10 Best Action Figures Based on Houstonians

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Ardfern via Wikipedia
I'm an action figure collector from way back in the day. One wall of my room was totally dedicated to various mint-in-box plastic heroes and villains hung from pushpins. It's not the sort of thing I have the cash for these days, but I recently found out that if you wanted to celebrate Houston purely based on the action figures of some of our residents you can totally do so!

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The Changing Face of Houston - River Oaks

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Photo by Jackson Tyler
An old River Oaks mansion on Kirby Drive.

When I first considered covering River Oaks for this series, I figured that I would eventually almost have to, but was unsure how to present it. After all, River Oaks is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States, much less Houston. How many people can truly relate to its story?

But, like lots of the Houston neighborhoods I have researched, the story of River Oaks is not only an interesting one, but is also intertwined with the rest of this city, and plays an important part in how Houston has changed over the many decades of its existence.

River Oaks is Houston's first master planned community, and began its existence in the early 1920s when two sons of former Texas Governor Jim Hogg and an attorney partner collaborated on a real estate deal. The attorney, Hugh Potter, had obtained the option to buy land around the River Oaks Country Club, and brothers William and Michael Hogg established and promoted the sale of lots in the Country Club Estates subdivision over the next few years. The development plan encompassed every detail it could to establish River Oaks as a well-integrated community. Deed restrictions dictated that only specific architectural styles were allowed, and that homes had to be valued at $7,000 or more - a significant amount of money in the 1920s. Over the next decade and a half, River Oaks got widespread national attention for its design and planning standards, and that high bar of excellence led to the neighborhood becoming the wealthiest in the Houston area during the '20s.

In 1927, the City of Houston annexed River Oaks, which until that point was technically outside of town, and the annexation added 3,465 acres to Houston's city limits.

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10 Best Houston YouTube Videos That Went Viral

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YouTube can be the window to a city's soul. What content our residents (and in some cases elected officials) generate that spreads out to the rest of the world can define who we are in their eyes. Here are ten videos that show us at our best and at our worst that truly broke out and became viral sensations.

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The Changing Face of Houston - Meyerland

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Photo by Hequals2henry

In the postwar years of the early '50s, Houston was experiencing enormous population growth and a surge in development. Americans were in love with their cars, and new subdivisions and planned communities were being constructed further and further away from the city's downtown and the neighborhoods immediately surrounding it. It was during that time period that George Meyer decided to develop 1,200 of the 6,000 acres of rice fields, which his family had owned for decades, into the Meyerland neighborhood. In 1955, the first section of the new subdivision on the southwest side of Houston became available, celebrated by a ribbon cutting ceremony presided over by then-Vice President Richard Nixon. The single family homes in Meyerland were popular, and there was no shortage of people interested in moving into the new development.

A couple of years later, in 1957, Meyerland Plaza Shopping Center opened in a gala event, themed as an "Around the Shopping World in 80 Acres." While not exactly an amazing sounding event name, it was still very successful at introducing the new multi-store shopping center to Houstonians who were eager to experience it for themselves.

Meyerland promised, and delivered on, post war suburban dreams of quiet neighborhoods, with nice homes that were located just close enough to Houston's central areas for convenient commutes to work, but far enough away from the growing perception of inner city noise and dangers.

In the '50s, the neighborhoods on Houston's southwest side began to see large numbers of Jewish people moving in. Some relocated from early Houston Jewish enclaves such as Riverside Terrace, while others were newcomers to the Houston area. As a result of that migration, Meyerland became a central hub of Jewish life in the Bayou City, with several synagogues being established, along with other institutions serving Houston's Jewish community.

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10 Strangest Houston Lawsuits

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Bobjgalindo via Wikipedia
If you've been following the news lately you'll know that the City of Houston and several churches are having a gay old time with a lawsuit revolving around a group of pastors who were unable to muster enough signatures to get the HERO initiative on this year's electoral ballot. Hard as it may be to believe, this isn't even in the top ten of the weirdest legal shenanigans that have gone on here in Houston. Let's prove it.

