Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Real Estate Art--Bert Long Edition

Robert Boyd

Swamplot alerted us to the fact that Bert Long, Jr.'s house is for sale. Long, one of Houston's most important artists for the past few decades, died in February of last year. The house is in the Fifth Ward on Buck St., a few blocks south of I-10 and east of Waco St. The block on which it sits has some nice looking houses as well as a few that appear to be in serious disrepair. I guess that's one way to define a transitional neighborhood.

Bert Long, Jr.'s house

The Fifth Ward is the kind of neighborhood that West Side anglos are afraid of. But like I said, it's in transition. The Fifth Ward may have been called the the "Bloody Nickel" for decades, but in 2013, there were no murders in the Fifth Ward. This might not seem like something to really brag about, but it's more than the Heights or Montrose can say!

The neighborhood is very gradually gentrifying. And Long's house is a part of this. Before 1999, it was a dilapidated duplex, a double-barrel shotgun house.

Long's house before being remodeled

Long's house before being remodeled

But young Houston architect Brett Zamore decided to rehab it. This became his masters thesis project at Rice University. Now it's identified as "House 00" on his website.  You can see how this project was the seed of so much of what he has done subsequently, such as the Shot Trot house and the Zamore Homes kit houses. To me, what makes a city is not its grand architectural statements--skyscrapers, museums, etc.--but people's dwellings. So even though he doesn't have any big public commissions here in Houston, Zamore is my favorite local architect.

Here's what House 00 looked like after Zamore got done with it.

The door you see is original but repurposed. I love that Zamore carefully preserved the signs of wear on the door. The wall there is original shiplap which has been coated in varnish.

But these photos (taken from Zamore's website) show it in 2000, I think, before anyone was living in it. Fourteen years or so of Bert Long have changed the place. Here are some photos from HAR.

In 14 years, a lot of plants can sprout. Now the house is well-shaded, which probably helps on the electric bills.

And of course, like all artists' homes I've ever seen, Long's house is packed with art. Some I can identify as his, but there appears to be art by others there as well. (As usual, I'd like to ask readers for help identifying pieces shown in these photos.)

The blue relief portrait of Long was created by Margaret Losinski. It is part of a series of portraits she has made of Houston artists.

The wooden object to the right of the American flag is, of course, a small sculpture by James Surls.

The house is fairly small--960 square feet. It's hard to imagine that it was once a duplex, but shotgun houses were built for poor people and tend to be tiny.

At some point a studio building/garage was added to the property.

This studio/garage is quite large--it's actually as big as the house! Part of it is for the car, but the left-over part has central air and plumbing and could be used as an apartment.

The asking price is $200,000, which seems pretty high for this subdivision. (There are houses within a few blocks going for $70K and $60K.) But there are two buildings on this lot, and this is obviously a special house. You wouldn't just be buying a piece of cookie-cutter shelter--you would be buying art history. Brett Zamore's first house! Bert Long, Jr.'s home! I realize that these facts won't mean much to the average Houston house hunter, but they mean a lot to me.

The house has one more interesting art connection--the realtor is Star Massing--wife of Art Guy Jack Massing. I hope she sells it to someone who can appreciate its unique history.


  1. Robert, I think this is a terrific piece on Bert's house. As I understand it, it is the intention of Bert's widow, artist Joan Batson working with Star sell to an artist or arts organization (or perhaps a university) who will appreciate the qualities you cite as well as continue the artistic and cultural mission of the property.

  2. What a beautiful house, and what a respectful way to restore it. Bert, we sure do miss you down here.

  3. Hello Robert,
    Great article - especially the way you used Brett Zamore's images from his website to show the history of the house. I'd like to point out that the images credited to HAR were in fact shot by me at Joan's request when she decided to sell the house. Also the round blue concrete cast relief portrait of Bert was done by me as part of a series of Houston Artists I have been doing. Bert insisted that it must be blue and not the sandstone color I'd originally intended. He was right - it is prefect!

    1. Thanks for the information! I have updated the post to reflect it.

  4. The house has been restored perfectly.