents, in a house on the corner of Dunlavy and West Alabama, during the crazy run-up to the moon landing. I spent much of my youth and adulthood just across the Southwest Freeway, in what is now known as the Museum District.

Before they moved to Nashville in 1974, both of my parents were deeply involved with the Montrose underground, at Pacifica radio station KPFT and the hippie newspaper Space City! They ran with the wild folk music crowd of that era: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, and Richard Dobson among them.

The staff of Space City! on the cover of Vol. 3, No. 1 of the paper, published June 8, 1971.

Photo courtesy of William Michael Hanks/ Wikimedia Commons

My late uncle ran a small publishing house called Wings Press out of his home on Yupon Street in the heart of Montrose for the last five or so years of his life in the eighties, publishing poetry and experimental fiction, much of it by local writers.

I spent most of the 2000s as music editor of the Houston Press, and my duties frequently took me to Montrose, to venues like Rudyard’s, 1980s revival house Numbers, and Avant Garden, a freewheeling, Old World–style coffeehouse where you were as likely to hear erotic poetry or gypsy jazz as backpacker hip-hop. Or maybe I’d find myself at venerable Texas folk mother church Anderson Fair, an incubator for the careers of legends like Van Zandt, Clark, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett.

And then there was Earthwire.net, an internet radio station that grew out of the old Montrose pirate radio movement and was based in a long-since-demolished garage-like structure, where blues greats like Little Joe Washington mingled with punks, noise artists with Rastas, rock-en-Español madmen with neo-honky-tonkers, all fueled by an endless supply of Busch tall boys and fragrant fumes.

“You certainly aren’t going to find that old Montrose spirit in Montrose anymore,” Earthwire proprietor M. Martin told me in 2003, on the occasion of its closing. “My old hood has been gentrified beyond the point which I feel welcome in it anymore.”

The Westheimer Street Festival in Montrose in 1982.

Photograph courtesy of Keith Dotson

I’ve heard generations of these death-by-gentrification declarations. Hippies might tell you it died around the time Space City! went under in 1972. There have almost always been laments about rising rents: In 1973, Montrose was featured in Texas Monthly’s third-ever issue, with folk singer Don Sanders fretting about a mass exodus of creative types brought on when area leases topped a whopping $100. (“Montrose Lives!” was that article’s defiant headline, suggesting that, even then, some were declaring the neighborhood something other than alive.) Punks might tell you it died when their underground paper, Public News, went under in 1998. There was Earthwire’s 2003 demise. The fizzling out of the Westheimer Street Festival in the mid-2000s spelled doom for others, while many in the LGBT community might tell you Montrose died when the Pride Parade moved downtown two years ago. A consistent through-line has been the steady rise of rents: once quite affordable, the Montrose zip code of 77006 is now the sixth most expensive in Texas.

If the neighborhood has a forum, it is KPFT, the free speech, listener-supported radio station located on Lovett Boulevard, in the heart of the neighborhood. While the station has lurched from crisis to crisis over its entire 47-year existence, some believe that it might now finally be in a death spiral—its audience aging, its pledges dwindling, the music audience now slaked by Spotify, and its revolutionary politicos now meeting in Facebook groups. As goes KPFT, some contend, so goes Montrose.

Latter-day Montrose has its defenders. One such is Omar Afra, founder of Free Press Houston, the underground paper currently most representative of whatever Montrose is now, and whose non-Montrose-based Free Press Summer Fest is more or less the successor to the old Westheimer Street Festival.

“Montrose is yesterday, today, tomorrow,” Afra claimed in a recent Facebook debate. “John Nova Lomax, you have beat to death this whole ‘Montrose has changed’ cry for a decade now? In the amount of years you have been lamenting, the neighborhood has gone through ten different iterations of itself. It is constantly changing. When you were younger and hanging in this neighborhood, it was full of people lamenting how it used to be. Forever and ever and ever, people will constantly say how THEIR good ole’ days are better than the current youths. Let them have it. You had yours.”

• • •

Afra has an ally in Ada Calhoun, author of St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street. Calhoun was born and raised in that now-gentrified East Village epicenter of cool. She stopped by Houston’s Brazos Bookstore a few years ago on her book tour and reminisced about her childhood there, one where crack vials, hypodermic needles, and prostitutes were common sights on her daily rounds, just as they once were in Montrose.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers backstage at Numbers in December 1984.

