February 15, 2024

1935 mansion is now a unique hotel

The Victorian-style mansion at 2309 Wichita St. in the historic Riverside Terrace neighborhood was built in 1935, when the area was considered a haven for wealthy families who’d been shut out of River Oaks.

But like many residences there, the two-story home eventually fell into disrepair. In the 1960s it was converted into an orphanage. Later, as an empty, termite-ridden shell, it was bought by Charles Fondow, a Veterans Administration nurse, in 1981 — for $35,000. Fondow began a 30-year renovation that he continued until he died in 2011.

Known as the Mysterious Mansion on Wichita, and one of the most photographed houses in Houston, the structure became a single-family home again, thanks to Fondow.

He added a third floor, turrets and gables, making it resemble a Disneyesque castle with a slightly macabre bent. At almost 5,000 square feet, and needing a great deal of plumbing, electrical wiring, and modern updates, it sold after his death for an estimated $251,000 in 2014.

New owner Nick Ugarov spent the next several years finishing Fondow’s renovations and probably going above and beyond his plans. The mansion is now known as the Houston Towers Inn, which opened in 2018 as a boutique guesthouse in the heart of the Third Ward, just minutes from the Texas Medical Center, Hermann Park, and the Museum District that opened in 2018.

At one time it was rumored to be haunted. But the manager of the Inn says he’s never seen a ghost there.

“Maybe it was easy to imagine back when it was abandoned, but it’s not haunted,” he said.

Indeed, the furnishings are more like a fairy tale castle than a haunted mansion. From chandeliers, grandfather clocks and elegant furniture, a tranquil pool and garden, original artwork

and an observation deck with a 360-degree view of the Greater Southeast Management District, this is a unique guesthouse. Each suite is different. The Skylight Tower suite offers a two-story accommodation with a private balcony and a jacuzzi.

Besides ghosts, something else you won’t see there are children. Houston Towers Inn is an adult-only destination, which means after a day of sightseeing or meetings —there’s even an on-site conference room — guests can relax with a cocktail on the garden patio and feel like they are miles from the bustle of the city.

Although the Inn consistently ranks high on travel websites, the oft-overlooked gem makes a perfect romantic getaway for local couples. Book one of the suites with a private bathroom, enjoy the tower views, and spend your days exploring the nearby museums, parks, and restaurants.

The Houston Towers Inn offers a 4-7 p.m. check-in time, free parking and wi-fi, and complimentary breakfast before the 11:00 a.m. checkout.


— by Marene Gustin

— photos by Houston Towers Inn