Memorial midcentury gem gets a new lease on life after Hurricane Harvey

Hidden in a small cul-de-sac in Memorial Glen, the older home with a plain brick courtyard wall and heavy gate didn’t seem like much at first glance.

Heather Willard knew, though, from her days delivering a neighborhood newsletter, that the 1960s home that lay beyond the ivy-covered privacy wall was special, a midcentury gem with a little history of its own.

Hurricane Harvey had flooded much of Memorial Glen — and nearby Memorial Bend — and badly damaged this home, too. Owner Dr. Hugh “Chip” McAllister Jr. had cleaned up and gutted it but gave up the effort and put it on the market.

Willard and her husband, Eric, had lived in Memorial Glen since 2000, when they were newlyweds buying their first house. He worked in oil and gas, and she was a teacher; they moved to different houses in the area as their family grew.

After Harvey’s devastating flooding, many older homeowners decided to sell, prompting the transformation that Memorial Glen is going through now: smaller midcentury-style homes being demolished and replaced by much larger transitional-style homes.

McAllister’s house sat ready for a decision, but it would be a decision made by a buyer, not by McAllister, an Army cardiovascular pathologist who was recruited by Dr. Denton Cooley to the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, from which he retired in 2000.

Heather Willard was walking her dog, Scooby, in the spring of 2018 when she saw the for-sale sign.

“I already knew that this was a cool house,” said Heather, now a part-time preschool teacher at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church. “It doesn’t look like much from the street, but it is so nice. The front courtyard is almost like its own room.”

Beyond that brick privacy wall is a courtyard with a swimming pool and covered seating area with walls covered in slabs of green marble, a stylish effort back in 1965 when the home was built that still looks great today.

The Willards’ renovations resurfaced the pool and patio and cleaned up the whole space, but you can imagine mod cocktail parties back in the day — or the couple’s three children and their friends giggling and splashing in the pool now.

“My parents pushed back on it a little, saying, ‘Are you sure about this? You have such a great rec room …’” Heather recalled of their decision to buy McAllister’s home. “Our pool is the new hangout place. I’m glad we did it.”

When the Willards decided to buy the house, they brought in designer Casey Brand of Cassandra Brand Interiors for her help figuring out its future. The work took about a year and a half.

“Walking through the house the first time, I thought, ‘Gosh, the things we can do,’” Brand recalled. “We live not far away and on the bayou and we flooded, so this story was inspiring. Most people would have said, ‘We’re going to tear it down and build a big ol’ house.’ Instead, we celebrated its bones.”

The home’s courtyard greeting is special, but so is its backyard. A stone-covered patio leads down a steep ravine, one terraced layer at a time, to Rummel Creek. It’s a panoramic view lined with shady trees and, if you set a camera up, you’d likely capture an animal highway filled with raccoons, opposums and other animals that venture through.

Inside, Brand recommended a few structural changes for 21st-century life.

The main entrance had a pair of doors, and Heather Willard wanted to shift to a mostly glass door that would pivot instead of open from hinges. Inside, a small pass-through area was closed off to create a pantry for the home’s smallish kitchen.

One of Brand’s first recommendations was to create that pantry and further alter the kitchen-breakfast area, not to enlarge it but to make it a little smaller. The prior owners had the washer and dryer in the garage, and the Willards wanted to bring them inside and create a laundry room. There was plenty of space to do that and still have room for a breakfast table and chairs that can handle their family of five.

Big updates came in the kitchen, with an island painted peacock blue and finished with chartreuse upholstered barstools. Heather didn’t need a showplace kitchen, but she did want a little glam, and Brand delivered in a pair of glitzy chandeliers over the island.

The new laundry room doesn’t just have a washer and dryer, it also has stylish tile in orange and gray, one of several nods to the mod color palette of the 1960s.

Brand carved a powder bathroom out of part of the large Jack and Jill bathroom that sons Tyler, 15, and Beckett, 13, shared in a row of bedroom-bathroom suites on one end of the home.

The powder bath is a big nod to midcentury style, with patterned wallpaper in blues and greens. Anyone who steps inside is sure to feel like they’re in the fictional world of “The Jetsons.”

“I didn’t want the whole house to be wild, but you have to give a little shoutout to the ’60s,” Heather said.