2214 Kane Street (1883–93) / photo by Shoot2Sell
Preserving Black historical landmarks in the United States is crucial but has its share of challenges. Of the 95,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, only 2% focus on the experiences of Black people, according to the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
History isn’t only told through a written or oral record; property, landmarks and buildings play a critical role in sustaining our collective culture. So as our neighborhoods endure the effects of urban development and gentrification, the erasure of our history follows, and future generations are left with nothing to look back on.
Preservation Houston, the only city-wide non-profit focused on preserving landmarks in the Houston area, recently named Kevan and Ayesha Shelton, owners of Park Street Home developments, as the first African-American co-chairs for the organization’s Good Brick Tour.
The Sheltons spoke with the Defender about their new role and the importance of protecting the community’s architectural and cultural heritage.
Defender: Talk about Park Street Homes and its impact on Houston’s underserved communities.
Kevan Shelton: Park Street Homes came out of our desire to live in an underserved community where I’m from. I was born and raised in South Houston, graduated from Jack Yates High School, fourth generation, graduated from the University of Houston, and I’ve always wanted to live in the neighborhood where my family is from.
When we were looking for homes for our family, there were no new construction homes where we wanted to live. And as a builder by trade, I took the initiative to say, “If there’s nothing here, maybe we can build it.” And my wife agreed. She not only surrounded us with the resources but started the company and the initiative for us to do that. Seeing people from the community build in the community is incredibly powerful. It’s a passion project for us as much as it is a business.
Defender: Do you see a struggle to preserve Black landmarks and other historical monuments?
Ayesha: Organizations like Preservation Houston are vital in ensuring that historical landmarks in all communities are preserved. It’s particularly difficult in the African American community because we lack the resources to restore these homes and the knowledge about making them historical landmarks. One valuable thing Preservation Houston does is guide people through that process.
Kevan: As a community, our buying power is not traditionally spent on preserving. It’s trying to acquire sustainable housing where we are. Preservation Houston is working within the community to keep what we have. When our young kids grow up in urban buildings hundreds of years old, and they have no basis for the impact of that structure, that is a problem.
DN Online: Learn about the Black historical landmarks showcased this year
Defender: You both were named the first Black co-chairs for the Good Brick Tour by Preservation Houston. What is the Good Brick Tour?
Kevan Shelton: Good Brick Tour is an annual tour that Preservation Houston hosts to highlight the structures that have been honored with a Good Brick Award. They have been doing this since the ’70s. What it does is every year, they give out awards for their best efforts in maintaining or restoring historic structures in our city. People in the community wanted to see these buildings, and that’s the purpose of the Good Brick Tour. You can walk through a collection of houses and commercial structures highlighted in the Good Brick Awards, giving you access to these historic hallowed halls.
Defender: What does your role as co-chairs entail?
Kevan: Our responsibility isn’t only bringing awareness to Preservation Houston and the efforts made across the city; it’s also highlighting the impact it’s had on our community and communities of color.
Ayesha: As co-chairs, our primary role is to raise funds for the organization’s preservation. It also brings awareness to the African American community and the protection of historical landmarks. The significance for us specifically is to get this information to a demographic that traditionally may not be connected to the preservation of these landmarks.
Defender: What historic Black landmarks will be highlighted this year?
Kevan: Five homes are being highlighted on tour this year. We’re highlighting the African American structures that have previously won the Good Brick Awards. So, the Deluxe Theatre in Fifth Ward, Project Row Houses, Emancipation Park and the Cullen Clinic, for example.
Ayesha: We will highlight (in addition) two Sixth Ward homes, one First Ward Home, Montrose, and Fifth Ward during the opening reception of the Good Brick Awards.
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