A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for Around Houston

A Tour of African American History and Culture in Houston

In honor of the month, I thought it would be nice to write a post that was similar to the one on the New Chinatown. Like that post, I cannot give you a complete picture of everything to see, but I think that this may be a nice one day tour to do. I thought that I could improve my description of the tour by giving you links this time around, so I hope that you will try it out.

Houston has always been a culturally diverse city, and many of us forget that there were non-slave African Americans in our community from those early days. One community that developed was Freedmen’s Town. Driving through this part of town you will get to see some of the older homes in Houston. Houston has had a mixed bag when it comes to preserving its past, but there is an organization working on keeping the history of this area alive: http://www.houstonprogressive.org/FTAbrief.txt.

After driving around to see these homes, you could drive over to the TSU campus. I had the privilege of knowing professors there at one point, so I used to tour the campus with them. Around the neighborhood, you will find some murals by local artists. However, if you really would like to see some art, head over to Project Row Houses: http://www.projectrowhouses.org .You will be able to walk through restored homes which have been converted into an art gallery. The project has several programs to help the children in the community, and it will give you a view on contemporary African American art.

By this time, you may be getting hungry, so why not try some Soul food. Coming from a German family, I have always enjoyed oxtails, which I know not everyone will care for, but it is a delicious meal. Bunky’s Soul Food Cafe at 7265 Scott St is a good place to take your lunch. Be forewarned, Soul Food is not for those of you on a diet, but you should go ahead and break your diet to try out some of the meals here.

Houston is fortunate to have some wonderful museums, but we do not always take the time to visit them. You should visit this one of a kind display of history, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum. After the Civil War, the Union Army used African American soldiers to patrol the plains of West Texas. The Native Americans called them Buffalo Soldiers because of their hair. This is an interesting look on Texas’ past. Http://www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com

I am going to detour from this area to give you a taste of my favorite African cuisine. Would you like to see a bit of the contemporary African immigrants into our city? For dinner, I would suggest you head over to the west side of town on Richmond (between Fondren and Gessner) to try out an Ethiopian meal at the Blue Nile. Ask the waitress for her recommendations, but there is one platter that will give you a variety of tastes.

If you have any ideas of where to go, leave your comments down below.

A Romantic Place to Live in Houston: Maybe you can find it with DotHomes

As in the previous post, how do we define what is romantic? I think that it is tied with our memories. When I was younger, I wanted to live in a development that imitated a European village inside the city. I thought what a great place to live and work. Work/live developments are becoming more common projects for developers, but that concept was out in my youth.

Should I mention places to live near the locations of my romantic trip? Well, downtown has more condos springing up, and not too far away from downtown, communities are going through a rebirth. Townhomes seem to be the big deal in this new growth. I have a tendency to recall Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving. Love is not a spur of the moment emotion; it requires our involvement and effort. In this regard, could not the home we live in become the most romantic spot in our lives, if we want it to be.

I thought that it might be fun to look at some of the more expensive dream homes in my area. I went on to the site, http://www.dothomes.com , to look for the extravagant offerings around my area. I used the “I’m feeling wealthy” button. I guess that I need to have a couple of million to spend for that kind of dream home.

I spoke to one of the DotHomes site founders about two weeks ago. He and his team are working hard to make this site a success in the US. They do have a sense of humor, and they will be incorporating this into future developments on the site. If you are comfortable with Google, you will like DotHomes. It is a good way to search for your dream home.

Well, I need to go work on the garden. I want to add some color in the beds for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. What will you be doing to make your home romantic? Or where would you like to live? Have fun exploring houses on DotHOmes.

In honor of Valentine’s Day: A Romantic Trip Through Houston

Houston and romance do not seem to go together, but I thought that since I posted something about Chinese New Year, I could give this holiday a try. When discussing the topic with my wife, she suggested retelling the story of our first kiss. Should I tell them anything else I ask, any other firsts? It does bring up the fact that romance is personal, and the places where our memories lie have something special for us, but maybe not for others. Considering that my daughter insisted in being part of a hug that I gave to my wife before writing this post, I thought about family and romance too. My daughter also wants the family dog and her older brother to be a part of these hugs. Should a trip bring the family into the picture? If you have children around Valentine’s Day, you will understand my predicament.

I also am considering the expense of a romantic day. My wife, reading over my shoulder just now, says that no expense should be spared. So I should go into debt for this day, to prove my love? Of course she responds. I decide to start my journey in the Village. In the morning for breakfast, there are various coffee houses to sit down and relax with some pastry for breakfast. My two favorites are along Rice in the same strip center. One is French, while the other is Chilean (I think, there is a South American or Spanish flair to the place). I think that walking around this area is fun. You can window shop, as you stroll on a pleasant morning. My wife suggests that we go to the spa for some relaxation, but the kids do not approve. I was thinking of heading over to Herman Park, where on Saturday mornings the brides and quinceieras have their photos taken. That is always fun to watch, and maybe I could arrange for a photographer for us.

