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Title: Houston: The Feast Years - An Illustrated Essay
Author: George Melvin Fuermann (1918-2001)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Houston: The Feast Years - An Illustrated Essay" ***

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                        HOUSTON: THE FEAST YEARS

    [Illustration: Sculpture]

                            GEORGE FUERMANN

                   _Houston: The Feast Years_ (1962)
                       _Reluctant Empire_ (1957)
                 _Houston: Land of the Big Rich_ (1951)

                            The Feast Years

                          An Illustrated Essay
                            George Fuermann

                    With Woodcuts by Lowell Collins
                   Modern Photographs by Owen Johnson
           Historic Photographs and Sketches by Various Hands

_The first requisite to happiness is that a man be born in a famous

_If you would be known, and not know, vegetate in a village; if you
would know, and not be known, live in a city._
                                                            C. C. Colton

_Urbes constituit: hora dissolvit._


    [Illustration: _Press of Premier_]

            Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 62-20819

                  Copyright © 1962 by George Fuermann
              Woodcuts Copyright © 1962 by Lowell Collins
                          All Rights Reserved

                Printed in the United States of America
                        PREMIER PRINTING COMPANY
                             First Printing


    [Illustration: Tower]

Houston, the reporter for the London _Daily Mail_ wrote, “has caused me
to lift my ban on the word fabulous.”

The next year, 1956, the London _Times_ speculated that America might
“eventually be based on a quadrilateral of great cities—New York,
Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston.”

That year, too, the New York _Times_ quoted Lloyd’s of London: “Within
100 years Houston will be the largest city in the world.”

Houston: one of “The 12 Most Exciting Cities of North America,” said
_Holiday_ in 1953—one of the dozen, from Quebec in the north to Mexico
City in the south, possessing “that rare combination of qualities which
has always spelled greatness.”

_Few Houstonians see their city in such remarkable terms. Few understand
why their city provokes such estimates by others._

    [Illustration: _The first known sketch of Houston was made by a
    British artist, who never saw the place, to illustrate a book
    written by Matilda Charlotte Houstoun, an Englishwoman who did see
    Houston in the early 1840s. The artist apparently took her
    description of Buffalo Bayou’s big banks to mean hills._]

    [Illustration: _Years later, perhaps in 1868, a French artist seems
    to have used the Englishman’s sketch as a model for one of his own,
    below, making mountains of the hills._]

Roughly the size of Warsaw, Stockholm, Singapore, and Naples, of
Bucharest and Brussels and Munich, Houston is prosaically listed in the
Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia—the Soviet Encyclopedia—of 1957 as a
“Railway and airline junction. Important industrial, commercial, and
financial center in the South of the USA.” Even an American encyclopedia
is hardly expected to describe the city’s festival atmosphere, its
spirit of play, which derives in part from a surprising characteristic
described by Arthur C. Evans, a man well seasoned in life, who wrote:

“I tried to think of Houston as being masculine. It wouldn’t do. Houston
is not a masculine city in the sense that New Orleans or San Francisco
is masculine. And so, for me, at any rate, it is _Miss_ Houston, a
beguiling, vibrant, radiantly healthy adolescent—and I love her.”

Houston, Promised Land or New Golconda or whatever writers say of it, is
a city of great expectations. Ambitious, confident, it moves swiftly,
restlessly. Its profile, a transfiguring skyline moored to the flat Gulf
plain, vaguely resembles other modern skylines, but Houston resembles
nothing in the world except itself. Ever since World War II the city has
beguiled observers, who often approach it with preconception, and often
leave it with surprise.

“Air conditioned Tower of Babel, anchored on gold, gall and guts,” the
author James Street wrote of it. “An adolescent Amazon with a little
gland trouble.”

“It is plain Simon-pure American inspiration,” the _American_ Magazine
said of it.

It “has a strength and power and rude majesty all its own,” the St.
Louis _Post-Dispatch_ said. “In time, perhaps, it will achieve

_What arrests the visiting journalist, what does he sense about Houston
that residents often fail to feel?_

Let us see.

    [Illustration: _President John F. Kennedy standing beside a
    full-scale model of the Apollo lunar landing vehicle, which was
    shown for the first time during the President’s inspection of the
    Manned Spacecraft Center in September, 1962._]


    [Illustration: _City Seal

The ship channel, Oil, and Two World Wars made Houston what it is. The
second age of discovery may make it what it becomes. As Columbus, Vasco
da Gama, Balboa, Magellan, Captain Cook, and others opened the
unexplored seas and lands of the earth during the first age of
discovery, so the men who are opening the unexplored space of the
universe have begun the second age.

In 1961, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided
to build its Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston, the city began an
identity with the old ports of western Europe that played leading roles
in the great adventures of two, three, and four centuries ago. Technical
direction of America’s effort to put the first man on the moon will come
from Houston.

The government is spending well over a hundred million dollars—it may
come to far more than that in the end—to build office buildings,
laboratories, and massive test communications and control facilities on
range land near Clear Lake. The millions of dollars to be invested by
industry to serve the center are incalculable. Slowly the character of
the city will change as the migration of space scientists merges with
Houston and with oil, the city’s mover and shaker for half a century.
“It is likely,” the Dallas _News_ said in 1962, “that even many
Houstonians have no conception of what is happening and what it may mean
to their community.”

    [Illustration: _Salvador Dali’s surrealistic impression of Houston
    was a result of his visit to the city in 1952. The flaming giraffes
    symbolize oil derricks, at which a woman, her face covered with
    camellias, looks with eager expectation. The port and the pioneers
    are shown in other symbols._]

    [Illustration: _This, apparently painted in the 1920s, is an unknown
    artist’s conception of Houston in 1980._]

    [Illustration: _The new Els: Speedways for amateurs_]

When the astronauts moved to Houston in 1962, their presence gave breath
to what had seemed a fantasy to many Houstonians, who more than most
Americans will experience vicariously the most extraordinary adventure
in history. How far Houston has come since two New Yorkers paid $9,428
for a townsite and named it for the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto!
The interval between that date and the arrival of the astronauts was but
125 years. What is Houston that it has become so much?

Beginning life three thousand years after Athens and two thousand after
London, beginning two centuries after Boston and New York, fifty years
after Los Angeles and at nearly the same time as Chicago, Houston
suddenly joined the family of metropolises midway in the twentieth
century. Its likeness in history, however, is to none of those cities,
but to Carthage of North Africa, one of the most famous cities of
antiquity, whose beginning preceded Houston’s by twenty-six centuries.

Carthage, like Houston, was above all a commercial city, its people
vigorous, practical. At one time Carthage was famous for the great
wealth of its leading families; Houston was once known as the Land of
the Big Rich. And the sea, or access to it, was the key to the rise of
both. As Carthage became the richest city of the western Mediterranean,
Houston became the richest of the Gulf of Mexico. Carthage lived for
fifteen centuries and died abruptly, disappearing from history.

The largest of twenty-one places named Houston in the United States, not
counting Houston City and Houston Junction, both in Pennsylvania,
Houston is the seventh American city in population and the second, after
Los Angeles, in land area. But to call Houston the seventh city in
population, though correct, is unrealistic. The true population of a
modern city is shown not by the number of people living within its legal
limits but by the number living within its metropolitan area, which for
Houston is Harris County. By that measure, Houston ranks sixteenth in

Whatever its rank, Houston is often said to be a small town with an
enormous population. Such a notion becomes increasingly hard to support
except for one aspect, which was shown by B. D. (Mack) McCormick, a
collector of folk music. He described the city in a pamphlet
accompanying each of two recordings, produced in England in 1960, of the
Houston area’s folk music.

