Wichita St. Mystery Mansion
East of Highway 288 and south of Downtown is a neighborhood full of old mansions. Riverside Terrace, formerly a Jewish version of the historic 3rd Ward district, is now made up of predominantly African-American residents. Many of the houses in the neighborhood are mysteriously interesting and look as if they are holdovers from another time. Notable among these fascinating residences is the “Wichita St. Mystery Mansion.”
Complete with turrets and gables, this unoccupied home is the DIY dream of the late Charles Fondow. Fondow was a retired VA nurse, who, unfortunately, passed away in 2011, leaving many of the projects around the place unfinished. Fondow spent 30 years renovating the old duplex to his liking, adding architectural features that inspired him during his many travels.
The five-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom, 4,861-square-foot home was originally built in the 1930s and was an orphanage for a period of time. Fondow purchased the property in 1981 for only $35,000. In February 2014, the home was put up for sale for $150,000, but word on the street is that the property sold in April for another $100,000 more. If that’s true, that’s pretty incredible, since many have warned that the repairs necessary to make the house livable will cost quite a bit.
It costs nothing to drive by and look at, however, and driving by, one can’t help but get caught up in the vision, determination and grit that it must have taken for Fondow to see his vision come to life.
The DIY nature of the house is reminiscent of many other folk art pieces around Houston such as The Orange Show and the Beer Can House. And although it is not considered a cultural icon, it represents an idea very central to being a Houstonian: if you want it, build it and never stop building.
2309 Wichita, Houston 77004
Editor’s Note: This is located in the historic 3rd Ward district, not River Oaks.