Man Sues for Custody After Sperm Theft
In 2006 Joseph Pressil had moved to Houston ans was living the good life as a telecommunications manager with a house and an exotic dancer girlfriend here in Houston. Things turned sour and Pressil moved back to New York after they broke up, but three moths later his girlfriend announced she was pregnant with twins. A paternity test confirmed Pressil as the father, and once the children were born he paid $800 in child support a month to his ex, who had custody.

Then, he received a receipt in the mail from Omni-Med Laboratory regarding his frozen sperm. The problem was, Pressil said he had never frozen his sperm. According to his lawsuit, his girlfriend had apparently been collecting his sperm from condoms to deposit in the Advanced Fertility Center of Texas and had undergone in vitro fertilization there without Pressil's knowledge. The clinic said they had all the proper paperwork including signed consent from him, but Pressil said his signature had been forged by his ex for the purpose of impregnating herself. As a result of her alleged duplicity, he sued for full custody of the twins.


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Want Your Face on the Front Page of the Houston Press?

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Photo by Groovehouse
The ever changing faces of Houston
We've been running a series of online stories about Houston and how its different neighborhoods and people have developed over the years.

Writer Chris Lane is ready to pull his Changing Face of Houston series together for a cover story, and we thought there's no better way to show this off than to create a human outline and fill it in with Houstonians' faces.

Here's all you need to provide us with:

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Try for a closeup like this
-bright, in focus "mugshot/profile pic" from chest up.
-no larger than 400px square at 200dpi
-less than 1MB jpeg format
-color preferred

and email it to changinghouston@houstonpress.com.


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The Changing Face of Houston - Kingwood

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Photo by Patrick Feller
Kingwood Town Center is but one location that residents can enjoy.

Kingwood is located about 30 minutes northeast of Houston's central core, and has long had its own identity as a "Livable Forest" in contrast to the more typically urban landscape that defines most of Houston. Kingwood is technically part of Houston, but its beginning as a separate community is very evident to anyone driving through the heavily wooded area today.

Houston experienced an enormous growth spurt that began after World War II, resulting in many new developments that expanded ever further outside of the big city. Suburban living was in full swing and very popular with people who were lured by the promise of newer and safer neighborhoods that were outside of town but close enough to commute in for work or other necessary activities in Houston. As weird as it seems in hindsight now that the Inner Loop area is becoming ever more expensive, in the decades following the war, downtown and many of its surrounding neighborhoods were considered run-down and dangerous, and people who had the option were increasingly looking further out, to the edges of town, toward modern, master-planned communities such as Sharpstown. By the late '60s, there were even newer subdivisions being developed further out.

Originally, the land where Kingwood is located was a heavily wooded area owned by the Foster Lumber Company. The Foster family held onto that land from the late 1880s until they sold it to a joint venture consisting of the Friendswood Development Company and King Ranch, who intended on developing it into a unique kind of wooded neighborhood outside of Houston. The plan for Kingwood utilized the forested land in ways that would allow its residents to enjoy the natural amenities of the area, and included many riding and hiking trails to go along with the other normal features of a planned community, such as retail space, schools and churches.

Kingwood was founded in 1970, its name formed from the "King" Ranch and Friends"Wood" Partnership, and its first homes were being sold the following year. It is divided into villages, which are individual neighborhoods within the overall community, and homes are still being constructed in some of the newer ones.

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10 Places to Go in Houston Now that the Summer Is Over

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Photo courtesy Hermann Park
I don't know about you, but I treat summer in this city like our ancestors treated winter. I hide in the cave and emerge blinking once the hateful Rage-Sun has finally had a stake driven through its fiery heart. You can actually go outside now without taking a change of shirt to wring your precious moisture from. The question is, where to go?

Hermann Park
I recently went to Boo Zoo, and the Houston Zoo was so crowded I ended up parking at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and legging it to the zoo. Later, when my wife and daughter were tired from visiting the animals I hiked back alone to get the car and save them the trip as they perused the gift shop.

I've lived in Houston all my life and never thought of Hermann Park as any place other than the green area near the zoo, but taking stroll through a good chunk of it in the cooler air at leisure gave me a much greater appreciation for just how beautiful it is and how pleasant it can be to just wander. Pack a picnic lunch some day and just explore. It's worth it, and once the new garden project is finished it's going to be even better.


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The Changing Face of Houston - Gulfton

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Photo by Patrick Feller
Gulfton has an eclectic mix of people and shops contributing to its unique character.