    [Illustration: Skyscrapers]

  _The crowd, the buzz, the murmuring
    Of this great hive, the city._
                                                          Abraham Cowley

Houston is “less a city than it is an amalgam of villages and townships
surrounding a cluster of skyscrapers,” he wrote. “Each section of the
city tends to reflect the region which it faces, usually being settled
by people from that region. Thus the Louisiana French-speaking people
are to be found in the northeast of Houston; the East Texas people in
the northern fringe, which itself is the beginning of the Piney Woods;
the German and Polish people are in the northwest Heights; and so on....
Each area surrounding the city has gathered its own, and each group has
in turn established a community within the city.... And so the city,
which in itself has no cultural traditions, is rich in those it has

    [Illustration: _The Main Stem: The end of the Salt Grass Trail._]

McCormick quoted Sam (Lightnin’) Hopkins, a Negro folk singer, who spoke
of a Houston unknown to many Houstonians: “The idea of it is that
everybody ’round here plays music or makes songs or something. That’s
white peoples, colored peoples, that’s them funny French-talking
peoples, that’s everybody, what I mean. They all of ’em got music.”
McCormick himself has said, “More Englishmen than Houstonians see
Houston as a rich source of traditional lore, though otherwise the
British think of Houston in clichés.”

Much of the area’s past is deep-etched in folk music. One song was sung
by Huddie (Lead Belly) Ledbetter, a Negro convict and perhaps the most
famous of colored folk singers. The song, titled “The Midnight Special,”

  If you ever go to Houston,
  You better walk right,
  You better not stagger,
  You better not fight.

  Sheriff Binford will arrest you,
  He will carry you down;
  If the jury finds you guilty
  You are Sugarland bound.[1]


    [Illustration: Cotton boll and leaves]

Many “think of Houston as a cluster of mud huts around the Shamrock
Hotel, in the cellars of which people hide from the sticky climate,
emerging at long intervals to scatter $1000 bills to the four winds,”
Gerald Ashford wrote in 1951. Such a fancy formed a dominant theme of
Houston appraisals during a brief and a bizarre period. The myth that
Houston’s population consisted mainly of the rich was absurd, but the
millionaire legend, though arresting to the world, was a liability to
Houston. For one thing, it obscured the city’s reality, which was itself
exceptional enough.

The Shamrock Hilton Hotel, built by the wildcatter Glenn H. McCarthy at
a cost of $21,000,000, opened on St. Patrick’s Day of 1949 with what
turned out to be a spectacle. Conrad Hilton took control of the hotel in
the spring of 1955. The two dates roughly mark the period of the
legend’s vigor.

Still, it was in some ways an exhilarating time, and it left Houston
with an extravagant folklore. The goose hung high. The legends die
reluctantly: An oilman was said to have offered his daughter $5000 for
every pound she lost; a Houston man who sent a new Cadillac to Europe to
have a $5000 custom body put on its chassis was said to have told the
craftsmen to “Throw the old body away;” wanting to play a joke on a
colleague who was traveling in Europe, another Houstonian had a
fair-sized roller coaster built in the traveler’s wooded yard.

But the maybe-so stories are less remarkable than many of the authentic
ones. A Houston oilman well known for eccentricity and boyish hedonism
was staying at a hotel in Los Angeles one night in 1955. He wished to
awaken at a certain early hour the next day, so he made a long-distance
call to a man on his staff in Houston and told the man to call him in
Los Angeles at the specified hour the next morning. In 1957 a Houston
high school girl received a graduation gift from her father, an oilman:
wrapped and tied in her school colors, it was a map and a legal
assignment of the overriding royalties in a lease near Odessa, in West
Texas. A memorandum said a geologist expected the lease to produce oil
for at least fifty years.

Roy H. Hofheinz, the mayor of Houston in 1953, disclosed at a press
conference that he had recently made his first million dollars, though
he was unsure of the exact date. “You just don’t notice things like
that,” he said. The oilman Robert E. Smith has described newspaper
estimates of many fortunes as “paper profits.” But some fortunes were as
surprising as they were real. In 1957, when a Houston oilman’s former
secretary died at the age of eighty, her estate was found to be worth

A query by a New York matron, visiting Houston for the first time,
showed America’s credulity in Houston’s millionaire legend. Passing the
Rice University campus—three hundred acres of lawn; buildings in
Byzantine, Moorish, Italian, and Spanish architectures—she said, “Tell
me, who lives there?”

    [Illustration: _Lords’ Cycle Club at 109 Chenevert Street, probably
    in 1898, when cycling was one of Houston’s chief pastimes. The first
    bicycle run to Galveston, in 1892, took ten hours; the cyclists were
    so exhausted that they returned by train._]

    [Illustration: _Three of six sketches made in Houston by an artist
    accompanying the journalist Edward King, of Scribner’s Monthly, in
    1873, when the city was recovering from Reconstruction. “Houston,”
    King wrote, “is one of the most promising of Texas towns.” The
    sketches show:_]

    [Illustration: _Two Negroes racing their drays._]

    [Illustration: _A magnolia seller, a common sight at the time._]

    [Illustration: _An auctioneer’s street-hawker._]

In spite of the lingering legend, Houston is in fact a city of working
people. They came en masse during World War II, more than forty thousand
to the shipyards alone, and most remained. Unlike the state, whose
population has grown mainly from the excess of births over deaths,
Houston has grown also from people moving in from the rest of Texas and
other states.

The city’s population differs widely from that of most other American
urban areas, having proportionately fewer industrial workers and more
professional, technical, and white-collar workers. The difference is
caused by automation and by the technical nature of the four dominant
industries. Processing oil, natural gas, and especially petrochemicals
requires fewer but more highly trained workers than many industries, as
does the work to be done by concerns allied with the space center. Such
workers get comparatively higher pay, which has made Houston a city with
more houses and fewer apartments than older American cities of
comparable size.

No city is all of a piece, and Houston’s oneness is relieved by the
variant peoples merging with it since the beginning.

A Greek kaffeneion, a large room, nearly bare, with a ceiling of
ornately stamped tin, is a walk-up reached through the unmarked door of
an old downtown building. There the city’s Greeks, and only Greeks,
drink the coffee of their homeland—a strong brew, neither sweet nor
bitter, of a strange, nearly syrupy consistency.

The oriental mysteries of the shrine room of the On Leong tong—the word
tong is shunned now, and they call it a Chinese Merchants Association—is
on the second floor of the tong’s modern building on the northeastern
fringe of the skyscrapers. The first Chinese, three hundred of them,
came in 1870. Two thousand now live in Houston—two thousand of the
city’s most exemplary citizens.

The Houston Turn-Verein, founded in 1854, is one of the oldest
organizations in the city. The Germans, immigrating to Texas in great
numbers in the nineteenth century, came early to Houston and were a
dominant element in the city from the 1850s until well after
Reconstruction. Edward King, a Yankee journalist who visited the city in
1873, wrote that “the Germans, who are very numerous and well to do in
the city, have their Volks-fests and beer-absorbings, when the city
takes on an absolutely Teutonic air.” Gradually the Germans have merged
with all Houston, one loss of which was the virtual extinction of their
magnificent singing societies.

Frosttown, Chaneyville, Freedmantown, Chapmanville, and Jourdeville,
local names for parts of an older city, have vanished, but a newcomer
called Frenchtown still lives. Its street names are lyrics—Deschaumes,
Delia, Roland, Adelia, Lelia—and the tiny Creole oasis is seasoned with
music and dance rituals unknown in the rest of Houston. Frenchtown’s
people, coming from Louisiana during hard times in the early 1920s,
settled in a few blocks off Liberty Road, and there they have remained
as one family, little altered in forty years by the changing city
surrounding them.

Houston’s Mexican group lacks the color and ritual of San Antonio’s, but
it is the second largest national group in the city. Western Slavs,
mainly Czechs and Poles, have lived in Houston for many decades,
especially the Czechs. A few Japanese, most of whom excel as truck
farmers and rice growers, live outside the city. Many foreign traders,
scientists, and executives have been drawn to Houston by cotton and oil
and chemicals.

The state’s largest concentration of Negroes lives in Houston, which
ranks ninth in the nation in the proportion of Negroes to the total
population. Nearly a quarter of a million Negroes live in the
metropolitan area, or roughly one in five persons. In an article about
Negro millionaires in Texas, _Ebony_ Magazine said in 1952, “Houston is
sometimes called the ‘Bagdad of Negro America.’” It is said also that
Houston Negroes have a higher per capita wealth than those of any other
American city.