Photograph courtesy of Numbers

Over the centuries, St. Marks Place—all three blocks of it—has served variously as Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant’s pear orchard, a ritzy residential district, a mob stronghold, and the backdrop for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album cover. Leon Trotsky helped foment the Russian Revolution while living there back when it was a hotbed of radical Eastern European immigrants. Generations later, it played host to Andy Warhol, the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, and the Beastie Boys.

Calhoun contends that at some point, pretty much every participant in every one of these waves concluded that “their” St. Marks Place was dead, over, kaput, finito. ‘You should have been here when… (Lou Reed was shooting smack in the alley…Thelonious Monk was banging the keys in that basement club…Ad-Rock was skating down the street, ballcap askew, with a 40 in his hand…)’

And yet, Calhoun believes, cool St. Marks lives on. Yes, it has lost some of its more colorful businesses, and the rent is sky-high. “But teenagers still come from all over to get drunk there right now,” Calhoun said. “The sidewalks are still free and always will be.”

Her conclusion? “People want to remember the place as it was when they themselves were the hottest they ever were or will be, when they were nineteen, twenty, twenty-one years old. They want to remember it in that image.”

It’s not the neighborhood that’s dead and gone; it’s our own sexy young selves. And maybe that is the root of all nostalgia—we don’t miss what used to be, we miss who we used to be.

Anderson Fair block party, circa 1975.

Photograph by Charles Burwell

Could it really be that simple? I can think of at least a dozen neighborhoods that over time have simply ceased to be what they once were. On the edge of my childhood memory I can recall visiting Van Zandt and “Uncle” Seymour Washington in Austin’s Clarksville district, once an African American enclave with a smattering of hippies, now a red-hot Yuppie area where the average home costs just under a million dollars. In Houston, I’ve seen similar transformations in places like Fourth Ward / Freedmen’s Town, Riverside, and West University Place, the last of which was a solidly middle-class neighborhood in my father’s youth; today, it’s the wealthiest zip code in the state. The character of those places objectively changed. It had nothing to do with the wrinkles and paunches of their long-gone denizens.

I asked Calhoun if she agreed that such complete transformations were possible. “Of course,” she said. “Look at SoHo in New York. Hypergentrification exists. A neighborhood can only take so many towers and Walgreens before it ceases to be what it used to be.”

Which brings us back to Montrose—has it gentrified or hypergentrified? Is it just old and cranky me succumbing to get-off-my-lawn-ism, or does it retain its old “magic,” a word that comes up again and again in former Montrosians’ memories of the place?

Calhoun’s talk was hosted by local historian James Glassman, who edits the Houstorian blog and recently published The Houstorian Dictionary. Glassman is sanguine about the Montrose of today. As long as it still holds “anchor tenants” like the University of St. Thomas, the Menil Collection complex, and the Greek Festival, Glassman believes it will remain attractive to “artistic troublemakers” like Van Zandt and “misfit tinkerers” like native son Howard Hughes.

So, Montrose is dead; long live Montrose? I am not so sure.

Uchi now stands at 904 Westheimer, the location Felix Mexican Restaurant occupied from 1948-2008.

Felix photograph courtesy of Angela Orlando; Uchi photograph by Max Burkhalter

This much is true: The latest oil boom, which lasted from 2009 to 2014, was not kind to many lovers of old Montrose, nor residents of same. Many have been priced out. Others, like Earthwire empresario Martin, left by choice; after calling Montrose home since Sid Vicious was alive, he decamped to Portland a few years back.

“For myself and many others, Montrose was a refuge in my youth from the stultifying, insipid blandness of suburban Houston and the dangerous imbecility of Texas at large,” Martin told me. “But the musicians, artists, and bohemians whose contributions made it what it was have mostly been priced out. The public spaces where they formerly gathered have been turned into fashionably dive-y hangouts for the corporate professionals who can afford to live there.”

