In a forgotten, overgrown plot near Houston, Texas, two explorers tiptoe around an empty building. With its endless hallways, graffiti-covered walls and cavernous rooms, the place certainly poses an enduring mystery. What exactly was the purpose of this strange structure, and why did the owners abandon it to its fate?
On July 7, 2016, a YouTube user named “Houston explorer” uploaded a new video to his page. As a matter of fact, it was the first content that he had ever contributed to the video-sharing site. In the footage, two men could be seen exploring an eerie, giant mansion in the middle of extensive grounds.
Intriguingly, little is known about the two explorers. The owner of the YouTube account describes himself as “just a local Houston urban explorer,” and the subsequent nine videos on the page are dedicated to footage of other sites across Texas such as an abandoned hotel, a derelict factory and even a deserted theme park.
However, while the other videos have each chalked up a maximum of 1,000 or so views, the first instalment is by far and away the most popular. It was viewed some 145,000 times in just 11 months. So what is it about this strange, empty building that has captured the imagination of people?
The story started back in 2001 when pediatrician Dr. Ulysses W. Watkins embarked on an epic project with his wife. Together, they bought a plot of land at 2354 County Road 59 in Manvel, a city in Brazoria County some 25 miles south of Houston.
Apparently, their plan was to create a residential rehabilitation facility for the patients in Watkins’ care. But at some point during the construction, somebody must have pointed out the obvious: the building was far too big even for their grand ideas.
Discouraged, the couple abandoned the project and started work on a similar but smaller house next door. Construction meanwhile ground to a halt on the larger building – and was never restarted. Instead, the building was left empty, its unfinished walls giving it a haunted appearance.
Unsurprisingly, this strange, abandoned behemoth has attracted the attention of locals, some of whom have spun intriguing stories surrounding its mysterious state. In fact, one commenter on the YouTube video confessed to finding it “freaky,” while another admitted that the house frightened her.
Bizarrely, another commenter stated that the property was actually owned by Hakeem Olajuwon, the retired Nigerian/American basketball star who previously played for the Houston Rockets. However, there appears to be little evidence to support this claim. Whatever the real story behind the building is, though, it’s clear that it has lain empty for many years.
Although curious locals were treated to a glimpse inside the neighboring building when it went on the market in 2008, the larger of the two houses had remained an enigma. Then, in 2016, the YouTube video appeared online, revealing the interior to tens of thousands of armchair explorers.
The video opens with the two men driving past city high-rises before parking in front of the house’s 15-acre lot. The property today covers a staggering 60,175 square feet and is accompanied by numerous outbuildings scattered across the grounds.
Now after gaining access through a flimsy metal fence, the pair headed straight for the main house. Soon, they discovered an opening in one of the garages where a piece of plywood covering the door had become partially detached. Peeling it back, the two men climbed inside.
Immediately, the vast scale of the building became abundantly clear. Apparently, the garage was originally designed to hold nine cars, and although it was incomplete, its sheer size must have impressed the two explorers. What’s more, when they moved through into the rest of the house, it didn’t disappoint.
Stepping into the main foyer, the men found themselves in a grand space complete with high ceilings and marble floors. Looking around, they could see endless hallways stretching off in every direction. Many of them were lined with crude graffiti and other evidence that the house was not quite untouched.
Moving up to the second floor, the pair arrived at the edge of an incomplete Juliet balcony with a dangerous drop to the marble below. And adding even more thrills to the adventure, one of the explorers took it upon himself to sit on the ledge, his legs dangling precariously over the drop.
Next came more hallways, some so long and dark that it was difficult to see the end of them. Apparently, large swathes of the house were built without windows – and the darkness, combined with the low ceilings, has created a strange, cavern-like effect.
Suddenly, the explorers reached a gap in the wall and glimpsed one of the building’s most extraordinary rooms. On the other side was an indoor swimming pool encased in a natatorium two stories tall. Originally, the space was designed to encompass a sauna and hot tub, creating a luxurious spa for patients at the facility.
As the pair concluded their video with a sweeping shot of the empty pool, the camera revealed more graffiti, as well as discarded pieces of furniture, littering the floor. Clearly, there are some locals making use of the abandoned space, and they may have the run of it for some time yet.
According to realtor Mona Miller, whose agency RE/MAX is now offering the property for sale, the sheer size of the building – along with its $3.5 million price tag – has put off many potential buyers. In fact, she claims that no one is even sure exactly how many bedrooms the property boasts.
Although the house is listed as having 55 bedrooms and an equal number of baths, Miller admits that “it’s probably more like 70,” according to a 2015 interview with the Houston Chronicle. Apparently, the only inquiries so far have been from people interested in converting the property into an assisted living facility. But without any clear plans for the future, it seems as if this remarkable building will continue to spook the residents of Houston for some time to come.