What a change in one century! Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the most
important historical figures to have written about Houston, came to the
city in 1854. Writing in _The Cotton Kingdom_, he said of Houston:
“There is a prominent slavemart in town, which holds a large lot of
likely looking negroes, waiting purchasers. In the windows of shops, and
on the doors and columns of the hotel, are many written advertisements,
headed ‘A likely negro girl for sale.’ 'Two negroes for sale.’ ‘Twenty
negro boys for sale,’ etc.”

In his book _The Great South_, Edward King said Negroes “have had
something to do with the city government [of Houston] during the
reconstruction era, and the supervisor of streets, and some members of
the city council, at the time of my sojourn there [in 1873], were

Houston has proportionately few native Houstonians. The board of
directors of the Chamber of Commerce, where natives might be thought to
dominate, reflects the newness of the population. Of the board’s
twenty-nine members in 1956, eleven moved to the city after 1945, seven
in 1951 or later. Only one of the twenty-nine was born in Houston, only
eleven more were born elsewhere in Texas.

Yet a fleck of truth still lingers in what Alexander E. Sweet and J.
Armoy Knox wrote of Houston in 1883: “After you have listened to the
talk of one of these pioneer veterans for some time, you begin to feel
that the creation of the world, the arrangement of the solar system, and
all subsequent events, including the discovery of America, were
provisions of an all-wise Providence, arranged with a direct view to the
advancement of the commercial interests of Houston.”

    [Illustration: _A bayou baptism, late in the 1890s, at the foot of
    what is now White Street. The photograph is one of many made by
    Frank R. Hutton, Sr., a gifted amateur photographer, who came to
    Houston in 1893._]


    [Illustration: Oil derricks]

Fifty miles inland, Houston is one of the nation’s principal world
ports. Being rich in oil and natural gas, it has come to dominate two
mammoth industries, petrochemicals and the sending of natural gas to the
nation. For half a century beginning in the early 1900s, Houston
belonged to oil. For the next half-century, it may belong to space.

Oil and its big quick profits—little is said of its big quick losses—and
the extravagant legends about oil riches did more than anything except
the Houston Ship Channel to give Houston its One Million. The city got a
foretaste of its oil destiny thirty-five years before the Spindletop
gusher roared in when Richard W. Dowling, the Confederate hero of the
Battle of Sabine Pass, and John M. Fennerty formed a company in 1866 for
“Mechanical operations in mining and boring for oil....” Their project
was ridiculed, and its outcome is unknown.

The historian Andrew Forest Muir has shown that two critical periods in
the growth of Houston were the half-decade from 1857 to 1861, when it
became the rail center of Texas, and the decade beginning with the
Spindletop gusher in 1901. Two others are the decade after the Houston
Ship Channel was opened late in 1914—a period further stimulated by
World War I—and the fifteen years beginning just before World War II.
The inception of the federal space laboratory begins a fifth cycle of

    [Illustration: _The Houston Post Office, completed in 1890, at the
    southeast corner of Franklin Avenue and Fannin Street._]

Houston’s quick growth between 1940 and 1960, when its population rose
from twenty-first to seventh place among American cities, owed to the
linking of three benefits: the ship channel, which gave the city access
to the world; immense resources of oil, natural gas, sulphur, lime,
salt, and water; and the fact that the product of one chemical plant is
often the raw material of another. This combination created on the banks
of the ship channel one of the world’s greatest concentrations of
petrochemical industries—chemical plants dependent on the by-products of
refining oil. The tempo increased in the early 1960s, when the Monsanto
Chemical Company began building the world’s largest ethylene plant at a
cost of fifty million dollars. Du Pont began building a hydrofluoric
acid plant, and an important polypropylene plastic and film plant was
being built.

    [Illustration: _The Houston Post Office, completed in 1962._]

During the 1950s Houston was a leading example of the new urban America
caused by the economic impetus of World War II and the increased
post-war migration of rural people to cities. No period in the city’s
history approaches the importance of World War II and the years after.
Before the war Houston was an ambitious small city. A few years
afterward, its former hopes lying in the shadows of sudden and
preposterous growth, the city was altered in character, aspirations, and

Houston’s formidable roles in the oil and gas industries, in the
manufacturing of oil-field equipment, and in the nationwide distribution
of gas are widely understood but seldom comprehended. The metropolitan
area alone, which has seven oil refineries, produces nearly eighty
thousand barrels of oil daily. Two major oil companies, the Humble Oil
and Refining Company and the Continental Oil Company, and hundreds of
smaller ones have their headquarters in Houston, most of whose downtown
skyscrapers were built by or for oil, gas, and banking.

The Tennessee Gas Transmission Company was organized in 1944; twelve
years later its assets passed a billion dollars, a speed of growth that
may never have been equaled in American business. Paul Kayser, president
of the El Paso Natural Gas Company, was asked at a press conference in
El Paso why his company, which owns El Paso’s tallest building and
supplies West Texas gas to western states, has its headquarters in
Houston. He answered that the only place in America to keep in touch
with the oil business is Houston.

    [Illustration: _Freighters docked in the Port of Houston._]

In 1960 most of the nation’s sulphur deposits, around 6 per cent of its
petroleum reserves, and around 10 per cent of its refining capacity were
in a nineteen-county area surrounding Houston. An estimated
three-quarters of the nation’s petrochemicals production comes from the
Texas Gulf Coast area. Shipbuilding, an integrated steel mill, and paper
mills are other important aspects of the city’s economy.

It is a paradox that the Houston metropolitan area, which is hundreds of
miles from the state’s chief cattle-raising areas, has more cattle than
any other county in Texas. Irrigation has made the county a rice
producer of importance; within a hundred-mile radius of Houston is grown
28 per cent of the nation’s rice. And Houston, which is the headquarters
for Anderson, Clayton & Company, the largest cotton concern in the
world, is one of the world’s leading spot cotton markets.

Houston’s gusto in the 1950s was epitomized by “M” Day, as July 3, 1954,
was called. When statisticians divined ahead of time that the city’s
metropolitan population would reach one million on that date, a festival
was planned to welcome the millionth citizen. Houston Bucks were printed
in a denomination of $1,000,000. A huge thermometer, its peak
registering 1,000,000, was put at the Rice Hotel corner and the reading
raised a notch a day. Thousands of auto-bumper signs said “I’m One in a
Million—Houston.” Many concerns changed their postage-meter messages to
read “Houston’s a Million Strong.”

At a town meeting held in Hermann Park on July 3, Mr. Million was
identified as B. C. McCasland, Jr., who moved to the city the day before
from Clinton, Mississippi. Aged thirty-six, a geologist, and the father
of five children, he typified the city at that moment. Receiving gifts
said to be worth $10,000, he was flown to the eleven cities then larger
than Houston—to talk about Houston. He moved away some time afterward,
but “M” Day may not have been premature. A year and a half later, when
the Bureau of the Census estimated the populations of Houston,
Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Washington, the population of Houston was put
at 1,077,000.

    [Illustration: _One of the earliest known sketches of the Port of
    Houston, probably in 1866, showing approximately the same area as
    the previous photograph._]

    [Illustration: _The Satilla, inaugurating ocean commerce at the Port
    of Houston in August, 1915, attracted crowds of sight-seers. The
    deep-water Houston Ship Channel was completed the year before._]

    [Illustration: _The downtown building boom of 1927, which was
    unequaled until the first years of the 1960s: In various stages of
    construction are the Niels Esperson Building, the Lamar Hotel (lower
    left corner), the Gulf Building, an addition to what was then the
    Second National Bank Building, and, on the right, the West Building.
    The building with three white domes, on the left, is the old
    Carnegie Library; next to it is the old First Presbyterian Church.
    In 1947 the F. W. Woolworth Company bought this half-block for
    $3,050,000, or at the rate of $2,000 a front_ inch.]

