John Martin Milkovisch
December 29, 1912 to February 24,1988; Age 75
John was a native Houstonian who spent his life in the West End. He was born off of Washington Avenue. near Shepherd Dr. in a small apartment behind what used to be Schott’s Bakery. During his first year, his mother and father, originally from Hornstein, Austria, built what started out as a one-room house on the corner of Feagan and Malone Streets. That house was moved in 1984 and is now one of the Houses of the “Gardens of Brammel Lane”located on the corner of Phil Fall Street and Sackett Avenue. About 15 shops in this project occupy carefully restored houses originally constructed around the turn of the century. It’s more than a shopping center; it’s a small peak into Houston’s past. John lived in his parents’home until his marriage on May 19, 1940 to Mary I. Hite. After living in two rented houses, one a duplex in the Heights at 636 Harvard St., and the other a three-room house at 319 Birdsall, Mary and John moved to 222 Malone where he lived the remainder of his life. John rented the Malone St. house from his father until 1942 when he agreed to buy it.
John attended, during World War I, a make shift school at the corner of Washington Ave. and Burdsall St.; Roberts School in Camp Logan; Stevenson School on Radcliffe; and finished the 8th grade at George Washington Jr. high School. As a teen John caddied at Camp Logan, memorial, and River Oaks golf courses. He swam in Buffalo Bayou and played in the woods of what is now Memorial Park. He even worked at landscaping jobs when River Oaks was under development and later did drapery work in some River Oaks homes including the Hogg estate on Westcott.
With the encouragement of his father, John pursued a career in upholstery and did his apprentice work for Hoiden Upholstery Shop. His father always emphasized the importance of job security, and that is why he later went to work for the Texas and Louisiana Line (later known as the Southern Pacific Lines). John retired from the SP in 1976. He worked summer jobs at Brookmay’s Piano, Myers and Spaulting, and Hoiden Upholstery during SP layoffs and strikes.
In the late 60’s John’s interest was shifting away from upholstery and toward creatng what s now referred to as the “Beer Can House”at 222 Malone St. John started his project in 1968 inlaying thousands of marbles, rocks, brass figures and metal pieces in concrete blocks and redwood, all of which were used to make patios, fences, flower boxes, etc. The result was a yard with no grass. The entire front and back was covered with cement. When asked why he did it, John simply answered, “I got sick of mowing the grass.”After the yard was completely covered, he shifted his attention to the aluminum can. He used various parts of aluminum cans (tops, bottoms, sides, and tabs) to make curtains, mobiles, fences, sculptures, windmills, and wind chimes. He wired the bottoms into long chains and dangled them from the eaves. Along the sides of the house, he alternated strands of pull-tabs, bottoms, and flat screens made from the labels. In other places, he made the tops of the cans spin inside an outer ring of narrow metal and looped them through the trees in the backyard.
Did John consider his house a work of art? John considered it an enjoyable pastime rather than a work of art. But he did enjoy people’s reaction to his creations. He once said, “It tickles me to watch people screech to a halt. They get embarrassed. Sometimes they drive around the block a couple of times. Later they come back with a carload of friends.”He also said, “I hate to throw anything away.”So the next time you’re about to crush and toss an empty can, think about “The Beer Can House”and what one man spent endless hours creating his own monument to the idea of recycling.