After a morning of browsing (alright, I admit, I do have shopping bags to load), I head up Kirby to Westheimer, and make a right. There are plenty of shops, particularly antique stores along the way towards downtown. More walking anyone? My wife rolls her eyes. We do stop for a bite to eat for lunch along this path. There are many nice places to tempt you. I like Alferedo’s European Grill on Montrose, just north of Westheimer, but this is simpler fare, and my wife wants a little more extravagance.

What to do in the afternoon? Could we relax in a downtown park taking in the sun? Maybe a movie at the Angelika dowtrown? Or if this is a Sunday, we might go to the matinee of a play. Houston’s dowtown has been changing in recent years. I remember when I worked for the symphony, I would get off late at night, and no one would be there. The police stopped trying to get me to walk on the sidewalk. I explained that the light was better in the middle of the street, so I could see any possible intruder. Downtown may not be the most convivial place, but there are nice spots. We walk around looking at the public art on display.

We do head back home to change for the evening, and I had the idea of a place to eat that evokes some romanticism in my mind, and it is very close to home. The restaurant Vargos does have some beautiful gardens, with a romantic dining area. It is on Fondren, again north of Westheimer. After our meal, we head downtown yet again. My wife has been reminding me that I have not taken her clubbing there. Not my thing really. I only have been when showing out of town guests. My wife looks me in the eye to state that she is from out of town. So am I was my response.

The night life has changed dramatically, but it is a mixed bag. Many bands are cover bands, who play to loud for conversation, and not well enough to impress at times. Maybe I am being a bit harsh. We try to suss out clubs with a live band playing some originals. I like the clubs that have jazz or R&B when it comes to creating a more romantic scene. As for a more jazz theme, we could head back to the Village. Ovations is a nice spot for some entertainment and romantic moods. We finally head back home around two am.

Our first kiss? Well, it was late one night in the Village, so that may have inspired part of this tale. What is a romantic get away for you?

Living in Houston’s New Chinatown

Realtors will create a document called a market report for a given area to make you aware of the housing conditions there. I am an inspector, and we do not partake in such activities, but having written of a journey through the new Chinatown area, I thought that I should follow it up with a little commentary about living in this part of town.

The last post went over some of the commercial areas, but it should be noted that this part of town, like much of Houston’s west, is in growth mode. It is easy to find a variety of shops or locations for all of your needs. The city has been working on improving the infrastructure in the west as well. Expanding roads, utility improvements, and parks have all been undergoing restoration and renewal to meet the demands of the residents. Arthur Storey Park along the Beltway 8 has been cleaned up, and it is looking like a nice family spot. Kirkwood was widened to allow better traffic flow. As the western portions of our city continue to develop, the city will meet the demands of the infrastructure.

Although I am writing of a Chinatown, and immigrants from Southeast Asia play a large role in this community, the neighborhoods are ethnically diverse. Larger homes of the higher price ranges border this area. There is a mix of townhomes, affordable homes, and mid-range homes throughout the community (and I should not forget apartment options). Many of the homes built in the last ten years are quite spacious inside, with good sized yards. Community parks abound. Traffic can be heavy during rush hour, but most of Houston faces this issue. For bus service, you do have the number 2 line taking you into the medical center, where you can hop on the light rail into downtown.

Houston Independent School District oversees the education of some of the children in this region, but most kids will attend Alief I.S.D. I know that Alief has a vanguard program in some of its schools. This is the program for gifted children, and I would look into having any child go into that education. There is a public library on Kirkwood, north of the Bellaire intersection.

City services come through the city of Houston, so you will go to them for water and sanitation. Center Point will handle gas, and electricity is through various vendors. For non-emergency situations here are some phone numbers:

Police: 713.884.3131

Fire Department: 713.247.5000

For business development: Houston West Chamber of Commerce 713.785.4922

Well, that is a brief overlook of the area. The Houston West Chamber of Commerce produces a wonderful book introducing people to the neighborhood, so you may want to find it to guide you in this area.

A trip through the New Chinatown in Houston

I thought that in celebration of the Chinese New Year, I would take you on a little trip through Houston’s New Chinatown. It would probably more accurate to describe it as Little Asia, since you will find many nationalities here. Alright, let us begin.

