People who grew up in Houston's Montrose neighborhood miss its 'sketchier side'

Miya Shay Image
Monday, March 13, 2023
This iconic Houston neighborhood has transformed, but its soul remains
"It's grown-up, but we're still cool. We're just not wild the way we used to be." Montrose has received investments from multi-national companies, but over the years, some of its quintessential establishments have fallen away.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- People say Houston is always a city on the move, and perhaps no other neighborhood exemplifies it better than Montrose.

When the sun is down and night comes down on the area just outside of downtown, it may feel as if not much has changed. Whether walking or driving, it seems like everyone has somewhere to go.

"I started going to Montrose when I was 17, and I'm now 46," Guy Harrison, a LGBTQ community activist and artistic director of Houston's Deluxe Theater, said. "When I found Montrose, it felt like home. I was like, 'Wow, this feels safe to me.' Growing up in a small town, I didn't have access to people that looked like me, that acted like me."

But, the Montrose that embraced a young gay Black man from rural Texas 30 years ago, is far different than the Montrose of today.

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker remembers the days when the area had a rougher edge.

"I was living in east Montrose in the early 90s," Parker recalls. "We formed the East Montrose Civic Association as we watched the house across the street from me burn down in a very suspicious fire."

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Prior to that, it felt like few people wanted to call Montrose home.

"Back in the 70s and into the 80s, it was decaying and dying, and there were vacant lots everywhere," Parker said.

Change, though, would come at a swift pace. First, as a civic club leader and later as mayor, Parker helped Montrose as it grew to become one of Houston's most desirable neighborhoods.

"It is more expensive. It is nicer," she says with a wry laugh.

Big investments from multinational companies have brought in high-rise buildings and even higher rents. Over the years, some of the quintessential Montrose establishments have fallen away.

SEE RELATED STORY: Owners plan on rebuilding decades-old Montrose sports bar after being destroyed by overnight fire

"There are LGBTQ bars that aren't there anymore, and others," Dr. Maria Gonzalez, long-time English professor at the University of Houston and LGBTQ activist, said.

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Gonzalez is referring to the beloved neighborhood Kroger known as "Disco Kroger." It was recently razed for another fancy future development.

"Is that good? Is that bad? I kind of missed the kind of the sketchier side of Montrose," Gonzalez said. "Montrose is always changing. It's part of a larger Houston."

"It's changed, but it's still fun, and it is still a very walkable neighborhood," Parker said.

She is proud that Montrose has managed to develop into a highly desirable neighborhood while still retaining its reputation as the heart of the LGBTQ community.

As for Guy Harrison, he hopes it remains a safe place for young people of today as it was for him.

"What helps me not worry though is I think that young people are breaking down barriers and saying any space will be ours, a little more than we were. We were looking for isolation to feel safe," Harrison said.

And Gonzalez, even though she's among many who can't afford to live in the now-very desirable, high-priced neighborhood, her love for Montrose has not waned.

"You say Montrose to anybody in this city, and they automatically think, 'Oh yeah, the gay-borhood.' Even though there's nothing but straight people there, it's still the gay neighborhood," she said with a chuckle.

Montrose, like Houston, has matured.

"It's grown-up, but we're still cool," Parker said. "We're just not wild the way we used to be."

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