Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Isabella Court: A Grand 'Ol Enigma

pic by LU

Isabella Court Theme Song

Cathy Matusow says the Chron's Corilynn Shropshire's got a little 'splainin' to do when it somes to romanticizing the merits of Isabella Court in Midtown. Let's juxtapose, shall we?

When Vernon Caldera walked through Isabella Court’s ornate wrought-iron gates and spotted the courtyard that seemed magically transplanted from his grandmother’s hometown in Nicaragua, he gasped.

Then he fell in love.

The picturesque 80-year-old building in Midtown, a Spanish Colonial with original porcelain sinks and no-two-are-the-same apartments, “had me at hello,” he said.

When I first heard the Chronicle was doing a story on the building I live in, Isabella Court, I thought, "Oh great, is rent going up now?"

For years, the weekend scene in the courtyard might be tango dancers or mariachis, costumed guests grooving to live music with chatter and liquor flowing into the wee hours.

But in the spirit of full disclosure, just so people know what they're getting into, here's a few things I've seen simply looking out my very window:

-- A person smoking what appeared to be crack (twice);

-- Drunk men lounging by the Dumpster, one of them seemingly dead (he wasn't, he was just extremely wasted, as the cops ascertained);

Or talk to artist Amanda De Rosario, who moved out in 2005 after four years of throwing rocking bashes, including the “treintañera, or quinceañera times two” she hosted for her 30th birthday. The party featured a piñata; De Rosario, decked out in a pale-blue dress and tiara, danced all night to a live band.

“My parties got too big,” she said, giggling. “It got to the point that maybe it was a good idea that I left.”

-- A rotund little man banging on a green Ford Explorer with a shovel (I called the cops and he was arrested; I felt bad because I realized he was mentally ill); and

-- A couple in a domestic dispute pulling over to scream and shove at each other (hey, this was just last night!).

There have also been homeless people sleeping in the front doorway, and, in the area, an insane masturbating man outside the downstairs galleries, anal sex in the park across the street, and a couple of drug deals done quite out in the open.

Weekends now are more a movable feast — cocktails before an evening out, well-appointed dinner parties for 10 or casual evenings in, spent popping from one apartment to the next. There’s a natural sense of community among Isabella residents, who say they share a special connection.

With many of the windows and doors of the 15-unit residence overlooking the courtyard (and, in some cases, offering peeks into neighbors’ apartments) everyone knows everyone else, and they always know when someone’s home. With residents frequently calling on one another, Isabella is a haven for a certain type of animal — a social one. Hermits and introverts need not apply.

Not to mention the recent graffiti problem.

The building long has been home to dancers and opera singers, artists and architects. They’re drawn to its retro glamour: peeling paint on the walls, arched doorways in the arcade, winding staircases and diminutive iron balconies that look down on the courtyard’s broken-tile mosaic floor. Designed by architect William Bordeaux in 1929, the building is tucked away between Main and Fannin, the apartments sitting above two art galleries and some vacant commercial space.

Yesterday, after the story appeared, I was accosted by a nice family on my way to run an errand. "We read about this place in the Chronicle," the mom told me as I was walking to my car. "We were wondering, could you let us in?"

“It’s the exact same people here,” said Caldera, “just different manifestations of ourselves.”

Groves said it was “like a ghost pulling them in.”

“It’s the courtyard,” he said. “It’s kind of magical. It’s like looking at another time.”

In the article's comments section online, one mother writes, "My daughter is about to start college at the Art Institute of Houston, and I think she'd fit right in there. If I put her name on the waiting list, do you think there'd be an opening by Summer 2012 when she graduates?"

Yes, it is a beautiful building, and I love it. As the story says, it's "magical," and the tenants and management are wonderful.


Vanessa Tanith VanAlstyne said...

i love it when my crack dealer can so easily deliver.

people think i'm nuts for living over in the section of houston i do cause of crime...haha...why would i pay twice as much to live in montross or the heights and still run the risk of getting mugged if i walk down the street at night?

actually unlike when i lived in montross, i haven't had a homeless person go through my trash or confront me for change in my front yard.

Anonymous said...

I lived there until I couldn't stand the bitchy old queen who manages the place. He was petty and rude and basically a shitheal.

Lovely buildings and great neighbors, but only if you're a gay male.

Ask anyone who lives/d there.

P.S. - I expected the petty larcenies and 'quaint' alley traffic. Can't complain about those. Comes with the territory.

Anonymous said...

I lived there for almost five years until recently, and yes, it's a beautiful place.

However, the article didn't touch on the real experience at all.

The real experience included: one bike theft, one attempted bike theft, four car break-ins, crack whores regularly plying their trade in the back alley, one dead body in the complex dumpster, one exploding dumpster, the occasional termite swarm, and extreme pettiness and harassment by the property manager when requests for repairs were made. Furthermore, tenancy rules changed capriciously and seemed to apply only to those out of favor with the property manager.

The harassment we experienced became so pronounced that we had to retain an attorney.

If you prefer a peaceful co-existence with your neighbors, Isabella Court is most definitely NOT for you. As for all of this vaunted talk about a waiting list... Please. I was on it for all of four months. This just sounds like yet another ploy to raise the rents on 800 sq. foot apartments with no insulation, crappy water pressure, continuous termite issues, and a shit-stirring property manager with atrociously bad manners and zero people skills.