Just as they have everywhere else, corporatization and the digital revolution are altering Montrose’s retail landscape. While the district’s upscale bar and restaurant scene is booming, Montrose has lost many of its other “third places”: bookshops, video and record stores, and music venues. Today, only four record shops remain in the entire district, while as late as 2002 there were five on or near a half-mile stretch of South Shepherd alone. Two have closed, a third has moved to the city of Bellaire, and Cactus, the city’s most famous record store, has decamped just beyond the fringe of Montrose. Though a handful of venues remain—notably Rudyard’s, Anderson Fair, and Avant Garden —Montrose is no longer the vital epicenter of Houston’s live music scene. Newcomers to the neighborhood brought with them a rash of noise complaints. “The civic associations in Montrose want it to be like [suburban] Cinco Ranch,” said David Crossley, president of Houston think tank Houston Tomorrow. High rents have priced other small venues deep into the East End.

Sound Exchange employee Lee Blair at their 1627 Westheimer location in Montrose, occupied for the majority of the 1980s before moving to 1718 Westheimer and then to their present-day Richmond Avenue location.

Photograph courtesy of Sound Exchange

Sound Exchange at 1846 Richmond in 2017.

Photograph by Max Burkhalter

Weirdly, into that retail breach has stormed an invasion of mattress stores—today, there are no fewer than three purveyors of sleep sets on that same short stretch of South Shepherd pavement that was once Houston’s record store row, inspiring Glassman, the local historian, to jokingly rename the area “the Mattrose.” Where once South Shepherd was a place to buy music to pep you up, it is now a street intent on putting you to sleep.

Gentility has encroached on Montrose from the snooty, River Oaks-lite Upper Kirby district to the west, while Midtown’s party-hearty bros have invaded from the east and north. Property taxes and rents have both skyrocketed; despite the oil downturn, it’s almost impossible to find a one-bedroom for less than $800 a month. Having gained more acceptance from society at large, the LGBT community has scattered to neighborhoods like Westbury and Oak Forest. Bohemians have fled to the East End, Acres Homes, and Independence Heights—the gentrified Houston Heights no longer an option—or have left Houston altogether.

In my view, Old Montrose has perished not from a single death-blow, but rather by a thousand cuts, most coming in the last few years. Mary’s, long the city’s most iconic gay bar, gave way to a high-end coffeehouse. Chances, Montrose’s only full-time lesbian bar, morphed into Underbelly, the city’s “it” restaurant of the most recent oil boom. The last bastion of Felix, the old-school, family-friendly Tex-Mex chain, closed down and was reborn as an outpost of Austin’s chic Uchi sushi empire. Ruchi’s Taqueria (a musician-friendly home of way-late-night beers served in red iced tea tumblers) and quirky-bordering-on-insane jewelry boutique Fly High Little Bunny were razed to make way for a CVS. La Jalisciense, another late-night taqueria beloved of musicians, was replaced by a more upscale Mexican restaurant. A Raising Cane’s outlet landed like a spaceship from suburbia smack-dab on Westheimer, and Texas Junk Company, for years a staple on lists of “quirky things to do while in Houston,” closed down, its owner decamping for Moulton, Texas.

Group of men watching the Gay Pride Parade from Mary’s in 1979.

Photograph courtesy of the Botts Collection of LGBT History, Inc.

The exterior of Blacksmith, the coffee shop that now occupies Mary’s old space at 1018 Westheimer, in 2017.

Photograph by Max Burkhalter

Meanwhile, all over the area, lawns and antique bungalows have given way to tall, lot-filling Texas Tuscan condos and McMansions. Seventies-era garden-style apartment complexes have been replaced by luxury mixed-use mid-rises.

In one of the more definitively Houstonian real estate happenings I’ve seen in 47 years of observation, H-E-B bought and razed a lovely (if crumbling) live oak–shaded apartment complex from the Forties directly across the street from a Fiesta supermarket, one beloved by Montrose’s artsy set for its cheap and lovingly selected wine selection, international foods and produce, great seafood counter, and simply amazing in-store music playlists. (You’d hear everything from Bo Diddley to relatively obscure Beatles tunes like “Hey Bulldog” to Otis Redding to Poco in its aisles.) Faced with the shiny new store across the street, Fiesta closed down and was soon replaced by… a luxury mid-rise apartment complex. So, if you are keeping score at home, Houston tore down a historic apartment complex to build a grocery store across the street from where we tore down a grocery store to build a brand-new apartment building.