    [Illustration: _The first Houstonian to fly an airplane, one he
    built himself, was L. L. Walker, in 1910. The plane, above, was a
    Bleriot-type with a forty-horsepower engine; it flew at a peak
    altitude of three hundred feet and had a top speed of nearly thirty
    miles an hour. The photograph—Walker, at the controls, is hidden by
    the wing—was made at the start of an attempt to fly to Galveston
    late in 1910. He reached La Marque, well over half way, and
    prudently decided to return. Walker died in 1960, aged

The history of Houston’s material success is to some extent the history
of its port and the bayou it was to make into a ship channel. Buffalo
Bayou was once the mouth of the Brazos River, though the Brazos long ago
cut its present course to the southwest. A traveler who wrote of the
bayou nearly ten years before Houston existed found it an exceptional
stream. “... this most enchanting little stream [has] the appearance of
an artificial canal in the design and course of which Nature has lent
her masterly hand,” J. C. Clopper wrote in 1828. Other early travelers
were to comment on Buffalo Bayou’s “strong resemblance to a canal.”

Moreover, Andrew Forest Muir has written, “Buffalo Bayou had another
peculiar advantage.... Unlike most significant Texas streams, it flows
almost due east and west. With the Brazos [River] extending in a general
northerly direction, this meant that the head of navigation on the Bayou
was but twenty miles or so from the heart of the fertile agricultural
region of the Brazos.”

Indeed, Buffalo Bayou was the principal reason the founders of Houston
chose the area for their city. They wanted the most interior point of
year-round navigation in Texas. Unable to buy the town of Harrisburg,
they went upstream for their site.

A vessel of size first succeeded in reaching a boat-landing at Houston
in 1837. It was a former warship, the Constitution, a forty-four-gun
frigate in 1797 but then a merchant vessel, whose captain chanced the
voyage to win $1000 offered by the new city’s promoters. Within ten
years vessels were making daily runs between Houston and Galveston.

The improvement of the bayou channel was begun in 1839 with funds raised
by public subscription and lotteries. The Port of Houston was
established by city ordinance in 1841. Widening and deepening of the
channel was begun in 1869 and continued into the 1960s, by which time
the minimum depth of the channel was thirty-six feet and the minimum
width was three hundred feet. The port is linked with the Intracoastal
Canal. “Probably the greatest, most farseeing project ever consummated
in Texas was the deepwater channel to Houston,” the Dallas News said in
an editorial in 1955.

One price of the project’s material benefits was the loss of one of the
area’s chief natural beauties, a beauty remarked by many travelers in
the nineteenth century. “... this most enchanting little stream,”
Clopper wrote in 1828. Edward King foresaw in 1873 what was to happen to
the lovely bayou.

“The bayou which leads from Houston to Galveston ... is overhung by
lofty and graceful magnolias; and in the season of their blossoming, one
may sail for miles along the channel with the heavy, passionate
fragrance of the queen flower drifting about him,” he wrote nearly a
century ago. And then: “This bayou Houston hopes one day to widen and
dredge all the way to Galveston; but its prettiness and romance will
then be gone.”

So it goes.

    [Illustration: _Airships at aviation meet in Houston, January, 1911.
    The meet was held at what is now the corner of Main Street and
    Holcombe Boulevard._ _From family papers of Lenore Bland Pfeiffer_]


    [Illustration: _The Kellum-Noble House_]

With a median age of 27.5 years, Houston’s population is the youngest of
America’s big cities. The city itself seems younger than it is, for
since the 1920s Houston has given the impression of being always new.
Few structures stand long enough to become old. When the lovely patina
of age does get a chance to form, it is scrubbed away as though it were
an embarrassment, or so it was removed in 1962 from the bronze of Sam
Houston’s equestrian statue in Hermann Park. Houstonians have shown
little compassion for their city’s past.

No structure has been preserved from Houston’s early days except a
two-story brick trading post, built in 1848, on Congress Avenue; the
Kellum-Noble house, the main part of which was built in 1847; and the
Rice-Cherry house, which may date from 1850. The two houses now stand
behind the City Hall in the small Sam Houston Park. “What one misses
most in Houston are old things,” a Swiss journalist wrote after visiting
Houston in 1951. “After a few days one sings the praise of the past.”

Some old things, obscure trifles, evoke a period when Houston was a Main
Street town. A city slogan of the early 1900s—“Where the Mock Bird has
no sorrow in his song, no winter in his year”—suggests municipal
aspirations inconceivable in the Houston of half a century later. Now it
is “Space Center, USA.”

And some old things evoke a period when tenacious civic pride fed on
delusions that were privately understood but never confessed. Judge an
extravagant sentenceful of wishful thinking in the Houston edition of
_The Standard Blue Book of Texas_ for 1907: “Nowhere are the flowers
fairer, the skies bluer or the trees greener than in the beautiful
residence environs of this city, and nowhere in this great and powerful
Southland is a more gracious and unbounded hospitality dispensed by more
attractive and winsome chatelaines than adorn the handsome homes of

But Houston’s past may be suggested by other than old things. The
Southwest and the frontier are recalled by the Houston Livestock Show
and Rodeo and its annual prelude, the Salt Grass Trail, on which
hundreds of city people ride horseback for three days to retrace a
pioneer cattle trail. Silky stalactites of Spanish moss, dripping from
oaks and sweet gums, faintly evoke Houston’s role in the old South. But
the primitiveness and individualism of the wild west and the relaxation
of the Southern mood have been shed. Though Houston was shaped to a
large extent by the South and the Southwest, it has come to be lightly
marked by those regions.

“It is partly an unconscious romanticism and it is partly a conscious
cult that one still thinks of Houston as pre-eminently a Texas city,”
Hubert Mewhinney wrote in the Houston _Post_. “But it is not. Houston
since the (Second World) war ... has not been so much Texan as
generalized American....”

    [Illustration: Music Hall]

In becoming so, it gained in a way that has been concealed by the city’s
more arresting millionaire legend. Slowly, perceptibly, Houston is
becoming cosmopolitan. With its interest in music, art, and the theater,
with its universities and medical schools, Houston is becoming an
important center of culture. But nearly all is new: the organization
dates of only the symphony, one art museum, and the universities precede
World War II, those of only the symphony and one university precede
World War I. No cultural institution dates from the nineteenth century,
though a tradition of opera and theater goes far back.

Houston’s musical life has long been centered in its symphony, which
gives the city much more than symphony music. From its first and second
chairs come most of the musicians in the chamber music groups, which are
the most remarkable new development in the city’s cultural life. Sir
John Barbirolli succeeded Leopold Stokowski in 1961 as conductor of the
symphony, which was organized in 1913.

The Music Guild, organized in 1948, is the oldest of three chamber music
groups of distinction, and the J. S. Bach Society, one of the few
performing Bach groups in America, gave its first concerts in 1954. The
Houston Grand Opera Association was organized in 1955. During the six
years Stokowski led the symphony he organized the Contemporary Music
Society, which gave its first concert in 1959.

The Alley, one of three Houston theaters operating the year around, is
one of the premier theaters of America. Directors, actors, and writers
from many countries have come to Houston to study the arena theater’s
work. Directed by Nina Vance since it opened in 1947, the Alley has
received substantial grants from the Ford Foundation. The Playhouse,
whose arena theater was the first in America to be built for
professional use, has operated under various managements since it was
opened in 1951. Theatre, Inc., occupying the proscenium hall of the old
Houston Little Theatre, has mostly produced musicals since it was
organized in 1953.

The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, directed by James Johnson Sweeney since
1961, developed into an important art center under the long direction of
James Chillman. Growing from an art league organized in 1900, the museum
opened in 1924; it was the first art museum in Texas. Two wings were
added in 1926, the Blaffer Memorial Wing in 1953, and the beautiful
Cullinan Hall—the Big Room—in 1958. The last, designed by Ludwig Mies
van der Rohe, gave the museum a new entrance and made it one of the
city’s architectural distinctions. The museum is strongest in paintings
of the European Renaissance. Important collections have been given by
Edith A. and Percy S. Straus and Samuel H. Kress, of New York, and the
Robert Lee Blaffer family and Miss Ima Hogg, of Houston.

