The Idylwood Historic District was designed as a middle-class, residential, automobile suburb southeast of downtown Houston (Figure 1). When it was platted along Brays Bayou in 1928, Idylwood was in a largely undeveloped section of Houston’s East End. Although it was located only a short distance from the Galveston-Houston Railway (the Interurban), which served Houston commuters, Idylwood was an early automobile suburb with houses and garages set along 18 irregular blocks of paved streets. Its construction, which began in 1928, was largely complete by 1950 (Figure 2). Its period of significance accordingly spans from 1928 through 1950. The neighborhood features gently curving outer streets at its borders, lots arranged along the natural curves of the bayou, generous regular setbacks and sidewalk easements, and space for garages. Houses reflect a variety of popular revival and modern architectural styles, including Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Minimal Traditional, and Ranch, as well as several unique architect-designed houses. The large majority of Idylwood’s houses reflect the historic significance of the district, are well-maintained and landscaped, and have a high degree of integrity. Because of deed restrictions that have been in place since 1928, alterations have been minimal and mostly restricted to the rear of the lots. Idylwood’s appearance was molded by its setting along Brays Bayou, which lent a gentle curving pattern to its streets and required elevated lots.
The Idylwood Historic District is composed of 657 individual resources, including 642 buildings, two sites, one system of streets and tile markers, four individual objects, and eight multi-component objects. Of the 642 buildings, 355 are dwellings and 287 are ancillary buildings including detached garages, garage apartments, sheds, and other outbuildings. The two sites are one park and one natural feature. The system of streets and tile markers includes the streets within the Idylwood neighborhood and 67 extant tile street markers. This system is classified herein as an object. The other four objects consist of three concrete street markers and one individual stone gate post. The eight multi-component objects consist of 16 paired stone entrance gate posts. There are 25 buildings that are obscured by vegetation, fences, or buildings and could not be assessed for their contribution to the historic district (see Methodology section). Of the visible 632 resources, 513 (81 percent) are contributing and 119 (19 percent) are noncontributing.
Located in the East End section of Houston, Harris County, Texas, the Idylwood Historic District is approximately 8 miles southeast of downtown. The neighborhood is roughly bounded by Lawndale Avenue on the north, Wayside Drive on the west, Sylvan Road on the south, and North MacGregor Way on the east. Idylwood is situated along Brays Bayou, and is north of Gulf Freeway (Interstate Highway [IH] 45). The neighborhood is exclusively residential in character. Land immediately adjacent to the neighborhood consists of the Houston Country Club (now the Wortham Golf Course) on the north, Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery on the east, Villa De Matel Convent on the west, and a mix of commercial and apartment buildings directly south fronting Gulf Freeway. The neighborhood is linked to downtown Houston via connections from Gulf Freeway, Lawndale Avenue, and Wayside Drive. Idylwood was and remains physically defined by the “buffer” areas created by the land adjoining it on the north, east, and west. While the character of the buildings outside of the neighborhood to the south along Gulf Freeway is not residential, the proximity to the freeway restricts land use and provides some degree of protection from further encroachment into Idylwood.
Idylwood is flat to gently rolling, reflecting the topography of Brays Bayou to the east. Lots contain mature trees both in the interior and along the street, as well as careful landscaping. Sloping grades of many lots provide flood protection during high water. Houses are set back from the curving streets at a distance of approximately 20 to 25 feet. Public sidewalks have been constructed along most of the streets, and steps extend from the sidewalk to the private walkways of houses that have elevated grades. Remnants of the original shell aggregate sidewalks remain. These sidewalks are separated from the street by a wide easement. Also remaining are the rustic stone gate posts at the entrance to the neighborhood from Wayside Drive and Lawndale Avenue, stone concrete obelisk-shaped street markers, and blue and white tile curb markers. Lots are roughly rectangular and are generally 50 feet wide and 115 feet deep, with the exception of lots fronting the contours of the 60-foot-wide streets. Lots along curving streets such as North MacGregor Way and Idylwood Drive, as well as the eastern portion of east-west streets, have been designed to hug the natural topography of the site. Detached garages are common and were part of the original design of most houses. These garages are placed at the rear of the lot, as stipulated by the neighborhood deed restrictions. Many houses built after World War II feature attached garages that front the public street. Idylwood Park (now Spurlock Park) occupies Block 10. Its steep grassy hills and large mature trees provide a quiet, shady respite for neighborhood residents.
The Idylwood Historic District was surveyed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For each historic property within the Idylwood Historic District, its location; style; character-defining features; alterations; date of construction, alterations, and additions; and information on significant owners or persons were recorded. Photographs of each property were taken. All survey work was performed from the public right-of-way as required by FEMA due to access and right of entry concerns, so in most instances, only the front and side façades of each property were accessible. Due to this limitation, 24 buildings obscured by vegetation, fences, or other buildings could not be assessed for their contribution to the historic district.
Application of the Four NRHP Criteria for Evaluation The Idylwood neighborhood was evaluated by applying the four National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) criteria for evaluation. The four criteria are defined in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Evaluation published under the authority of the National Historic Preservation Act. To be considered eligible for inclusion in the NRHP, a resource must meet at least one of the four criteria. The Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines state that:
The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
(a) that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of your history; or
(b) that are associated with the lives of persons significant in your past; or
(c) that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
(d) that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history [36 CFR 60.4].
Evaluation of the Seven Aspects of Integrity
The seven aspects of integrity defined by the National Park Service for use in assessing National Register eligibility were applied to the evaluation of the integrity of each resource in Idylwood, as well as the neighborhood as a whole. These seven aspects are integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
The level of integrity required for NRHP eligibility is different for each of the four NRHP Criteria of Significance. If a resource is being assessed for significance because of its association with an event (Criterion A), then integrity of setting, feeling, and association are most important. If being assessed for significance as an example of design (Criterion C), then integrity of location, design, materials, and workmanship are more important.
Integrity Requirements for Contributing and Noncontributing Resources
In the case of historic districts such as Idylwood, resources within the district boundaries are identified as either contributing or not contributing to the district. Contributing properties include buildings, structures, objects, or landscapes that add to the district’s overall historic character or are individually significant to the district. To be included in this category, a resource must typically be at least 50 years old and must be minimally altered. If the basic form of a resource remains intact and adds to the district’s overall historic character and feeling, the resource is classified as a contributing element.
Noncontributing resources are those that detract from the district’s historic character, lack significance, or have lost their integrity. They may be less than 50 years old or have little or no architectural or historic significance. They exhibit few or none of the characteristics that distinguish the historic building, and may have been severely altered so that little, if any,
of their original or historic fabric is recognizable.