THIS IS OUR HOME, IT IS NOT FOR SALE
This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale is the 60-year history of an archetypal American neighborhood, Riverside in Houston, Texas, which experienced the classic syndrome of integration, real estate blockbusting, white flight, and regentrification common to virtually every American city.
The film's title comes from that era of racial transition when whites, pressed by real estate agents to sell to blacks, prominently displayed signs proclaiming: "This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale"--words that would be swallowed in almost every case as white owners stampeded and property values collapsed. Years later, that dictum remained just as timely and relevant to Riverside's affluent black community as they continued to protest various social and institutional encroachments into the area.
For thirty years, Riverside was the cultural center of Houston's Jewish community, who came to settle here upon being barred from other elite areas of the city by the existing "gentlemen's agreements." A viable community, Riverside seemed to have a stable future as a residence where white upper and middle class families--both Jewish and gentile--lived harmoniously together. But a series of unforeseen factors brought unexpected change.
This change was heralded by four sticks of dynamite which rocked the home of the Jack Caesar family, the first black family to break the color barrier and move into Riverside. This well-publicized bombing plus wide-spread blockbusting by real estate agents accelerated the racial transition. Middle and upper class blacks replaced fleeing whites into the area.
As such, Riverside emerged as one of the leading minority communities in the U.S. For upwardly mobile blacks who had found the good life here, their status quo was threatened by: 1) the expansion of two universities into the area; 2) the construction of a freeway displacing the western edge of the neighborhood; 3) the placement of a county psychiatric hospital within the neighborhood; and 4) the reappearance of white home buyers into the area.
The poignance of the re-enactment of resident responses, despite role reversals and a changing cast of characters, serves to evoke a deeper appreciation of the meanings and values we attach to home and neighborhood and of the forces that threaten those values. That a neighborhood with a sense of community faced crises, changed, and yet retained the same view the very nature of people, who, despite their differences, share many of the same hopes and aspirations.
Brimming with history, replete with social and political issues, the Riverside story is above all a human document. For Riverside is a neighborhood that speaks not just of history and issues, but of the intangible rhythms, spirit, and dreams of the people who have lived there.
THIS IS OUR HOME, IT IS NOT FOR SALE
A Riverside production. Produced and directed by Jon
Schwartz. Camera (color), Levie Isaacks; editor, Ronald
Medico; sound, Brenda Reiswerg. (No MPAA Rating.)
Running time: 190 mins.
If the purpose of a documentary film is to document an event or
situation, then Jon Schwartz has a winner with his very long but
scrupulously crafted "This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale." The
entertainment value of a 3-hour plus documentary on a Houston
neighborhood cannot be understated, but Schwartz has come up
with a film that is compelling, challenging, thorough and watchable.
The title comes from the signs posted in Houston's Riverside
neighborhood during the era of blockbusting, signaling solidarity
among residents to hold on to their beautiful neighborhood. River-
side has been a neighborhood of almost ceaseless transition and
the onslaught of changes has caused virtually the same drama to
be reenacted among new configurations of Riverside residents.
In the 1920s, Riverside was an alternative residential district to
Houston's swanky River Oaks whose "social restrictions" effectively
blocked sales to Jews. While Riverside was never an exclusively
Jewish neighborhood, it became known as the Jewish River Oaks
and housed some of the city's most prominent residents in huge,
distinctive homes on palatial grounds. By the 1960s, blacks were
buying into Riverside and a tide of white flight ensued. By the 1970s,
Riverside was uneasily integrated. Today, the drama continues as
white gays are purchasing houses, causing yet another wave of
transition, prejudice and fear.
Schwartz traces the history of Riverside chronologically, using an
interview technique which bars the viewer from ever seeing the inter-
viewer or hearing his questions. The editing of these interviews is
superlative, and the pace of the long film never flags. However,
there is only one instance when Schwartz gives us the name or
title of his interview subject, so the viewer is left mainly watching
unknown people recall their old neighborhood.