The Contemporary Arts Association, organized in 1948, conducts an
exhibitions museum. One of the few American museums devoted solely to
the art of the twentieth century, its beneficial effects on the city’s
art life have been far out of proportion to its budgets or the size of
its exhibition hall, both small.

A notable omission in Houston’s cultural life has always been a
satisfactory natural history museum, but one is to be built at last. The
Houston Museum of Natural Science and Planetarium is to be built in
Hermann Park at a cost of $2,500,000, possibly by 1964.

The principal universities are Rice University, chartered in 1891 but
opened for instruction in 1912; the University of Houston, established
in 1934; the Baylor University College of Medicine, which opened in
Dallas in 1900 but was removed to the Texas Medical Center in Houston in
1943; Texas Southern University, established in 1934 as the Houston
College for Negroes; and the newer St. Thomas University, a Roman
Catholic school.

    [Illustration: _Sweeney and Coombs Opera House, on Fannin Street
    opposite the Court House, which opened in 1890._]

The superlative of the city’s exuberance is the Texas Medical Center.
But for one hospital the area, lying just south of Hermann Park, was a
forest within the city in 1946. A decade later, at a cost of more than
$50,000,000, most of it paid by Houston oil and cotton philanthropies,
one of the nation’s leading medical research, educational, and hospital
centers was well on the way to completion.

    [Illustration: _The Texas Medical Center_]

Though hospitals and universities and the arts help measure a city’s
culture, so do department stores, restaurants, and sports. The last is
big business in Houston.

Houston’s years of stars are one reason: Eddie Dyer and Dizzy Dean in
baseball, George Blanda and Billy Cannon in professional football, Pete
Cawthon, college football player and coach, Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke
in golf, the great hurdler Fred Wolcott, Wilbur Hess in intercollegiate
tennis, A. C. Glassell, Jr. in fishing, Grant Ilseng in skeet shooting.
But the big reason is the mild climate; Houston sports are a year-round

Golf to yachting, hunting to deep sea fishing, Houstonians can span the
calendar as participants. And as spectators they have Southwest
Conference and University of Houston sports and the noted track teams of
Texas Southern University; they have major league baseball and
football—the Houston Colt .45s in the National Baseball League and the
Houston Oilers in the American Football League; in tennis they have the
nationally famous River Oaks Country Club Tournament and in golf the
Houston Classic Invitational Tournament; and they have the annual Pin
Oak Charity Horse Show, one of America’s leading horse shows.

    [Illustration: _On one side of the wall, the Coliseum and the rodeo;
    on the other side, the Music Hall and Sir John Barbirolli._]

    [Illustration: _The Houston Academy, 1859._]


    [Illustration: Pine branch]

Houston’s character and personality are by no means revealed merely by
ticking off oil, a bewildering chemicals complex, a seaport, and an
exaggerated reputation for materialism. Consider some enigma variations
on an urban theme:

Metropolitan, urban, big-city Houston—where E. H. Marks has one of the
largest herds of Longhorn cattle in the world, where cattle rustling
still flourishes, where wolves still thrive and a few mountain lions
still roam in the bottoms.

The evangelist Billy Graham, exhorting a crowd of forty thousand in Rice
Stadium in 1952, called Houston “a more wicked city than Hollywood.” He
said earlier “that less people probably go to church in Houston than in
any other city in Texas.” Yet the city has more than twelve hundred

Houston is said to be well planned. Yet it is the largest city in
America without zoning and more than three hundred of its streets have
duplicate names. Main Street, or so the legend goes, is the longest in
the world, sometimes merely the longest in the country. No doubt it is
neither; still, from end to end within the city limits, the Main Stem
measures 19.1 miles.

In Houston a prudent pedestrian looks both ways before crossing a
one-way street. Houstonians, a safe-driving expert said, are the most
zealous horn-blowers in the land. In 1961 another expert told the City
Council that Houstonians lead all Americans in shunning public
transportation to drive their own cars.

    [Illustration: _Main Street, 1866; the east side of the street
    between Congress and Preston Avenues. What may have been the city’s
    first three-story building, on the left in the row of five, was
    built by William Van Alstyne. J. R. Morris soon built the city’s
    first four-story building, the one in the center, which was the
    first iron-front building in Houston._]

    [Illustration: _Main Street, 1878; looking north from Texas

    [Illustration: _Main Street, 1885; looking north from Preston
    Avenue. Though the street was still unpaved, the piles of what seem
    to be rubble are the paving blocks with which it was at last

    [Illustration: _Main Street, 1900; looking south from Congress
    Avenue. Only buggies and a streetcar are seen, but three years
    earlier a horseless carriage appeared on the street for the first

    [Illustration: _Main Street, 1912; looking north from Capitol
    Avenue. The steel skeleton rising on the left is the first two wings
    of the Rice Hotel; construction of the third wing was begun in 1926.
    The owner was a young man who would eventually own more of Main
    Street than anyone else—Jesse H. Jones._]

    [Illustration: _Main Street, c. 1920; looking north from McKinney

In Houston, the U.S. Department of Labor disclosed in 1961, a retired
couple could live more cheaply than in any other of twenty big cities.
Other years, other distinctions: Houston won two municipal championships
in the early 1950s, when it led American cities in murders in 1951 and
was chosen the cleanest city in the United States in 1953. It was to
learn later that it had held another distinction for decades, being
second to none in using the word “chocolate” to name things. “The
Houston list is far beyond anything possessed by any other place in the
world,” a college professor wrote to Mayor Lewis Cutrer. Small wonder:
Chocolate Bay, Chocolate Bayou, Old Chocolate Road, and Chocolate
Springs, to list four of ten such names he found. And in Houston, surely
_only_ in Houston, the city garbage dump came to smell like a rose—to
the city treasurer. Eleven oil wells drilled at the dump in the 1950s
paid the city more than $250,000 in royalties before they were shut

Houston, where it is against the law to make “Goo Goo Eyes,” to give the
title of the ordinance, or for women to wear slacks, though the courts
have refused to uphold the last. Where enough coffee comes into the port
annually to give every American more than forty-three cupfuls. And where
Roman Catholic nuns ride the city buses free, a tradition believed to
date from the nuns’ heroic work during a yellow fever epidemic in the
nineteenth century.

    [Illustration: _Vick’s Park, around 1900, an area now covered by the
    cloverleaf at Waugh and Memorial Drives and the Allen Parkway._]

Houston, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated Al Smith for the
presidency in 1928, is said to be dominated by conservatives who give
the welfare state no quarter. Yet William S. White, writing in
_Harper’s_ in 1959, said Houston “was ... the first large community in
the United States to feed the depression hungry with no questions asked,
no kind of means test, no social worker’s cross examination, no stigma,
and no nonsense.”

    [Illustration: _Longhorns at E. H. Marks’s ranch, near the western
    edge of the city limits._]

Nothing about Houston is more enigmatic than its weather. The weather
long ago made Houston the site of one of its principal experiment

W. D. Bedell has written that Houston, more than any other big Texas
city, is a crossroads of weather. “Here we can have Dallas weather or
Caribbean weather or Colorado weather or Arizona weather,” he wrote.
“Houston gets more Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico weather than any other
major Texas city. That is the steam bath kind of weather.”

Houston gets more steam bath weather than any other kind. In 1952, when
the Prudential Insurance Company transferred scores of employees from
New Jersey to its new Southwestern Home Office in Houston, it prepared
an immigrant’s guide. The question “How’s the Climate?” was answered:
“To be perfectly frank about Houston’s weather, even a Texan wouldn’t
brag about it in the summertime. It’s hot and it’s sticky.”

