River Oaks, a landmark neighborhood and one of Houston’s most exclusive residential areas, was developed in the early 1920’s by Mike and Will Hogg, sons of a former governor of Texas, and their associate, Hugh Potter. Their company, the River Oaks Corporation, started with an option to purchase 200 acres of land four miles west of Houston on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, surrounding the already flourishing River Oaks Country Club.
To say that the Hoggs were undertaking a highly speculative venture is an understatement. Houstonians regarded Country Club Estates, accessible only by a dirt road, as the hinterlands; sales were less than brisk. The Hoggs leaned heavily on the allure of the country club’s golf course to stimulate sales, and reduced lot sizes from their original range of 3.5- to 14.25-acres to smaller parcels. The strategy worked, and Country Club Estates began to sell.
The Hoggs retained Kansas City landscape architects Hare and Hare to provide a master plan for the new subdivision, which included home sites, a fifteen-acre campus for River Oaks Elementary School, two shopping centers, esplanades, and underground utility lines. Rigid building codes, deed restrictions and centralized community control assured exclusivity, and approval of house designs by an architectural panel was required.
River Oaks became famous for impressive homes designed by the country’s foremost residential architects, including John Staub, Birdsall P. Briscoe, Hiram Salisbury, and Howard Barnstone. Its most famous house, Bayou Bend, was a collaborative design by Staub and Briscoe for the Hoggs’ sister, Ima, an early and exuberant collector of American antiques. Her home is now administered by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and houses the Bayou Bend Collection, a premier resource for American decorative arts. A later Staub house, Rienzi, built for the late Harris and Carroll Masterson, is also administered by the MFAH and houses the Mastersons’ European decorative art collection.
Today, River Oaks encompasses approximately 1,100 acres. The subdivision’s borders are: Buffalo Bayou on the north, San Felipe or Westheimer Roads to the South, South Shepherd Drive to the east, and the Union Pacific Railroad track to the west. River Oaks Corporation has been replaced by the River Oaks Property Owners’ Association (ROPO) which maintains, from a central command center, a neighborhood security force with 24-hour patrols. ROPO also handles permanent maintenance, monitors deed restriction compliance, maintains the esplanades and parks, and contracts for trash collection services.
The median home in River Oaks has more than 3,600 square feet and an appraised value of over $1,000,000; property values range to greater than $20M.