Preserving History One Brick at a Time with Boulevard Realty
In the heart of Houston, Texas sits one of the most powerful historic sites in the United States – Freedmen’s Town.
Founded in the late 1800s, this small but significant town is where newly freed African Americans created their next chapter from the ground up. Because the area was racially segregated, residents did everything from building every structure to creating a place for the first Black doctors and lawyers in the area.
Every detail in Freedmen’s Town holds a story, like the brick roads adorned with symbols representing the original residents’ heritage. Freedmen’s Town residents created their own sanctuary, a town celebrating their freedom and community, and it’s that spirit that motivates Boulevard Realty to fight for Freedmen’s Town today.
Zion Escobar (Freedmen's Town Conservancy, Executive Director), Bill Baldwin (Boulevard Realty, Broker/Owner), Ime Udoka (Houston Rockets, Head Coach), Rafael Stone (Houston Rockets, General Manager), Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets, Power Forward), Kevin Porter Jr. (Houston Rockets, Point Guard/Shooting Guard).
“In the 1980s, there were about 500 original structures in Freedmen’s Town, but today there are less than 50,” said Bill Baldwin, Broker and Owner of Boulevard Realty. “We are trying to save every structure we can to preserve the history and cultivate more homeownership opportunities here.”
Baldwin serves on the Board of the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving Freedmen’s Town for the benefit of future generations.
The complex process of saving and restoring historic structures demands serious time and money. As developers look for new opportunities to build in Houston, they often set their sights on locations in Freedmen’s Town. The Conservancy has tirelessly partnered with the city and additional organizations to either repurchase properties from developers or avert demolition by educating developers on the historical significance of the structures.
Baldwin and the Conservancy are currently focused on one of the original structures in Freedmen’s Town, 1609 Saulnier. The home is undergoing restoration and renovation and will be donated to Houston Community Land Trust (HCLT) so an individual eligible for affordable housing can purchase the house through an HCLT program. Those interested in supporting this project can do so via The Allies of Freedmen's Town.
“Within a one-and-a-half mile radius of Freedmen’s Town, there are 100,000 apartments available for rent that are the same size as 1609 Saulnier with an average rent of $1,500 per month,” said Baldwin. “The person who purchases this home will end up with a mortgage payment of around $800. Because of the land’s status, the homeowner won’t have to pay property taxes either. So we’re striving to create an opportunity for homeownership and financial stability in this area.”
1609 Saulnier is a model for what the Conservancy hopes to accomplish in the future, and they continue to raise funds to power their efforts. With so many interconnected nuances associated with the project — construction, preservation, land development, regulations, property plat considerations — Baldwin and his team, along with many others, donate countless hours in support of this mission.
“Our first goal is always to save the structure, then restore it as much as possible,” explained Baldwin. “Then we work to acquire a protected landmark designation through the city and ultimately put the property back into the community as affordable housing. It’s really a multi-pronged strategy designed to preserve history and address gentrification.”
The Conservancy is also working to have the area designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, which would be a major accomplishment. “When you look at other UNESCO World Heritage Sites and see how they’ve reclaimed history, it's amazing,” said Baldwin. “We’re ambitious and lofty, but it can be done.”
In addition to the Boulevard Realty team, many corporate sponsors and even professional sports teams are joining the cause. The Houston Rockets recently held a day of service to support Freedmen’s Town and promote education about the area’s vital importance.
Whether it's the preservation of a singular brick or an entire structure, the efforts to restore and rejuvenate Freedmen’s Town are a testament to its historical and cultural significance. By ensuring it is preserved by the city of Houston in perpetuity, the community can ensure that the lives, stories, and legacy embedded in Freedmen’s Town exist in perpetuity as well.