    [Illustration: _On February 14, 1895, Houston received what may have
    been the heaviest snow in its history—twenty-two inches. The old
    Burns house, shown on the day of the snowfall, occupied the site of
    the twenty-one story Texas National Bank Building._]

After the St. Louis Cardinals played their first games in Houston in
1962, Stan Musial said the city has only three seasons—“Summer, and then
July and August.” Members of the British diplomatic service are paid an
extra allowance when they serve in such equatorial places as Aruba,
Burma, Indonesia, Panama, the Persian Gulf—and Houston.

Houston’s Christmases, on the other hand, are mostly mild and green, a
climate’s benedictions, decorated by nature with holly, yaupon, and
roses. Houston nearly got a White Christmas in 1929, when 2.3 inches of
snow fell on December 21 and 22, but in fact the last White Christmas
appears to have been in 1859. A legend says Houston gets really cold
only once every ten years, and many big storms do come in that pattern.
Of modern cold spells, the big ice show of 1951 was the most severe.
From January 29 to February 3, Houston had 123 hours—more than five days
and nights—of below-freezing temperatures. Most of the city’s few
freezes last less than a day.

Sometimes it rains and rains. And sometimes you despair that it may
never rain again. Rarely does it rain a gentle rain; rarely does it rain
just right. The rain in Houston falls mainly all at once. July, August,
and September are the months of the hurricane season, but modern warning
systems have much diminished the peril of the storms. The most
destructive modern storm affecting Houston was Hurricane Carla, which
struck the Texas Gulf Coast early in September, 1961.

    [Illustration: _A snowy palm frames the entrance to the Houston
    International Airport after the snowfall of 1958._]

In late fall, winter, and early spring cold winds blow down across the
top of Texas, pushing fast across most of the state, sometimes reaching
down into the lower Rio Grande Valley in southernmost Texas. Texans call
these cold waves “northers”—blue northers or wet northers or dry
northers. What distinguishes a norther from a plain cold wave is the
sudden, dramatic drop in temperature, sometimes 20 to 30 degrees in two

Most northers are preceded by heralds: the still, sultry air; the scent
of sulphur or burning hay or charcoal; the haze, slowly, ominously
obscuring the sun. Birds and beasts almost always know beforehand; often
man can tell. Then, suddenly, the temperature falls and sounds break the
stillness, first a low soughing of the wind, then bedlam as the fury
commands the city.

Arriving in Houston in 1873, Edward King instantly experienced his first
norther, “which came raving and tearing over the town.... It was
glorious, exhilarating, and—icy.” The infrequent northers are confined,
like the oyster, to months with an “r,” but mostly to November,
December, and January.

Nothing about Houston is harder to pin down than its weather. A magazine
published for employees of the Humble Oil and Refining Company’s Baytown
refinery printed a full-page warning in January, 1957: “Although the
weather may be warm when you go to work, it’s a good idea to take a top
coat along to guard against a sudden drop in temperature.” The
simultaneous variety of the state’s weather was shown by a headline on
Page 1 of the Houston Post of September 11, 1955:

                      Cold Wave in N[orth] Texas;
                         Tropical Storm in Gulf

    [Illustration: _The Democratic National Convention Hall, 1928._]


    [Illustration: _Augustus C. Allen_]

    [Illustration: _John K. Allen_]

The brothers Augustus C. and John K. Allen, the founders of Houston,
were neither heroes of the Texas revolution—they did not fight in the
Battle of San Jacinto or in any other—nor were they distinguished in
other ways. They were land speculators, New Yorkers who came to Texas in
the summer of 1832. Augustus had just turned thirty, John was twenty-six
when they bought the land for Houston.

Though the Allens’ town would become one of the leading cities of North
America, though it would one day be abashed by a legend of riches,
neither profited much for his pains. John Allen died in Houston two
years after buying the land. Augustus lived until 1864, but he left
Houston in 1850 after signing over to his wife Charlotte most of his
remaining interests. Of this trio, only Charlotte was to profit from the
Texas city conceived by New Yorkers. Living to a great age, she still
owned Houston land when she died at her home, now the site of the Gulf
Building, on August 3, 1895.

Augustus Allen lived always on the verge of success. In poor health most
of his life, he was early a bookworm, a taste which may have led to his
first job, when he was seventeen, as a mathematics teacher in upstate
New York. In 1827, when he was twenty-one, he moved to New York City,
where he was first a bookkeeper and then a partner in H. and H. Canfield
Company. Five years later he and John, who had joined him in New York in
1829, moved to Texas, eventually settling in Nacogdoches. With other
speculators, the pair dealt in Mexican land titles. They began their
Houston venture soon after Texas won its independence.

    [Illustration: _The capitol of the Republic of Texas, 1837-39, now
    the site of the Rice Hotel._]

Little seems to be known of Augustus’ life during the fifteen years he
lived in Houston. No doubt that owes less to mystery than to the prosaic
nature of selling real estate. But some mystery does surround his
separation from Charlotte in 1850.

The land for Houston had been bought with money Mrs. Allen had inherited
from her father, and in time she became dissatisfied with her husband’s
management of the property. They separated but did not get a divorce,
“both husband and wife pledging to keep the details of their troubles
secret,” Amelia W. Williams has written. They seem to have succeeded.

Ill, and surely once more disappointed in his luck, Augustus moved
again, this time to Mexico, where he and the Mexican leader Benito
Juarez became friends. In 1852 he was appointed United States consul for
the Pacific port of Tehuantepec, and in 1858 he was also given the same
post at the port of Minatitlan on the Gulf side of the Isthmus of
Tehuantepec. During these years he and a Briton developed what is
thought to have been a successful shipping concern.

In 1864, apparently realizing that he was critically ill, he went to
Washington to resign his consulships. There he died of pneumonia on June
11, less than a month before his fifty-ninth birthday. He died without
ever returning to the city he and his brother conceived. Augustus was
buried in Brooklyn; only one of the city’s founders, John Allen, is
buried in Houston.

The area now covered by Houston was first settled by Anglo-Americans
before 1826, when a townsite was surveyed for John Richardson Harris,
who named the place Harrisburg. An upstate New Yorker who was a member
of Stephen F. Austin’s first Texas colony, Harris was granted a league
of land—4,428 acres—at the junction of Buffalo and Brays Bayous. One of
the first steam sawmills in Texas was built at Harrisburg in 1829, and
by 1836 the hamlet also had perhaps twenty houses, most of which were
log cabins.

    [Illustration: the Original Plan of Houston]

Harrisburg might have succeeded, and what was to become one of the
principal American cities might have been called Harrisburg rather than
Houston, but for at least two events besides the death of Harris in
1829. On April 16, 1836, Santa Anna, in hot pursuit of Sam Houston and
the Texas army, rode into the almost deserted hamlet and burned it. The
second event, the decision of those other upstate New Yorkers, the
Allens, to start a town at the most interior point of year-round
navigation in Texas, joined with the first to overcome Harrisburg’s

The Allens and others had eyed the Harrisburg area with shrewd
expectations. It was early seen that Buffalo Bayou would become
important as an exit route for cotton and other crops grown in the rich
agricultural lands along the Brazos River. The Allens first tried to buy
the Harrisburg property. But its title was involved in fraudulent claims
made against Harris’s estate and they chose a site a few miles farther
up the bayou. On August 24 and 26, 1836, they bought the bulk of the
John Austin survey, paying $5,000 for half a league and $1 an acre for a

Thus the original townsite—6,642 acres south of Buffalo Bayou—cost the
Allens $9,428. A Main Street corner a few blocks south of the original
city was sold in 1940 for $1,150,000; seven years later, or 110 years
after the Allens sold the first lots in Houston, Woolworth bought the
corner for $3,050,000—or at the rate of $2000 a front inch.

On September 30, 1836, the Allens advertised their nonexistent town in
the _Telegraph and Texas Register_, saying Houston would become “beyond
all doubt, the great interior commercial emporium of Texas.” In October,
when Houston was still but a prairie, John Allen made a proposal to the
congress of the Republic of Texas, then meeting at Columbia. Move the
government to Houston, he said, and the Allens would build a capitol for
it. “Capitalists are interested in this town,” the brothers’ petition to
congress said of the vacant land, and congress voted to move the
government to Houston temporarily. The Allens, having made their town
the capital of the republic before the town existed, began building in
fact what had succeeded in fancy.

