Montrose is a quirkily-shaped neighborhood just west of downtown Houston with a history that is even more unique. Though the culture and demographics of the district have continued to change over the years, the area has long since been a beacon of acceptance for those who choose to live there. The four square mile area overlaps and engulfs other notable districts such as Hyde Park and the Fourth Ward and is loosely bound by the Southwest Freeway to the south, Shepherd to the west, and Bagby to the east. The northern boundary is easily the most disputed with the line varying depending on who you ask. Some would say it ends at West Grey, but according to Google Maps it extends all the way up past Washington Avenue—Buffalo Bayou is a happy compromise.
Laying a Foundation – A History of Montrose
Founded in 1911 by J.W. Link of the Houston Land Corporation, Montrose was little more than vacant land parcels and farmland. He soon began making improvements to the area, building Montrose Boulevard and commissioning a neoclassical mansion alongside it. It is now known as the Link-Lee Mansion, named after Link and the man he sold it to in 1923, T.P. Lee. It eventually found its way to the Basilian Fathers and became the first building on the St. Thomas University campus, founded in 1947.
Montrose was intended to be a suburb district of Houston, and Link designed it to have four main boulevards and a streetcar line for ease of movement. He knew Houston had to grow and wanted Montrose to help get it there. Eventually, the area became more populated and many families began to seek out developing neighborhoods which were becoming the new suburbs. That was when a new Montrose began to take shape.
A Bohemian Paradise
By the time the early 1970s were in full swing, the neighborhood had taken on a new identity. Eccentricity was more than just welcome there. It thrived. The area became a mecca for those who didn’t quite fit in with Houston’s traditional Southern culture: artists, writers, pagans, and members of the gay community were common residents, just to name a few. The shift in tides also changed the layout of the neighborhood, with businesses evolving to better suit the area’s new inhabitants.
The Montrose district has also been home to many persons of infamy over the years. Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, and Lyndon Johnson all lived or worked there. The Plaza Hotel, built in 1926, once housed the early leaders of Houston, but in the 70s it became the stomping grounds of Bob Marley and The Wailers for a time, who created an album there. More recently, Beyonce attended high school in this neighborhood and her mother even owned a salon there.
Ever an incubator of the creative spirit, the area has long fostered blues and Texas folk music. In some ways, it was also a partial birthplace of Texas Monthly magazine. The magazine’s first editor William Broyles and some of the other early writing staff lived and were shaped by their experiences in Montrose. It was also here that in 1989 a group of journalists started the Roundtable at the River Cafe where writers and politicians alike would meet every Wednesday evening.
Montrose has played an integral part in the development and advancement of the Houston LGBT community. It was the longtime home of Houston’s Gay Pride Parade until it was moved to downtown in 2015. Home of the Houston counterculture, it made sense that the gay population would find solace here. Mary’s, a gay bar in the area, in particular, was a haven and meeting place for the community. During the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, memorials were often held on the back porch and gatherings there sparked the formation of many of Houston’s AIDS service organizations.
A Modern Montrose
In recent years, Montrose has again begun to take on a new shape. With Houston as a whole becoming more diverse, the need for a protected sanctuary has diminished. Artist pockets are now scattered throughout the city, and though Montrose still contains a large number of the city’s gay bars, the relocation of the Pride Parade to downtown parallels the significant strides the community has made toward achieving equal rights.
As the social structure of the neighborhood continues to evolve, so does the physical architecture. Though it now looks much different than it did even a few years ago, the people and many important pieces of Montrose’s historic character are still very visible in the local community.
To read stories about other historic neighborhoods in Houston, visit our Good Neighborhoods page here.