A child of the Great Depression, John Milkovisch didn’t throw anything away — not even the empty cans of beer he enjoyed each afternoon with his wife.
So, in the early 1970s when aluminum siding on houses was all the rage, he lugged down the cans he had stored in his attic for years, painstakingly cut open and flattened each one and began to wallpaper his home.
“The funny thing is that it wasn’t … to attract attention,” said Ruben Guevara, head of restoration and preservation of the Beer Can House in Houston’s Memorial Park area. “He said himself that if there was a house similar to this a block away, he wouldn’t take the time to go look at it. He had no idea what was the fascination about what he was doing.”
Milkovisch passed away in the mid-1980s, but his wife, Mary, still lived there. Her sons would do work from time to time, replacing rusty steel cans with new ones and restoring a hurricane-destroyed beer wall. And when they feared for her safety because of the gawkers, they put up a privacy fence, embedding beer cans in that as well.
The neighborhood has rapidly transformed since Mary Milkovisch’s death in the mid-1990s, going from a working middle-class area to today’s condo- and loft-lined upper-class sector. But the home remains a well-known entity.
Determined to preserve this accidental piece of folk art, local nonprofit Orange Show Center for Visionary Art bought the property about 10 years ago, began a careful restoration of the house and opened it to the public.
“It shows the human nature of the individual is supreme. You can take the simplest thing, and it can actually affect a lot of other people,” said Houston resident Patrick Louque, who lived in the area when it was John Milkovisch’s pet project. “It’s totally grabbed me, and it’s probably totally grabbed the imagination of more people than I could possibly imagine.”