Welcome to Houston. Welcome to Neo-Montrose.

• • •

In 1980, seven years after Don Sanders decried Montrose’s triple-digit rents, Dick Reavis wrote in the long-defunct Houston City magazine that Montrose was again at a tipping point:

The neighborhood…was the kind of place where young friends could drop in on each other unannounced and share meals, ideas, drugs, even sex.

As the Seventies meandered toward the Eighties, Montrose changed. Some of the youth culture crowd bought real estate and turned wrecks that had housed hippie communes into $100,000 and $200,000 redos. Rents went up. Many erstwhile Montrose street people moved away to take mundane jobs in East Texas towns such as Tyler, Jacksonville and Palestine. Of the hard core that remained in Houston, many left Montrose for cheaper digs in neighborhoods such as the Binz or the Heights, while others retreated to the few slumlike niches within Montrose. As had happened in New York’s Greenwich Village a generation earlier, gays and the youth culture began to set the tone for Montrose, culturally and politically. Neighborhood balladeers moved to the suburbs of Bellaire and Meyerland. Drug dealers became hip capitalists and opened restaurants and clubs. A co-founder of Space City!, a Montrose-based underground newspaper of the Sixties, became a public relations man. Some of those who had experienced the rush time the Sixties imparted—the exhilaration of moving faster than events, of seeming to change the world—tried to recapture the sensation through drugs or drinking binges or living dangerously outside the law. But it was never the same. The younger crowd paid its ritual visits to Montrose clubs and scenes, but they didn’t know the old faces that tried to blend in as the avant-garde ambience drifted from rock to new-wave and punk.

Digs are no longer much cheaper in the Binz (now rebranded as the Museum District or Midtown, depending where you are) or the Heights. Neighborhood balladeers are thin on the ground today, and certainly can’t afford Bellaire or Meyerland. Reavis’s slum-like niches are now mere crevices, and finding people who hope to change the world is a fool’s errand there today. The ambience has shifted again, this time away from music to food and drink: hot chefs and mixologists like Underbelly’s Chris Shepherd, Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s, and Bobby Heugel of Anvil are the neighborhood’s new rock stars, feted online and in the papers, their patrons wealthy young bankers and O&G execs.

Speaking of oil: Reavis wrote his requiem on the cusp of Houston’s last great oil bust, one that, along with the simultaneous AIDS epidemic, brought Montrose’s real estate prices crashing back to earth. Thanks to oil and the panic over AIDS, Montrose remained a bastion of the young, the broke, and the brave for another two decades. As the current oil glut drags on, that scenario could be in store again, but wishing a return to bust-era Houston just to save Montrose is selfish at best and downright cruel at worst.

Rift by Michael Heizer on the grounds of the Menil Collection in 2016.

Photograph by Todd Spoth

For the time being, enough of its spirit remains intact for it to remain Houston’s, and Texas’s, coolest neighborhood. You can still sweat over a beer or three at a shaded picnic table at the West Alabama Icehouse, enjoy a picnic lunch under the live oaks at Menil Park, meditate in the somber Rothko Chapel, or dive deep into rock and roll darkness at Lola’s.

Sure, it’s getting harder and harder to find lunch for under $15, a cocktail for under $10, or a place to lay your head for under a grand a month. But just as on St. Marks Place, Montrose’s (cracked and buckled) sidewalks will always be free.

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  • None of Your Business

    Houston resident here of 26 years. I came of age in the 90s and Montrose was still a place where artists, musicians, freaks, radicals, and other ne’er do wells resided and thrived. Of course it was also still the epicenter of the LGBT community – I saw my first drag show on the roof of Mary’s during the Westheimer Street Fest. I remember being able to go to Montrose and see people walking the streets any day of the week, letting their freak-flags fly.

    Now I work in “The Binz” and of course can’t afford to live anywhere near there. The gayborhood is still there, but barely. There are a few dive bar hold-outs and some decent tattoo shops, but other than that, the area is almost unrecognizable. The people who made the neighborhood what it is are long gone, priced out a decade or more ago. Sure, there are still young, hip people who hang in the area, but they either don’t live there or they have enough money to do so and use it like a bizarro Disney Land. Encroaching bro-culture from the hyper-gentrified Washington area as well as “Midtown” makes it basically impossible to escape the side of Houston that most people flocked to that area to escape.