They had already hired Gail and Thomas Borden, publishers of the
_Telegraph and Texas Register_ and also surveyors, to stake out the
town. Gail, a notable figure in early Texas history, would later make
his fortune by inventing a process for condensing milk. But the Bordens
were busy in Columbia, where their newspaper was then published, and
most of the surveying was done by Moses Lapham, a young Ohioan who
worked for the Bordens. He began staking out the town early in October,
1836. When he finished seven weeks later, the Bordens announced in their
newspaper, “We have at length, and almost without the use of mechanical
instruments, completed a plan for the City of HOUSTON....”

The historian Joe B. Frantz could find no record of what the Allens paid
Lapham or the Bordens for surveying Houston. “From the extant record,”
Frantz wrote, “it would appear that Lapham received only a bad case of
chills, for which he drank ‘heavy draugts (_sic_) of black pepper and
sassafras tea.’”

Two years later, while surveying near San Antonio for Samuel Maverick,
Lapham was scalped by Indians. Like one of the city’s founders, the man
who laid out Houston is buried elsewhere, in San Antonio.

The original city was laid out from Buffalo Bayou on the north to, but
not including, Texas Avenue on the south, and on the west from the bend
in the bayou behind the Music Hall to, but not including, Crawford
Street on the east. The east-west streets were laid out roughly parallel
with the bayou and thus do not lie on a true east-west line but are many
degrees off the compass.

Writing in 1958, Andrew Forest Muir showed that January 19, 1837, marks
the beginning of Houston. “With the exception of one lot that had been
sold on January 1, 1837, the first purchases were made on January 19,
which is probably the most reasonable date to mark the beginning of the
city of Houston as such,” he wrote. “Early in January, 1837, the town
was so devoid of an existence that Francis Richard Lubbock with a party
in a yawl passed the townsite without realizing it.”

    [Illustration: _Neighbors: the First Methodist Church, completed in
    1910, and the Texas National Bank Building, completed in 1955._]

Even in the beginning the property was astonishingly valuable, so much
so that some land was sold in 12½ foot lots. Indeed, lots are said to
have been sold for as much as $10,000, but Muir found nothing during the
town’s first six months to substantiate that. Examining all the
conveyances of record through June 20, 1837, he found only one lot that
sold for $5,000 and another for $3,000. Most of them sold for no more
than $500. But $500 was a considerable price for a small piece of
virtually unimproved village land in 1837, even in a new republic’s
temporary capital.

The government moved to Houston in May, 1837, before the building to
house it was finished, and the city was incorporated in June. Houston
remained the capital of the republic until January, 1840, and it was
again the capital, briefly, in 1842. Muddy and beset by recurring yellow
fever epidemics, it grew slowly after the capital was removed to Austin.

    [Illustration: _Looking south on Main Street in 1910, when the
    street still ended at Buffalo Bayou, from the point where the Main
    Street bridge now spans the bayou._]

One of the best early descriptions of Houston is that of Mary Austin
Holley, who saw the town in December, 1837: “The Main street of this
city of a year extends from the landing foot of Main Street into the
prairie.... On this main street are two large hotels, 2 stories, with
galleries (crowded to overflowing) several stores 2 stories—painted
white—one block of eleven stores (rent $500 each)—some 2 story dwelling
houses—& then the capitol ... painted peach blossom about ¼ mile from
the landing. Other streets, parallel, & at right angles, are built on
here and there, but chiefly designated by stakes. One story dwellings
are scattered in the edge of the timber which forms an amphitheatre
round the prairie.”

The early Houston seems to have been distinguished for its wickedness.
In January, 1838, the diarist John Hunter Herndon called it “the
greatest sink of disipation (_sic_) and vice that modern times have
known.” After living in Houston two and a half months longer, he wrote.
“What a den of villains must there not be here?”

Francis C. Sheridan, a young Irishman in the British diplomatic service,
saw Houston in 1840, when he wrote: “The most uncivilised place in Texas
is I believe Houston the former Capital—I heard and read of more outrage
and blackguardism in that town ... than throughout the whole of Texas.”

However all that may have been, the early Houston shared one
characteristic with the city of a century and a quarter later. Gustav
Dresel, a young German who came to Texas in 1838, wrote in the autumn of
1839: “Nine months only had gone by since I had left Houston, but how
different did it all look! I discovered more than twice the number of
houses. Whole squares had been added, and I noticed new streets.” The
population then numbered between two and three thousand.

Early Houstonians had the good fortune to be spared the Indian raids and
massacres that harassed some of frontier Texas. But Indians were no
novelty in Houston. On March 18, 1838, Herndon wrote, “Many Indians in
town who made much noise. A squaw drunk, the first I ever saw.” Muir has
written, “To the best of the writer’s knowledge, there were never any
Indian raids, battles or massacres in the Houston area during the time
Anglo-Americans have lived here. Certainly there were Indians, however,
for as late as 1846 a priest from St. Vincent’s [Roman Catholic] Church
baptized a crowd of them.”

The city grew slowly until the Civil War, when Houstonians voted
overwhelmingly for the secession of Texas from the United States. During
the war Houston was a lair for blockade runners, and on January 1, 1863,
using two small vessels fortified with bales of cotton, it mounted a sea
attack down Buffalo Bayou and helped recapture Galveston Island from
Union forces that had seized the island three months earlier. In the
same year Houston became the headquarters for the Confederate district
of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The period of Reconstruction lasted
from June 20, 1865, when Houston was occupied by Union troops, until
January, 1874. The city’s growth between then and World War I owed first
to its importance as a railroad center and then to the Texas oil boom.

Each of four wars, and even a fifth catastrophe, served Houston well.
Its beginnings arose from the Texans’ victory at the Battle of San
Jacinto. Though its people suffered to some extent from the Civil War
and much more from Reconstruction, Houston got an economic stimulus from
the presence of the Confederacy’s Trans-Mississippi headquarters. The
city prospered during Reconstruction because many who abandoned the
South moved to Texas. The greatest proportional growth of the city’s
population, 111.4 per cent, came in the decade of the 1920s, largely a
result of the impetus given by World War I. World War II led to the most
successful period in Houston’s history. The city took a decisive lead in
its long competition with Galveston after the Galveston flood and tidal
wave of September 8, 1900, in which an estimated six thousand lives were
lost and half the city was destroyed.

The city’s most effective leaders in the first half of the twentieth
century were Jesse H. Jones, a Secretary of Commerce and head of the
Reconstruction Finance Corporation under President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, and Oscar F. Holcombe, mayor of the city for eleven two-year
terms between 1920 and 1957. Its most gifted, and anonymous, leader was
Will C. Hogg, a son of James Stephen Hogg, the great governor of modern
Texas. In 1926, at a personal cost of more than $50,000, Hogg organized
the Forum of Civics with these words from Pericles as its motto: “No
Athenian should ever confess that he neglected public services for the
sake of his private fortune.” Hogg, an altruist and a man of wealth,
died too soon to fulfill his dreams for the city.

Four benefactors of indelible importance were William Marsh Rice, who
endowed Rice University; George Henry Hermann, an eccentric who was born
in Houston in 1843 and later gave the city a great hospital, Hermann
Park, and Hermann Square downtown; and M. D. Anderson and Hugh Roy
Cullen, the philanthropists.

Houston’s good fortune during its first century and its extraordinary
rise afterward have tempted some to call it a city of destiny. But the
cliché signifies an irrevocable fate in spite of man’s successes or
failures. And man, not fate, decisively controls the fortunes of cities.