I will begin my journey on the corner of Beechnut and the Beltway 8. You will find quite a few new commercial developments along the Beltway, but this location is pretty well developed. I should start you off with two phrases which mean thank you: gom ahn (Vietnamese) and shay-shay(Chinese). The sternest face will break into a smile with this phrase. Start your trip in the Vietnamese market called Viet Hoa. You will find good prices on your standard fruit and vegetables, but look into the exotics. My son is not afraid to ask another shopper what something is, and no one has ever turned down his request. One warning- do not buy an entire jack fruit unless you have had one before. I ended up eating most of one alone, just because it was difficult for the kids to eat. Check out the seafood section. Live frogs anyone? In the same shopping center, you will find two other stores that I would recommend: Tea Cup Cafe for bubble tea, and Kho Bo Houston for jerky and “candy”. My son likes the smoothies at the Tea Cup, but my daughter will drink the bubble teas with me. They also have good light lunch/snack type food here. At Kho Bo, they will happily explain what the candy can be used for, and they do give out samples. My son will go after the cuttle fish jerky, while I go after some preserved fruits. My one year old girl just goes up and down the aisles saying whoa! Check out the other shops too. There are some nice finds.

Alright, we can move down the Beltway 8 a little outside of the main Chinatown area for our next stop. You will have to go down West Airport to Jebbia Lane to find the Chung Mei Temple. This is a Buddhist Temple that also houses a museum, gift shop, library, meditation room, and a small cafe. The grounds also have a garden of Chinese sculpture. The main shrine is beautiful. On Sundays, they have classes to learn Chinese, calligraphy, and kendo. Take a look at the kendo. My son is a fencer, and he wants to do that.

Move on over to Wilcrest heading north. We are going to go back up to the main Chinatown area. When you get to Bellaire turn left. When you come to Boone road, pull into the parking lot for Lee’s Sandwich Shop. This is my favorite place for a Vietnamese sandwich. If you do not like spicy, be sure to tell them no jalepenos on it. The store offers various treats, so look around. There is a style of Vietnamese twinkie made fresh at the front door. It is cornbread with a custard filling. Take a look at the shops in this strip. I really want to go to the Chinese Herbalist. I think that would be an adventure. If you go across the street, you can explore more shops and the Hong Kong Market.

Drive along Bellaire here, and you will find a monument to the fallen soldiers in the Vietnam War. There are many shops to see. If it is getting later, why not try a restaurant. I love Chinese food, and it abounds here, but are you familiar with Vietnamese fare? Go to any place with the word “pho” written on it. I was told that this word is pronounced “fah”. If you are a soup lover like me, this will be the meal for you. There are other dishes available, but I just love this one.

Well, that is a quick introductory tour, which can be done in less than a day. Vacation with your kids here for the day to let them experience something new. If you go down Harwin towards downtown you will pass the Chines Cultural Center, but there are some other shops and restaurants at the intersection with Gessner. I like go into the Parisian Bakery here for my bread rolls. The Vietnamese learned to bake from the French, so you can get some good bread at a good price.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Back To Nature: A craft project for kids

I have been looking for fun activities that are free for my kids. Houston has a lot to offer kids, and in future posts, I will list some places that have some free time events to keep kids busy. I was thinking that there should be a good way to have my kids enjoy some of the nature around the Houston area, so I created an activity for them.

I was inspired by a “passport” that I found when cleaning my desk. This was from a few years back, and I am sure that they still have this, but while at the Arboretum, the had a brochure that the kids could obtain stamps from different locations around our area. I thought that maybe I could turn this into a craft project though. The kids could collect some item from different parks that we could press. We can then make a Houston nature picture from the pressings.

A press is easy to make. You could just use phone books and newspaper. Place the flower, leaf, or your find between sheets of newspaper, and then leave them in between the phone books for several days. I made a fancier version with some boards, bolts, and wing nuts. I drilled holes through each corner of two boards (drill the boards at the same time to align the holes). Use the bolts to press the boards together. I let the kids paint it to decorate it, so it built up the excitement for using it.

Now we are going to travel around the area to collect foliage and such for our press. It makes going to the various parks and natural areas around town fun. There are quite a lot of these spots; you just have to look a little.

Hidden Parks

I have an odd habit of driving through neighborhoods. I picked up this routine from my practice to arrive early for an inspection, so I can get to know the area, to speak knowledgeably with the new homeowner. My travels yesterday were through some neighborhoods close to my own.

I drove down one street that has very large lots, but just a few years ago had homes built in the sixties and seventies. Over the past few years, these lots have become highly sought after, and the old homes have been replaced with sprawling mansions. One of these edifices seems to have been dropped in from Morocco. I would like to see them sell that one when the time comes. I moved over to a less ostentatious development next to this one. This is where I discovered a public park not listed on my street finder.

I frequently come across these parks, but this one appealed to me because it was so different. Most of these small parks are developed as play areas for children. Many of these locations can be fascinating, but this particular park had paths cut through a natural area, no play equipment. This style of park has become more popular. They make for nice walks, and they do have some open areas for play.

You never know what you might find in your wanderings, so you might find a nice little treasure if you decide to explore your area.