    I agree with Omar and this article that the hood has seen many iterations, but I fear that we are reaching a tipping point now with condos, yuppie eateries, and sky high housing prices that is pushing Montrose toward hyper-gentrification, much like “Midtown” and soon to be “EaDo.” It’s a shame too. That being said, it’s not like these people have disappeared – we’ve just moved to cheaper parts of town. Unfortunately, we tend to be the first wave and behind us come the real gentrifiers, pushing us along until we end up where? I don’t have the answer to that question.

    • Maureen Demar Hall

      Anywhere inside the loop is becoming a lost cause for affordable and interesting living…..don’t get me wrong, we were on the front wave of Heights appreciation (36 years ago) and can’t fathom living anyplace else but like Montrose, it’s becoming a Disneyfied version of itself! We ARE still happily going to Rudz, The Duck and Anderson Fair though, we just have better and more expensive choices for drinks and dinner afterwards!

      • None of Your Business

        I got priced out of The Heights 15 years ago. I wish I would have been old enough to buy a house there when things were affordable. My next door neighbor had bought her house around the time you moved there for less than $30K.

  • Veronique Mosquita

    You overuse “beloved.” If everything is beloved, nothing is.

    • Michael Hardy

      Um, I count two uses of beloved.

      • tomtreshROY

        Very well done article Lucius. Don Sanders is still one of the best performers I’ve ever seen.

  • Beststash

    I lived in Montrose in the early 70’s – W. Alabama, Stanford, Fairview – and it was a wonderful place to have spent your 20’s. No one can imagine the fun and comradery that was in those days. We were somewhat isolated from the nasty right-wing extremism that existed in those days but was in the suburbs. Wonderful times, wonderful area, wonderful people.

  • Patrick in Houston

    My grandmother lived on Audubon Street in Montrose thru late 50s. I spent many days there. I lived in one of Arthur Talks apartments on Stratford from late 80s to early 90s. Returned in ’96 to my mother’s condo on Montrose Blvd. I joke my friends will carry me out of here. Yes, the ‘hood has changed. So has every neighborhood that was and is distinctive. Great memories. Wouldn’t live anywhere else. Thanks for great article & photos. I do miss lower Westheimer as it used to be. Anyone remember the original Tootsies store?

    • veggieburgerus

      Of course! Mickey Rosmarin & his partner crafted the coolest clothing shop….still have a belt from there…which I can still wear!

    • wessexmom

      Yes, I do! I bought my senior prom dress there but I’ve never seen that location (an old house) mentioned in any articles I’ve ever read about Tootsies or Rosmarin. Even in the 70s, Tootsie’s had fabulous beautiful unusual clothes not found anywhere else in town. It was pricey even back then—a very cool, posh store for upscale hippie chicks!

  • Baron_of_Greymatter

    I’m amused by the pic of the Gay Pride parade. There are plenty of construction workers and cowboys, but not an Indian Chief anywhere in the bunch.

  • Jeff Kirk

    Out of pure coincidence, I’ve lived in all three of the main countercultural areas mentioned in the article — Montrose, St. Marks Place in NYC, and now Austin — at various times over the past 15 years. Each has suffered differing sets of gentrification slings and arrows, and each has become progressively less “cool” (and obviously less countercultural) as a result. But which one has deteriorated the most in that respect? Let’s go over a few details:

    St. Marks Place: I’ll first note that anyone who’s gone apartment-hunting anywhere near St. Marks over the past 20 years would likely seethe with envy knowing that it’s difficult to find a Montrose apartment *today* for under $800/month. Triple that number and you’ll get the rough monthly rent for a St. Marks-proximate studio. In a fifth-floor walk-up. On the fifth floor. And unrenovated, a term with a vastly different definition when it comes to NYC real estate: you’ll be lucky if you can find a place with a refrigerator icebox that doesn’t require manual *defrosting* and a stove that actually functions. (And if you do, it’ll almost certainly be a 22-inch-wide model.)

