Small Town in a Big City


Right smack in the middle of Houston is a small town, West University Place, two square miles, 16,000 residents.  West U, as it is commonly known, started to develop in the early 1900’s.  Though it is only about 5 miles from downtown Houston, at that time it was largely prairie, and Houston was very slow to get city services to the area.  In response, some very forward thinking folks decided to incorporate, thus creating a new city with its own government, services and amenities.

The city’s name is easily explained as it’s a couple of miles west of Rice University, one of the country’s premier universities, and many of the early residents were employed there.

West U was a working man’s community zoned to be single family residential.  From the outset, strict zoning ordinances  limiting business development to the city center and the perimeter were in place. This was quite a contrast to Houston which to this day pays a price for lax zoning restrictions.

Most lots in West U were small, 50 x 100, with a smattering of plots twice that size. Early homes were bungalows

or modest two story structures.

One school opened in the neighborhood, and today West U Elementary is one of the state’s shining stars.

There was a neighborhood grocery that was a gathering place for moms as well as a favorite after school stopping place for kids.  It is gone now, replaced by a trendy and popular restaurant, however, the owner was sensitive enough to keep the original sign atop the building, so much a part of the history of West U.

Over the years Houston grew, people had to live farther from the center and suddenly West U, because of its convenient location, took on new life .  Young people moved in, first remodeling homes and then, wanting amenities of newer ones, tearing down the old and rebuilding.  Despite the improvements, much of the city’s history was lost as has happened in much of Houston.

 Initially, new houses were Georgian style brick.

Then came more diverse materials and touches of architectural interest.

The  look was typically traditional, but here and there someone dared to be different.

The houses grew larger, so big on the small lots that a size restriction had to be imposed.

Youth sports organizations were created, parks got facelifts, young parents poured energy into the school, all of which changed West U into an energetic family community.  As things improved, the city began getting national attention and over the years it has been named consistently as a most desirable small town in which to live.  You can imagine what that kind of publicity has done to real estate value!

So, why am I telling you about this small town surrounded by a big city?  It is where I have lived, reluctantly at first because it was old and most of our friends were in new developments, for most of my adult life.  It is where our kids grew up and where most of our long time friends still live.  It is where I have volunteered and given much energy, even serving four terms on City Council.  (Now, that is fodder for another story.)  Very simply, it is home, it has a  feeling of community that is often missing in urban areas and it is what makes living in Houston a pleasure.

So, what do you love about where you call home?

i love your thoughts, so jump right in and share yours

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17 thoughts on “Small Town in a Big City

  1. As one who has lived in an original West U bungalow since 1979, I agree that it is wonderful neighborhood in which to raise children. Our block was the last virgin block in West University Place. It was a sad day indeed when the first house (a rental with no for sale sign) was torn down.

  2. Well, madam Mayor..I loved your story..By reading through the story, I could tell that you loved that town so much and then you revealed you lived there, and then someone “snitched” on you and said you were actually mayor..Kudos to you for getting involved in your community. It certainly has it’s ups and downs…

    I love my little community within a community. Our area is comprised of a little over 500 homes and we are very close!..We have every club imaginable and we care for one another..We have a Caring Committee who makes certain we know about our neighbors who need meals, or just a friendly visit and a card..Book club, Bible studies, Bunco, Bridge, Garden Club, Crafty Chicks, and the list goes on. I too have been very involved..was Social Chair for a few years and my hubby, the POA President..We love our community…I am hoping at one point I write something about it too..We are a diverse golf community of retired, empty nesters and young families..the mix makes it wonderful….

    Thank you for presenting your beautiful little town..I love Houston..I love Texas for that matter!

  3. Such a lovely story. I grew up in a small southern town and it was not surrounded by a big city but had all the elements you speak about. I would not trade my childhood experiences for anything.

  4. Linda..forgot to tell you..my one on one class is with Wolf/Ritz camera on my specific camera..the other classes they offer are just for general photography..which I will take next..but really need someone who could sit with me and show me all workings of my camera…I am also taking one on one with Apple in the very near future..

  5. MAYOR?!??!!! Uh oh…I’d better stop all the randy politician jokes! 🙂 What a beautiful place to live! I love small towns that are away from the intense hustle bustle but close enough in to take advantage of the big city amenities. That’s our situation. We live in a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., that has excellent schools, wonderfuly maintained parks and recreation facilities, active HOAs, a thriving downtown (where cars still park on the diagonal) and good shopping opportunities. If we want bigger, better shopping, we just hop on the highway headed north or east or west, and we’re there in 20 minutes. I love it! Have a wonderful day, Your Honor!

  6. In addition to serving as mayor and city councilwoman, Linda and Phil also challenged us with a huge matching grant for our parks. As Chair of the Friends of WU Parks for over a decade, we rose to that challenge and because of their genrousity and leadership, our parks have florished and we have a brand new Rec Center and pool/community center + renovations across town in other city buildings and all our parks! Linda and Phil also worked hard in our youth sports programs when their girls were young and our area schools. Our kids are 5th generation WU residents as my great grandparents wisely moved to the neighborhood way back when then my grandparents raised my mom here then as a child, we lived here and as soon as I got out of college and got married, we moved back and built two of those “new” homes and are raising Evan and Kylie here. Our family has owned homes of all those sizes in this community (just like those photos) and this is truly HOME because of people like Linda and Phil who are not only community leaders but also mentors and friends! The Lewis’ even drove from their home in Maine to Bangor to cheer on the West U Senior baseball team when they played in (and won) the 2009 World Series. Having them in the cheering section was quite a treat! Today, Linda & Phil continue to support our community by annually attending Park Lovers’ Ball (something they have been doing since the first ball a couple of decades ago!) and giving of their time, talent, enegy, and resources to make sure that West U stays the HOMETOWN we all know and love!

  7. That’s such a lovely story Lulu. I grew up a city girl, albeit a city girl in a very small city – Singapore – and I grew up in a’eighbourhood where we knew all our neighbours and our front door was never looked as all of my brothers’ friends and mine just wandered in and out of everyone else’s houses. That’s why I had to move out of London into the countryside. Where I live now feels more like how I grew up as I know my neighbours again and have a safe haven away from the hustle and bustle of living and working in London. Thanks for reminding me of my special places!

    • Funny how things change when you are away from the city. While it is true for me here, it’s even more so when I am in Maine which makes me wonder if it doesn’t give me a false sense of security.

  8. West U is best place in in the entire city of Houston. Maybe even one of the best places in the entire country! It’s truly amazing to have a small town feel in the heart of the nation’s 4th largest city! I’m so glad you and Dad decided to do the “not so hip” thing of moving into West U. Growing up here will always be a special part of my life story. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to get my family started in this amazing place! You know how I love carrying on traditions! XO!

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