Montrose is a neighborhood located in west-central Houston, Texas, United States. Montrose is a 7.5 square miles (19 km2) area roughly bounded by Interstate 69/U.S. Highway 59 to the south, Allen Parkway to the north, South Shepherd Drive to the west, and Taft to Fairview to Bagby to Highway 59 to Main to the east. The area is also referred to as Neartown or Neartown / Montrose.
Montrose is one of the major cultural areas in Houston notable for its hipster culture, art scene, food scene, and nightlife. In the 1980s, it was the center of the gay community. Established in 1911, the neighborhood is a demographically diverse area with renovated mansions, bungalows with wide porches, and cottages located along tree-lined boulevards. Montrose has been called the "Heart of Houston" and the "strangest neighborhood east of the Pecos". It was named one of the "ten great neighborhoods in America" in 2009.
Montrose, named after the town of Montrose, Angus, Scotland, was originally envisioned as a planned community and streetcar suburb dating back to the early 20th century before the development of River Oaks. Developer J. W. Link and his Houston Land Corporation envisioned a "great residential addition" according to the neighborhood's original sales brochure. Link's planning details for the area included four wide boulevards with the best curbing and extensive landscaping. Link built his own home in Montrose, known as the Link-Lee Mansion, which is now part of the University of St. Thomas campus. A streetcar, the Montrose Line, ran through the neighborhood. Link wrote: "Houston has to grow. Montrose is going to lead the procession." It did, and the procession eventually continued far beyond the neighborhood. Montrose was first platted in 1911.
In 1926, the Plaza Apartment Hotel, Houston’s first apartment hotel, opened on Montrose Boulevard. The hotel was home to many of Houston’s leaders, including Dr. Edgar Odell Lovett, the first president of Rice University. Modeled after the Ritz-Carlton in New York, the hotel cost over one million dollars to construct.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Montrose became a center for the burgeoning counterculture movement, with street musicians, alternative community centers and hippie communes, head shops and artisans’ studios proliferating. The corner of Montrose and Westheimer was the site of regular demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Street vendors sold Space City! and other underground newspapers throughout the area.
Thorne Dreyer and Al Reinert wrote in Texas Monthly in 1973 that the area "wound a tortuous course from Silk Stocking and Low Rent and back again." Gregory Curtis wrote in the same magazine in 1983 that Montrose was "the Montrose was at its peak as a community" but that it had declined since then.
KPFT – the fourth station in the progressive Pacifica Radio network of listener-sponsored stations – began broadcasting in 1970, and was joined on Lovett Blvd. by KLOL and KILT (Radio Montrose), pioneers in the underground FM format, creating a Montrose countercultural “radio row.” KPFT’s transmitter was twice bombed by a local Ku Klux Klan group, making it the only radio station in the history of the United States to be blown off the air.
The Bohemian flavor of the Montrose would spawn both the Westheimer Colony Art Festival in 1971 and the subsequent street fair in 1973, which would become known as the Westheimer Street Festival. Also starting around the 1970s the area became known as the center for the gay and lesbian community of Houston. The area sported an estimated 30-40 gay bars at the time, including the Bayou Landing, thought to be the largest gay dance hall between the coasts, and several gay activist groups, including the Gay Liberation Front.
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the Montrose clinic was opened by Rev. Ralph Lasher and it later, at a different location in Montrose, became a community health center.
Folk music clubs like Anderson Fair and Sand Mountain catered to the folk scene in the neighborhood and other venues featured psychedelic rock and blues. Later, punk and new wave clubs like The Paradise Rock Island, the Omni, and Numbers opened in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Montrose has been "a haven for Prohibition honkey-tonks, antique stores, wealthy socialites, motorcycle gangs, gays, harmless eccentrics and a broad array of exiles, writers, artists and musicians." It has been called "a uniquely Houston kind of Bohemia, a mad mix made possible by the city's no-holds-barred, laissez faire form of growth."
In 1991 Paul Broussard was murdered in the Montrose nightclub area. University of Houston professor Maria Gonzalez stated that "With this murder people said, 'Enough is enough.' A whole new relationship developed between the gay community and the police department."
Since the 1990s, Montrose has become increasingly gentrified with a trend towards remodeled and new homes, higher rents, upmarket boutiques and restaurants. In 1997 Katherine Feser of the Houston Chronicle stated that "Montrose is not for starving artists anymore".