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A castle and a flight museum? The most unique Harris County polling places this election day

By Elizabeth Sander, Houston Chronicle


Polling site Raindrop Turkish House on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, in Houston.

Raquel Natalicchio/Staff photographer


While most Harris County voting sites are the usual school gymnasium, community center or church, some, including one that looks like a Turkish palace, provide a more unique experience than most.


Since voters can choose any polling place in the county to vote, Houstonians' civic experience this Election Day extends beyond the palatial-style Turkish community center, including a faux castle and a flight museum. But voters looking to head to a woman’s private garage in Old Brasewood or the Montrose bar, BUDDY’s, to perform their civic duty may be disappointed — neither location made Harris County’s list this year.



Most of the polling locations have been called on by the county to provide their spaces before, but some are available for the first time. Here are six highlights of the 701 polling sites open to voters on Election Day.



The Rolling Fork Castle Club, a polling location for election day on Nov. 7, is seen Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, in Houston.

Jason Fochtman/Staff photographer


1. Rolling Fork Castle Club


The northwestern edge of Houston is home to a castle built in the late 1970s, as part of a residential development in Rolling Fork. According to longtime Rolling Fork resident, presiding judge and precinct 609 chair, Jude Wiggins, the Rolling Fork castle has hosted polls since the mid-1980s, and during a presidential year they can get as many as 900 voters on Election Day. But the location generally has a lower turnout for city elections, being outside city limits, she said. Houstonians enjoy coming out to vote there, but the community was disappointed the year or two when it was taken off the list, Wiggins said.

The subdivision, which predates the castle by about 40 years, is home to a large community of Harris County residents. As Wiggins’s lore goes, “the developer thought he was a king, so he built himself a castle.” While voters can’t swim in the Olympic-style pool or use the tennis courts outside, Wiggins said they’re welcome to poke around after casting a ballot.


Address: 9110 Rodney Ray Blvd., Club room


Polling site Raindrop Turkish House on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, in Houston.

Raquel Natalicchio/Staff photographer


2. Raindrop House


Farther south is the Raindrop House, an architectural marvel modeled after the Taj Mahal, Turkey’s Mevlana Museum and the Maiden’s Tower in Istanbul. The building houses the Raindrop Foundation, a Turkish community organization that aims to bring the Houston Turkish and American communities together, according to a member of the foundation, Orhan Kucukosman. The Raindrop House has been a polling place for the past two or three years and is open during early voting as well as the runoff, Kucukosman said, which encourages more members of the Turkish community in Houston to come out and vote.

The white-marble, domed building was constructed in 2008, while the Turquoise Center, a building addition made of travertine, was constructed in 2010. Voting will take place in a large ballroom in the Turquoise center, but voters should be sure not to miss the various Turkish artifacts displayed in the lobby, including traditional Ottoman ceramics, calligraphy artwork and Ebru — the Turkish art of marbling, Kucukosman said. The center also plans to host a public mayoral runoff debate Nov. 27 with Fox 26.


Address: 9301 W Bellfort Ave., Turkistan room



Christian Rogers, 14, from left, his dad Courtney Rogers and mom Keisha Rogers look at an exhibit Monday, Sept. 7 2020, at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Houston. The family also visited a different exhibit set up by the African Americans in Aviation traveling museum. Christian Rogers wants to be a pilot when he is older, and he said he is in an aviation program at his high school. "You have to know where you're coming from to know where you're going," he said.

Jon Shapley/Staff photographer

3. Lone Star Flight Museum

Taking a trip across town toward Trinity Bay, Houstonians who like flying can vote at the Lone Star Flight Museum’s event center. The museum, which moved from Galveston to Ellington seven years ago because of damage from Hurricane Ike, sits on 130,000 square feet and boasts two large hangars with more than 30 airplanes.

While the museum doesn’t offer a discounted ticket for voters, anyone who comes to the event center’s polls Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. is welcome to buy an $18 ticket and check out the facilities, said Chief Operating Officer Anna Hawley.


For aircraft enthusiasts, some of the most-loved attractions are a World War II-era B-25 and an early private jet outfitted from wartime crafts, Hawley said.

Address: 11551 Aerospace Ave., Event Center Room 156



Westfield Volunteer Fire Station 2 on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023 in Houston. The small firehouse will be converted into a polling station on Election Day this year.

Elizabeth Conley/Staff Photographer


4. Westfield Volunteer Fire Station 2


While the Westfield Road Volunteer Fire Department isn’t the only fire station open on Election Day, it’s the smallest. To open their three bays for polls, Westfield firefighters have to take their trucks out of the garage and park them in the lot or street, Westfield Fire Chief Adrian Dillehay said.

They don’t mind, though, because this substation is walkable for much of the low-income area, just south of East Aldine, so they’re happy to help the community, he said. And though the building is small, it was built with love by volunteer firefighters from the neighborhood in the 1970s. The city only started partially funding the fire department in 2006 through an emergency services tax district, said Dillehay, who’s worked there 19 years and moonlights as a Houston Fire Department firefighter.


Address: 11255 Bentley St., Bay main area



Voters cast their ballots at Cypress Fairbanks Funeral Home in Houston on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The funeral home was one of a few that were used in Harris County for polling locations on Election Day.

Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

5. Cypress-Fairbanks Funeral Home


There are three funeral homes serving as Harris County voting locations. Cypress-Fairbanks Funeral Home in northwest Harris County’s Cy-Fair neighborhood has opened up its library for the past six years for residents to vote, manager Stacy Avist said. They usually have a turnout of around a few hundred. The funeral home was once a private residence, so it has home-like decor throughout the space. The library with tiled floors and a non-operational fireplace was once a garage that’s now been transformed into a greeting room off the chapel for funeral patrons. The business is next to a subdivision, making it convenient for residents to vote, Avist said.


Address: 9926 Jones Road, library




6. Arabia Shriners


The Arabia Shriners are part of a philanthropic fraternity known for funding children’s hospitals across North America and driving tiny cars in parades. Its members are also part of the largest and oldest secret society, the Freemasons. For the first time this year, the Houston chapter is opening its central meeting place in West Houston for voters who want to cast their ballots. The building used to be a warehouse for Westinghouse Electrics where they kept air conditioners, power generators, and other electrical devices before the Shriners took it over, recorder Dale Dickman said.


Address: 10510 Harwin Drive



Nov 3, 2023|Updated Nov 4, 2023 4:05 p.m.

 




Elizabeth Sander is a Hearst Fellow for the Houston Chronicle covering local politics and breaking news. She can be reached at elizabeth.sander@houstonchronicle.com.


Elizabeth spent the first year of her fellowship at the San Antonio Express-News, covering education and breaking news. She is a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism and Tufts University.


Find her previous work in The New York Times, San Antonio Express-News, Observer Media and Horse Illustrated.





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