Just outside the 610 Loop on the southwest side of town lies the Gulfton area, Houston's most densely populated neighborhood. The community has changed dramatically over its history, originally being a rural area belonging to Westmoreland Farms before the 1950s. During that decade, the Shenandoah subdivision was constructed southeast of what is now Highway 59, and just outside of the present day 610 Loop. The neighborhood of postwar ranch style homes took up sixteen blocks, next to land that would soon be developed differently.

In the 1960s, apartment complexes began to spring up in the area adjacent to Shenandoah, and that development trend increased a great deal during the next decade, as the 1970s saw Houston's economy prospering under the huge oil boom of the time. Huge numbers of young, mostly white workers from other parts of the United States began to flock to Houston for job opportunities, and so did many others from countries all over the world.

Gulfton-area apartment complexes were constructed as quickly as possible to accommodate the influx of those new, mostly younger and single Houstonians. They were, for the most part, not well planned for long term sustainability or integration into a functional community, but instead were designed and marketed to appeal to the whims of those younger residents. So, instead of building a community of well built apartments with nearby neighborhood features catering to residents planning on living there for many years, developers created a sort of tacky paradise for young people riding an energy industry boom. So shortsighted was their plan, developers didn't even bother to build sidewalks in most of the area, perhaps never foreseeing a scenario where anyone living in one of their apartments might need or want to walk anywhere else in the neighborhood.

Those "Luxury" apartment complexes were massive in some cases, with one famously advertising 17 swimming pools and 17 hot tubs, and were promoted as sexy places to live a party lifestyle. They had cheesy "faux classy" sounding names like Villa Royale, Napoleon Square, and Chateaux Carmel, that sounded like someone took a French word and then smushed it together with something incongruous, but they were appealing to many young renters in Houston's swinging, oil boom '70s. At least one even had an onsite disco.

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Are Houston and San Francisco Competing Against Each Other?

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Photo by Katie Haugland
Is Houston the nation's next emerging super city?

Recently, Joel Kotkin, an urban studies professor at Chapman University in California, stirred up some controversy by contending that either San Francisco or Houston would be in the running to push out New York as America's pre-eminent city within a few years. Professor Kotkin went so far as to opine that Houston has an edge over San Francisco in this battle for future city dominance.

Predictably, people from San Francisco were furious at the suggestion that Houston might in some way be equal to the City by the Bay, much less superior. Online comments at SfGate likened Houston to a dog's butt, the inside of a dog's mouth (showing a curious fascination with dog anatomy), and essentially slagged our fair city as being Hell on Earth. In fact, one comment actually said that Hell was better. Sigh.

Kotkin's theory rests on a few key advantages he sees Houston possessing, and they're not particularly surprising. Houston has a lively economy, an enormous energy industry, and a relatively inexpensive cost of living for its residents. It also has a huge pool of engineers because of the petrochemical industry that's so entrenched in the area.

San Francisco gets points for having a large concentration of technology companies, but loses some of its edge because it is an expensive city to live in, according to Kotkin.

One thing strikes me about these types of comparisons. It's really difficult to directly compare cities as different as Houston, San Francisco and New York. All three are magnificent in their own way, but it has really just been recently that Houston has begun to get the credit it deserves as a world-class city, whereas San Francisco and especially New York have long taken their status as top American cities for granted. The fact that people are beginning to add Houston to that list seems to threaten some people, which I find sad.

Kotkin claims that Houston is not a particularly pretty city, and the weather can be harsh. I disagree with his first point, and agree with the second -- "beauty" is a subjective call; humidity and heat are less so.

Houston is thriving on many fronts, with the nation's fastest-growing population, while San Francisco's has stayed pretty much the same, partially due to prohibitively high real estate prices.

And Houston has many factors that do seem to indicate that it is poised to rapidly become one of the country's most important cities over the next few decades.

First, there's the local economy, which is barreling along quite nicely. Houston is leading the nation in job creation and energy sector jobs, and it's also second to New York City in the number of Fortune 500 companies. Houston has an enormous amount of international trade, which further boosts our economy, and has a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the U.S. Add those things to the fact that the cost of living in H-Town is relatively low, and it's easy to see why so many people decide to settle here despite that famous heat and humidity.


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