    As for it being “cool”? Uh-uh. The last straw was arguably legendary punk rock store Trash & Vaudeville being evicted a year or two ago from its location of 40 years — directly below my old apartment on the street, again a coincidence — to make way for the townhouse building it occupied being reconverted into a single-family mansion. (To be fair, it’s a landmarked Late Federal-era townhouse that was built for Alexander Hamilton’s son in 1825, but still.) Today it’s primarily filled with tourists and NYC students, who’ve taken over the lion’s share of the “affordable” apartments in that particular part of the East Village.

    Austin: To my extreme dismay, the “weirdest” part of Austin (“Old” South Austin, a.k.a. the 78704 ZIP code) has hypergentrified over the past five years in a fashion that makes Montrose pale in comparison. (To be fair, Austin at least has zoning laws that prevent the construction of the four- and five-story townhouse monstrosities still being erected throughout Montrose and much of Houston’s non-deed-restricted inner-loop areas.) Its own longtime counterculture nexus, South Congress Ave., is even worse a tourist trap these days than St. Marks, and cretinous realtors have been trying to rebrand the area as “SoCo.” (Along with knowing how to pronounce Manchaca and Guadalupe, knowing *not* to say “SoCo” is a sign someone may have actually lived in the area back when Barton Springs Rd. still had trailer parks instead of luxury condos.) That said … even the comparatively low-key Saxon Pub is still chugging along, as are the Continental Club and the Broken Spoke (along with most of the (in)famous dive bars elsewhere in town). Also, unlike Montrose, we’re still stuck with the same godawful H-E-B at S. Congress and Oltorf as the *only* full-size grocery store in ’04. (And at least Montrose still has the Disco Kroger, albeit in heavily renovated form.)

    Montrose: As long as Fairview and Westheimer still have roadway smoothness levels on par with Baghdad, I think the area’s safe. For now. (The oil slump won’t last forever.)

  • Lillian Williams

    You don’t write of the Montrose I knew.
    In the 50s, genteel ladies had portraits of President Eisenhower displayed prominently in their craftsman style homes.
    Young divorcee`s, single mothers and widows called the affordable boarding houses and apartments home.
    What goods you couldn’t buy in walking distance,were easily obtainable due to the bus lines.
    My mother worked in a dentist office at 3200 Montrose. We lived in a boarding house on Mount Vernon, then in a tiny apt on the corner of Hawthorne and Mandell, finally ending up on the 1600 block of Marshall.
    We didn’t call it that at the time, but we had our first strip mall across the street from the dentist office, bordered by Montrose, Westheimer and Yoakum Blvd. Club 88, a posh private club,backed up to Hotard’s cafeteria.
    Hotard’s made everything from scratch each day, including several kinds of bread and rolls. My favorite was the stuffed crab.
    Beyond that was a beauty shop on the second floor. Then, Florian’s Minimax. A Walgreens, complete with a lunch counter was on the corner. Try as they might, Walgreens could never match Cherryhurst Drugstore ‘s cherry coke.
    Across the street, on Yoakum, high fashions could be found at a dress shop called Lois’s. I was fitted for my first bra there. Most of the ladies who worked there were also opera singers.
    The Tower Theater was where I saw my first 3 D movie. Next to the Tower was a music shop where you could take vinyl records into a sound proof booth.
    Everyone knew each other, and we kids were tolerated.
    Sure there was the guy at the service station who would expose himself when you took in soda pop bottles to redeem so you could go see the movie, either at the Tower or the Alabama Theatre on Shepherd
    .
    We went to Montrose Elementary, Lanier Jr high school and Lamar high . We hung out at the Dunlavy swimming pool in the summer.
    Thanks to a public transit system , the zoo, parks, museums and downtown were only a dime away.
    Montrose is in your blood. We knew there was something magical about our little world before it became Montrose.

    • Dulcecstephens

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  • Jeff Pearson Floyd

    NATIVE HOUSTONIAN
    I don’t think of the Montrose area in the 80’s as being analogous to Austin at all. It was actually getting pretty seedy with some BIZARRE, violent crimes occuring in the area. Not to mention that guy that was killed who was gay, dont know if that was in the 80’s or not. When the group came from a northern suburb to roll some dudes…..

