Preserving the history of The Heights neighborhood inside one 1896 Victorian home

Courtney Fischer Image
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Historic house in The Heights becomes a home
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"We've gotten back to a time when people value their front porch," said David Bush with Preservation Houston. Press play to learn about the Greer family's renovation project that helped them build a community on their front porch.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On the corner of Harvard and 18th Street sits the grand Victorian beauty that has become a staple of The Heights neighborhood's history - a reminder of generations that have passed.

The iconic four-story mansion was built 124 years ago in 1896 when Grover Cleveland was president, and Coca-Cola was invented.

The Heights has endured and changed, and this house has seen it all. The century-old, castle house started to decay recently, but the Greer family is working to preserve its charm.

"We're project people. This is what we like to do," Jan Greer told ABC13's Courtney Fischer while sitting two stories up on top of the railing of her white front porch.

The Greers said they bought the house about two years ago, so they could renovate it with respect. They refused to see history forgotten or destroyed.

"We just loved everything about it," Greer said. "I love learning about the prior owner."

That prior owner was the man responsible for protecting all historical homes in The Heights. He was Bart Truxillo, the same man who helped found Preservation Houston and The Heights Historic District in the seventies. He lived in the house for nearly 50 years.

"It's really the last one of its kind in Houston. It's the last of the really high style Victorians," said David Bush with Preservation Houston.

Greer knew she had to bring the house back to life. The roof had holes. The electricity system needed rewiring. The plumbing would get a complete overhaul. The inside could use sprucing up to house a family of four. Some of the rooms got a coat of paint. The primary bath and kitchen were completely changed.

A fourth-floor loft, in which a disco ball once hung in the turret window, became a playroom for Greer's two young sons.

The "after" photos reveal a comfortable, stunning home, but the renovations were a huge struggle.

In September, Hurricane Imelda hit and flooded the basement, as if water had poured in through every window on every floor. The damage was expensive and draining.

"Every day you go, 'Okay, what's today like?'" Greer said.

When COVID-19 hit, the family made the tough decision to have crews stop working inside the house to keep everyone safe. Despite their cautionary measures, Greer got coronavirus.

"I think I'm the proof in the pudding. You have to wear a mask. You have to keep your distance, and then, you still need to lock it down when you can," she said.

The family quarantined, but while they were recovering, something happened on the front porch that Greer wasn't prepared for: the pandemic brought people together.

"We met more neighbors, had more conversations than we ever had," Greer said. "We got a chance to associate ourselves with the house, to talk to neighbors, and we made so many friends so fast."

"We've gotten back to a time when people value their front porch," Bush said. "That happened long before (COVID), but now, it's even more of a factor."

Greer knows this home is special, but she also knows it's just a house. It's her neighbors and stories of the past that make The Heights a Houston treasure.

"It's enjoyable to make community history," she said. "And you don't do that without the community. You just don't."

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