As Austin is to Texas, so Montrose has long been to Houston: a liberal, weird oasis in a sea of red, a refuge for musicians, artists, bohemians of every stripe, and the nexus of the city’s LGBT community. Indeed, when Austin was still a relatively straitlaced Southern college town, Montrose had already unfurled its freak flag. Founding Texas Monthly editor William Broyles claims Montrose, and not Austin, as the true birthplace of Texas counterculture.
And just as in Austin, Montrose old-timers love to let you know that you are a few years too late for the real party. Hippies, punks, and LGBT folks alike will all tell you, a wistful look in their eyes, “You should have been here when …” Followed, of course, by the declaration that Montrose is dead.
Over the last forty or so years, the roughly seven square miles southwest of downtown Houston (bounded by South Shepherd on the west, Bagby on the east, West Gray on the north, and the Southwest Freeway to the south) has been declared dead more often than Blues Clues host Steve Burns.
Pretty much everyone agrees that Houston needs Montrose. Way back in 1973, the late Montrose architect and professor John Zemanek called Montrose “essential to the city of Houston”:
It provides a humanistic element at its core, like the Left Bank in Paris. If the Montrose as it is now was wiped out by high rises and commercialization, the city would become sterile and materialistic to the point where culturally stimulating people would move out, and everyone would lose in the long run.
I was conceived in Montrose by hippie parents, in a house on the corner of Dunlavy and West Alabama, during the crazy run-up to the moon landing. I spent much of my youth and adulthood just across the Southwest Freeway, in what is now known as the Museum District.
Before they moved to Nashville in 1974, both of my parents were deeply involved with the Montrose underground, at Pacifica radio station KPFT and the hippie newspaper Space City! They ran with the wild folk music crowd of that era: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, and Richard Dobson among them.