The Houston Chronicle

Pricey Houston Neighborhood Prohibits Elaborate Photo Shoots

Avynn Ramos stood by her mother's car on Parkway Drive in Broadacres, the disappointment written all over her face. She'd been up since 6:15 a.m. Saturday getting false eyelashes applied and her hair and makeup done for the quinceañera photos she hoped would be taken on a sun-dappled esplanade.

But when her mother, Carliss Ramos, and photographer, Oscar Herrera, saw signs the Broadacres Homeowners Association recently posted prohibiting photos, they turned back.

"One side of me wants to say, `Let's just hurry and shoot the picture real quick,' but we want to be respectful," Carliss Ramos said of the signs that read: "Welcome to Broadacres; NO photo shoots." [[463444753,R,300,341]]

On Thursday, 11 signs went up on the esplanades along North, South and West boulevards in this historic neighborhood of million-dollar homes that dates back to the early 1920s.

Cece Fowler, president of the HOA, told the Houston Chronicle that residents posted the signs in frustration. The neighborhood, known as one of Houston's most beautiful places for photographs because of its well-tended esplanades and decades-old canopy of live oaks, has been inundated with photo shoots -- up to 40 to 50 a week, she said.

Online lists of photogenic sites often include Broadacres, a neighborhood of just 26 homes along two blocks of North and South boulevards near the Museum District. Other places, such as Rice University and the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, require permits and fees and have a list of rules.

Broadacres requires none, mostly because they're homeowners with busy lives like everyone else. There's no storefront for signing up, no means of collecting money and no one to moderate the traffic that goes on seven days a week.

"It has gotten completely out of hand," Fowler said. "If somebody wants to take a snapshot with their kid, that's fine, but we get big wedding parties coming in."

On any given day, it's not unusual to see brides or wedding parties, quinceañera celebrations or graduation photo shoots.

Fowler said some have brought in sofas and bookcases and one group drove a Jeep onto the esplanade, damaging the grass, brick sidewalk and sprinkler system. They throw confetti onto the ground and release Mylar balloons into the trees. And all bring photography equipment and crews that hang around for hours.

Some photographers have set up tables with refreshments, cycling clients in over a period of a couple of hours or more, she said. Along the way, families and children make their way into residents' yards, arguing with them if they're asked to leave.

"I would say it started getting bad about three years ago," Fowler said. "We liked that people loved our neighborhood, but when all the professional photographers started coming in, it just got nuts."

Fowler said that some people have knocked on her door to ask if they can take pictures in her yard and she's let them.

"It's all wonderful in moderation. But there's no way to moderate it without hiring a full-time security person, and we can't afford to do that. We're only 26 homes," she said.

The neighbors discussed options, but gating the area or adding speed bumps were both ruled out, she said.

Fowler said the esplanades throughout the neighborhood as well as tennis courts and green space along Parkway Drive are owned by the neighborhood association.

City officials, however, say the esplanades are city-owned, but noted that they are part of the city's Adopt-An-Esplanade program. Executive public information officer Alanna Reed didn't have access to details of that agreement with Broadacres.

If the esplanades are in the city right-of-way, the HOA would not have authority to prohibit photography or regulate traffic there, Reed said.

Meanwhile, Fowler said that she and her board are conducting a title search to prove their ownership. She said the neighborhood has maintained and financed the esplanades and green space from the beginning.

Peter and Jill Brown live a few blocks outside of Broadacres and said they've walked their dogs and, years ago, pushed their daughter in a stroller across the esplanade.

"There has been an increase in the number of photographers there over the years, so maybe it set off a spark with the Broadacres owners," said Peter Brown, who is also a photographer. "We know some of the people in those houses, and they're nice people, but this is the opposite of what it should be."

"You think about diversity in the city, and there it is," Jill Brown said of the groups that gather. "It's all races, and you have people dressed up for quinceañeras and weddings and Indian dress, and it's joyous. To me, it's a snapshot of Houstonians just being in a place that they think is beautiful."

Both noted the community of dog owners who gather in the green space near the tennis courts. Though owners occasionally let the dogs off of their leashes -- another point made in those signs -- the Browns said they and their friends bring bags to clean up after their dogs.

In addition to dog walkers and photographers, artists have set up easels to paint or draw the natural beauty.

Sarah Burkhart is a therapist with a part-time photography business who said she'll have to find new places to take her clients now that Broadacres is off-limits.

"The esplanade is such an amazing place for a photo shoot in Houston, with those huge oak trees. The only other place is at Rice University, and you have to purchase a permit to photograph there," Burkhart said.

She said she's conducted photo shoots in Broadacres where she's set up a camera for a couple of hours and cycled clients through, but she's never made a mess.

"I'm surprised to hear that people are bringing so much stuff. For me, the beauty of the spot is that all you need is to have kids sit on the walkway," she said. "I believe it's happening, but I'll just bring a blanket and a basket to put babies in. Nothing big and certainly nothing that would stay and be trash."

Carliss Ramos, the mother planning the quinceañera, said she came a couple of weeks ago to check out the site, saw five photographers conducting photo shoots and thought, "Oh, this is perfect." After a cold and rainy week, Saturday arrived with picture-perfect weather.

"We've had everything centered around this and have been watching the weather all week. The photographer ... called me right when I was turning the corner into Broadacres. This is very disappointing," Ramos said.

The group planned to head over to Mecom Fountain, which was an early option they'd deemed too predictable. Avynn, clad in sweats and a tiara, climbed back into the car, her white dress with a gold-beaded bodice lying flat across the backseat.

Online: Houston’s most beautiful streets now off limits to photographers

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