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HIDDEN GEM: Beer Can House

"He was just a guy doing something in his spare time," The Orange Show's Pete Gershon says of John Milkovisch, who created the iconic can-covered house.

HOUSTON — Right in the middle of Houston’s Rice Military neighborhood, in between new townhomes, you’ll find a 1930s home covered in aluminum. This is Houston's Beer Can House

"This is the work of a man named John Milkovisch. He was a working class dude. He was an upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad," shares The Orange Show's Pete Gershon. "(He was a) precision craftsperson, as you might guess from the artwork behind me, and this is what he did as a pastime."

Milkovisch's pastime took a lot of time -- decades, actually.

"What he told friends was that he got sick of mowing the lawn and he got tired of painting the house, so he covered his lawn with concrete studded with marbles and rocks," Gershon says. "Then it just spread from there. It spread from the patio along the pathway to the driveway and then down the driveway to the front until the whole thing was covered."

Neighbors must’ve thought Milkovisch had really lost his marbles when he started lining his house with an estimated 50,000 flattened beer cans.

"He would do it one row at a time when his wife Mary was away working at the cosmetics counter at Foley’s, like she wasn’t going to notice if he did it slowly," says Gershon.

Though the color’s fading, you can still make out some of the brands of the cans, including Texas Pride, Buckhorn, Shiner, Pabst and Falstaff. Non-flattened versions of the can are on display inside the house along with John’s work desk and tools.

"If you go inside, you’ll see things like all of the original fixtures and hanging, all the original paint colors," Gershon says. "It’s like a time capsule in there."

All the details are preserved, even the tile Milkovisch hand-cut.

"For him, this wasn’t any kind of high-falutin’ conceptual art," explains Gershon. "He was just a guy doing something in his spare time." 

Milkovisch never considered it art – but The Orange Show does.

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"We preserve these kinds of visionary art environments. We see value in a place like this where others might not," Gershon says. "We lean into the creative reuse of common materials and the idea that art is for everybody, not just a privileged few. "

The non-profit knows you might not visit the Beer Can House for its art, but Gershon points out "secretly, you’re enjoying art while you’re here, even if you don’t realize it."

Decades on, The Orange Show's preservation efforts are more important than ever.

"The artwork on this house is getting grayer and grayer with time as the sun leeches all the dyes out of these beer cans, so I think we do the artwork a favor by surrounding it with some beautiful butterfly plants that are going to make the plants pop," says Gershon.

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That’s why the non-profit started the Beer Can House garden club, hoping to restore the backyard to its former glory.

"We collaboratively plant micro-gardening projects out in the yard," Gershon says.

It’s a small undertaking that honor’s John’s big picture.

"For a guy like that who just wanted to enjoy his life in his backyard and have a good time, for him to leave something like this behind, I just think it’s so cool and wonderful," says Gershon.

Learn more about the Beer Can House here.

Brandi Smith on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Do you have a hidden gem we should check out? Let us know by emailing Brandi Smith at bsmith@khou.com!

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