There is no voice-over and no overt attempt to manipulate the
viewer's opinions. Schwartz juxtaposes the interviews carefully,
so they build on each other and consolidate the story. In a few
cases, respondents contradict each other, even resorting to name-
One of the best portions involves interviews with the first black
residents to integrate Riverside. Although much of the bitterness
from those years has dissipated, the interviewees speak with firm
memories about the bombing of one black's home or the sit-in at
a local lunch counter.
Schwartz has interspersed his interview segments with home
movies, historical footage, old photographs, and some new footage
of contemporary life in the neighborhood, underlaid with some
wonderful jazz music from the local Arnett Cobb Quintet.
Production values in the film rank on a par with the professional
quality of the interviews. --Jole
HIDDEN TREASURE FOR FILM FANS
By Jay Scott, The Toronto Globe and Mail
What happens after aboriginal land has become backyard "property"?
Texas director Jon Schwartz's thrilling masterpiece of social history, "This
Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale, offers an array of answers. On paper,
"This Is Our Home..." (the title refers to signs that were erected by black
and white residents being pressed to sell their suburban Houston homes
by unscrupulous, racist-baiting realtors) sounds daunting: it is three hours
long and features a cast of 105 people talking about their houses in a small
suburb divided by a bayou. But it is as compelling (if not as complex) as
"Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie."
Back when the neighborhood, Riverside, was founded in the twenties,
alligators and garfish abounded in the bayou, but "the people moving in
were up-and coming." Predominantly Jewish, they prospered and reared
their families in peace--keys were left in the ignitions of cars parked in the
driveways; crime was unknown. "It fit my definition of what a neighborhood
should be," a man nostaligically remembers. (The nostalgia is underlined
by fabulously revealing middle-class home movies of the fifties.) "We knew
where the bad dogs were and the mean people were." The IQ level at the
local elementary school was judged among the highest in Houston.
In 1952, a black family, the Caesars, moved in. "There was a rumor
going around that they were funded by the NAACP to purchase the house,"
a white woman laughs. Now. But even then, when the Caesar home was
bombed, most of the whites were sympathetic, if not exactly certain they
would stay around to express those sympathies. Says one of them:
"Most of us said we would not be the first to sell our homes to blacks.
But we might be the second."
The whites, in the words of a black resident, began "tipping out" and
blacks began "tipping in." Meanwhile, realtors taking advantage of the
panic purchased homes and divided them into apartments; crime came
to the neighborhood. As the civil-rights movement burgeoned, one of
the residents saw his own grocery store, Weingartens, become the
target of demonstrations by his own neighbors. Weingarten was a
member of the humanitarian B'nai B'rith, but his store was nonetheless
segregated, and although 70 per cent of the clientele was "colored,"
blacks were forbidden to use the restrooms or the lunch counters.
"There certainly was a moral issue, to stand up and recognize that
you're part of a white flight," says one Jew, uncomfortably reviewing
his role in the period. "Generally speaking," adds another, we were
more liberal with our ballots than we were with our personal relations
Today, the tables have turned and gentrification is proceeding apace
in Riverside as whites (some of them gay) move back into the remaining
mansions to the consternation (sometimes racist) of the blacks. "No
one here is color blind," declares one of the newest white residents, "the
blacks or the whites."
The 60-year panorama so colorfully--and movingly and wittily--painted
by Schwartz (this is his first film; he grew up in Riverside) should instruct,
mesmerize and amuse anyone who has ever lived in a neighborhood of
any kind. This is history with a human face, impossible to the printed
word. Schwartz's energizing combination of irony and social insight can
be exemplified by another anecdote:
An elderly, wealthy, well-spoken and altogether elegant black woman
is talking about the years her husband has devoted to "doing the yard"
in front of their home. One day, a white man drove by and asked how
much her husband was paid to do such a good job--the white man was
looking for a yardboy. "I'm well paid," the husband replied. "I get to
sleep with the landlady."
The old wife looks into the camera and smiles. "And that is his
payment for doing the yard."