The ultimate planned community before the phrase was even coined, River Oaks was the brainchild of Hogg brothers William and Michael, who established it in the 1920s. Lots in the new community went for about $2,000 each. Oh, to have a time machine.
Today, this tony area between downtown and Uptown has grown to more than 1,000 acres. And with housing values that start at $1 million, it is one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the U.S
“Although River Oaks is home to some of Houston’s most wealthy residents, it is a great mix of old and new,” said realtor Becky Davis. “There is a vibrancy to it. The area is definitely not stuffy.”
The 2000 census specified an equal split between owners and renters, but it is the magnificent homes that give the area its one-of-a-kind character. The shopping and restaurants also make it a draw for those far outside the zip code.
Not just a stop on the Christmas lights circuit, the River Oaks neighborhood is worth a drive anytime. Architectural historian Stephen Fox lists nearly 60 homes and buildings of architectural importance in the latest edition of the AIA Architecture Guide. One area home open to the public is Rienzi (1406 Kirby Drive), which was left to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) by philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, along with their impressive collection of 18th century European art. You can stroll the grounds without appointment and docent tours of the house are offered weekly.
The MFAH also maintains Ima Hogg’s Latin Colonial home, now the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens (6003 Memorial Drive). The grounds give backyard oasis a whole new meaning while the comprehensive collection of American decorative art and paintings are a tactile history lesson.
History buffs should make time for a trip to College Memorial Park (3600 W Dallas Ave.), one of Houston’s three remaining African-American cemeteries. In 2010, the College Park Cemetery Association became a 501c (3) and has been in charge of the restoration and maintenance of the site.
Lastly, you probably won’t be able to hitch a ride to the ball at River Oaks Park (3600 Locke Lane), aka Pumpkin Park, but it does feature its own work of art: an iron replica of Cinderella’s carriage.
The sign at Brenner’s Steakhouse on the Bayou (1 Birdsall St.) says it has been around since 1936, but it has occupied its current spot since 2007. Come for the lobster bisque and whole stuffed quail but stay for the bucolic surroundings. There are plenty of decks to take advantage of the bayou view.
Elouise Jones may have started delivery of brown sack lunches in the neighborhood back in 1973, but is now hailed as the head of Ouisie’s Table (3939 San Felipe St.), showcasing her family’s southern fare for the special occasions of others. Nearby, husband-and-wife chef team Dustin and Addie Teague have Relish Restaurant & Bar (2810 Westheimer) features contemporary classic American comfort food with French and Italian influences. For something even more French, try the steak frites, roasted hen, or trout amandine at Brasserie 19 (1919 W Gray St.)
There is not a miss on the menu at the Epicure Café (2005 W. Gray St.) and that’s especially true for the homemade ice-creams and pastries. An unassuming storefront should not discourage a visit to the Hot Bagel Shop (2015 S. Shepherd Drive, #900), where the jalapeno cream cheese will really put a skip in your step. River Oaks Donuts (3601 Westheimer) specializes in that circle of sugary goodness, but save room for a kolache, too.
What is the Union Jack doing on Shepherd Drive? Beckoning expats and anglophiles to the Red Lion Pub (2316 S Shepherd Drive) for a pint and some fish and chips.
Looking for the perfect cocktail ring? Odds are it is waiting for you at À bientôt (2501 River Oaks Blvd.) among the expansive jewelry selection along with shoes, bags, and clothing. If the ring you’re after is of the engagement variety, stop in at Reiner’s Fine Jewelry (2210 Westheimer), which started in 1918 in New Orleans, but has been in Houston for more than 75 years. Gemologist Steven Reiner says the halo design is popular, but he will do whatever design the customer wants.
A piano is a bigger investment, but those in the market should check out Steinway Piano Gallery of Houston (2001 W. Gray St.), where prices range from $5,000 to $150,000.
Find out what the interior designers already know by visiting Carol Piper Rugs (1809 W. Gray St.), where you can pick up a high-end antique carpet or a new rug, made custom if you like. At Area (3735 Westheimer), the customer service is a standout as is the eclectic mix of home furnishings.
If it is you who needs refurbishment, head no further than Anne Mashburn/Sid Mashburn (2515 River Oaks Blvd.), where the apparel and accessories are just as swanky as the zip code. Hemline (2047 W Gray St.) gets high marks for going the extra mile to make sure that customers find the fashion they need.
Don’t forget to throw your dog a proverbial bone too. At Funny Fur (3268 Westheimer) you can find apparel for your canine as well as accessories toys and food.