  • violet222

    I hung out there in the 70s back when the Tower Theater still showed movies and there was a topless joint across the street. I moved to Dallas in the 90s and came back about 10 years later. I was sad to see that Freaky Foods was gone, replaced by a gas station stop and shop. I still visit, but it’s changed so much.

    • John Nova Lomax

      That gas station has now been torn down and replaced with a storage unit monolith.

  • joel2

    It was already on the way out when I moved here 12yrs ago as the well known “gentrification arrow” starting out from Katy slowly marched eastwards to downtown. Since then has become a far older & wealthier area, but no sense bemoaning the past or what has changed. It’s at least safer and more kid friendly, even if it has remained easy pickings for those looking to loot off it’s prosperity. But in the end all the better for the large infusion of cash & taxes that have followed so best to enjoy the changes and hope that it holds as the oil slump becomes the “new normal” and not just a slump. It’s pleasing to see the bayou packed every day and more people out and about, even if just to walk their pets.

    Let’s just hope Houston can find better ways to distribute the wealth to increase education & access to well paying jobs throughout the entire city so that we’re all less dependent on zip codes and specific “cultural hubs” and have far greater choices as to where to reside within Houston with the same amenities. That should be the primary concern as we lurch forward.

    We’ll miss you Montrose, but I for one pray that we never need you again. Good riddance 😉

  • veggieburgerus

    The coolest kid-thing was to hang Saturdays at my dad’s office…1216 1/2 Westheimer from 1950 til he moved Uptown to Westheimer at Shepherd in the middle ’50’s…just behind Jimmy Green Chevy & Lee Laundry. The Toddle House gave life purpose, as I fantasized being a short order cook (without tattoos, though). Compared to Braes Heights, where we had moved…this area was alive & hopping and became a Mecca to recreate with my weirdo counter cultural pals….although I was a bit apprehensive of The Dark Side, about which my mother had warned me. This was of the same flavor as playing school sports teams ‘from the other side of the tracks’. I practically lived there….but never resided in 06. There was little more satisfying than riding my Triumph up & down Westheimer during the Festival…with my Freak Flag flying in my very long mane. I miss the familiar…but actually embrace the individual creative offerings (NOT the wretched chain machines)….such as Common Bond. I decided long ago I would not be an old man pissing & moaning about the good old days while refusing to embrace the progress of mutation.

  • Wingo

    I lived in Montrose for two years in the late 1970s. It was okay & without a doubt the best hood in Houston, but that’s not saying much. Those two years were enough. Houston, I wish I could say something positive about you. But I just can’t. You’re a squashed-dead, oil-soaked albatross in the middle of an 18-lane freeway.

    • Anthony Ausgang

      I grew up in Spring Branch in the ’70s and would go to Montrose for clothes, records and the clubs; it was the only place to find youth culture stuff. I left Houston when I turned 18 and never regretted it…

  • Omar Afra is the kind of doucher Montrose needs less of trust funded and with a huge sense of entitlement. Thinks they can buy city hall, and to some extent he’s right.

    • Guest

      Omar spent years before the Free Press Houston was even a thing frequenting the dive bars and poetry readings and musical venues that gave the neighborhood it’s character. I am thinking you must have been one of the skinhead kids that had to hide in the shadows at Numbers because no one would talk to them.

  • Kalani Man

    They can’t even keep a Pulse moment from being turned upside down. I hear the kids are moving to the Med Center or away to Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, and Berlin again. Someone flipped the flag on the median at Westheimer and Montrose and ran for cover at the Chinese consulate. A shame no one helped the poor guy. I’m so glad I live in Dubai.

  • Guest

    It was what it was when I needed it to be that.

  • FPSF isn’t the successor to the Westheimer Street Festival, White Linen Nights is. And just like everything else that made the Westheimer Street Fest cool, it ain’t in Montrose anymore, and it ain’t cool.

  • BUFFet

    Birthplace of legendary Howard Hughes now the Sorbonne of the Americas the University of St. Thomas, home of St. Thomas Aquinas, Basilian fathers, liberal arts and a newly constructed health and sciences wing. Much, much to be proud of.