How is one city more or less than another? What is Houston compared with
such whole or complete cities as Amsterdam and San Francisco? Only a
prophet could say, for this hopelessly vigorous city is incomplete,
unfinished; it cannot yet be judged as a whole city. Until then,
Houstonians possess the rare excitement of living in a city during the
springtime of what may become greatness, a city budding and shooting
with the extravagance of nature’s annual renewal, a city in its feast

    [Illustration: _Richard W. Dowling, Confederate Hero_]

    [Illustration: _Mule-drawn streetcar, 1890_]

    [Illustration: _Piano van, 1917_]

    [Illustration: _The San Jacinto Monument_]

                          A HOUSTON VADE MECUM

Houston, an inland port city of southeastern Texas, on the Gulf Coastal
Plain, is joined by the Houston Ship Channel with the Gulf of Mexico,
fifty miles distant, at Galveston. The ship channel joins the Port of
Houston with the Intracoastal Canal.

Houston’s corporate limits of 349.4 square miles, including the 22
square miles of Lake Houston and a canal leading to it, surround
fourteen of twenty-eight municipalities in its metropolitan area, Harris
County, of which Houston is the county seat. The county’s total area is
1,747 square miles, of which the land area is 1,711 square miles.

The city’s lowest altitude is 25 feet; the highest is 75 feet. The
county’s altitude runs from close to sea level to 310 feet near Tomball,
on the north.

The annual normal rainfall is 45.3 inches.

The annual average temperature is 70.0° F.

The excess of births over deaths in the metropolitan area is around
24,000 a year, and each year around 21,000 more persons move to Houston
than move away from it. Thus the metropolitan area’s population
increases by an estimated 45,000 persons a year—a conservative figure.

Of the 1,243,158 persons living in the metropolitan area at the time of
the 1960 census, 634,522 were females and 608,636 were males, giving
females a lead of 25,886.

In 1960, 94.5 per cent of the population was urban, 5.5 per cent was

The density of population was 726.6 persons a square mile.

            Population of Houston         Percentage of
          (Corporate Limits Only)              Increase
                      U.S. Census

  1850                      2,396
  1860                      4,845                 102.2
  1870                      9,332                  92.6
  1880                     16,513                  76.9
  1890                     27,557                  66.8
  1900                     44,633                  61.9
  1910                     78,800                  76.5
  1920                    138,276                  75.4
  1930                    292,352                 111.4
  1940                    384,514                  31.5
  1950                    596,163                  55.0
  1960                    938,219                  57.3

                    Population of         Percentage of
             Metropolitan Houston              Increase
                  (Harris County)

  1850                      4,668
  1860                      9,070                  94.3
  1870                     17,375                  91.5
  188                      27,985                  61.0
  1890                     37,249                  33.1
  1900                     63,786                  71.2
  1910                    115,693                  81.3
  1920                    186,667                  61.3
  1930                    359,328                  92.5
  1940                    528,961                  47.2
  1950                    806,701                  52.5
  1960                  1,243,158                  54.1

                            Work in Progress

    [Illustration: _Cullen Center_]

    [Illustration: _Domed Sports Stadium_]

    [Illustration: _Manned Spacecraft Center_]

    [Illustration: _Jetero Airport_]

    [Illustration: _Natural Science Museum, Planetarium_]

Five important Houston building projects, in various stages of
development late in 1962, totaled a minimum completion cost of
$347,500,000. Construction of a sixth, a new City Auditorium to be built
on the site of the old one, which was opened in 1910, will begin in 1963
or 1964; money for the new auditorium was given by Houston Endowment,
Inc., a foundation created by Jesse H. Jones.

The eventual cost of Cullen Center, which is being built on a six-block
site downtown, will be more than $100,000,000. The first two buildings,
which were nearing completion late in 1962, are a twenty-five-story
office building and the Hotel America. Cullen Center eventually will
include an office building of fifty stories or more, two high-rise
apartment towers, and other structures.

The other projects, and their estimated final costs, are an air
conditioned domed stadium for baseball and football games, $20,000,000;
the Houston Intercontinental Airport, called Jetero, $125,000,000; the
Manned Spacecraft Center, $100,000,000; and the Houston Museum of
Natural Science and Planetarium, $2,500,000.


[1]A: T. Binford was sheriff of Harris County from December, 1918, to
    January 1, 1937; Sugarland is the site of a state prison.


  NOTE: Page numbers in boldface type refer to pictures and captions.
  All other page numbers refer to the text.

  Allen, Augustus C., 39-41
  Allen, Charlotte, 39, 40
  Allen, John K., 39, 41, 42
  Alley Theatre, 26
  _American_ Magazine, quoted, 3
  Anderson, Clayton & Company, 18
  Anderson, M. D., 46
  Ashford, Gerald, 10

  Bach Society, J. S., of Houston, 26
  Barbirolli, Sir John, 26
  Baylor University College of Medicine, 26
  Bedell, W. D., 35
  Binford, T., 9n.
  Blaffer, Robert Lee, family, 26
  Blanda, George, 28
  Borden, Gail, 42
  Borden, Thomas, 42
  Buffalo Bayou, 22-23
  Burke, Jack, 28

  Cannon, Billy, 28
  Cawthon, Pete, 28
  Chillman, James, 26
  Clopper, J. C., 22
  Contemporary Arts Association, 26
  Contemporary Music Society of Houston, 26
  Continental Oil Company, 17
  _Cotton Kingdom, The_, quoted, 14
  Cullen Center, 48
  Cullen, Hugh Roy, 46
  Cutrer, Lewis, 34

  Dali, Salvador, 5
  Dallas _News_, quoted, 6, 23
  Dean, Dizzy, 28
  Demaret, Jimmy, 28
  Dowling, Richard W., 15, 46
  Dresel, Gustav, 45
  Du Pont (E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company), 17
  Dyer, Eddie, 28

  _Ebony_ Magazine, quoted, 14
  El Paso Natural Gas Company, 17
  Evans, Arthur C., 3

  Fennerty, John M., 15
  First Methodist Church of Houston, 43
  Frantz, Joe B., 42
  Frenchtown, 13

  Glassell, A. C., Jr., 28
  Graham, Billy, 30
  _Great South, The_, quoted, 14

  _Harper’s_ Magazine, quoted, 34
  Harris, John Richardson, 41
  Harrisburg, 41-42
  Hermann, George Henry, 46
  Herndon, John Hunter, 45
  Hess, Wilbur, 28
  Hilton, Conrad, 10
  Hofheinz, Roy H., 11
  Hogg, Miss Ima, 26
  Hogg, James Stephen, 46
  Hogg, Will C., 46
  Holcombe, Oscar F., 46
  _Holiday_ Magazine, quoted, 1
  Holley, Mary Austin, 44
  Hopkins, Sam (Lightnin’), 8
  Houston, aviation, early, 22-23;
      character of city, 6-9, 24-25;
      Chinese population of, 13;
      Civil War and Reconstruction periods, 45;
      cycles of growth, 15-16;
      domed sports stadium, 48;
      economy of, 15-23;
      German population of, 13;
      history of first years, 39-45;
      Indians in, 45;
      “M” Day (July 3, 1954), 18-22;
      millionaire legend, 10-13;
      Negro population of, 14;
      place in history, 6;
      Port of, 22-23;
      Post Office, 16, 17;
      proportion of natives in, 14;
      sports, 28;
      statistics, population and other, 47;
      type and composition of population, 13-14;
      weather, climate, 35-38
  Houston Academy, 29
  Houston Classic Invitational Golf Tournament, 28
  Houston Colt .45s (National Baseball League), 28
  Houston Grand Opera Association, 26
  Houston Intercontinental Airport (Jetero), 48
  Houston International Airport, 37
  Houston Little Theatre, 26
  Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, 25
  Houston Museum of Fine Arts, 26
  Houston Museum of Natural Science and Planetarium, 26, 48
  [Houston] Music Guild, 26
  Houston Oilers (American Football League), 28
  Houston _Post_, quoted, 25, 38
  Houston Ship Channel, 19, 22-23
  Houston Symphony Orchestra, 26
  Houston Turn-Verein, 13
  Houstoun, Matilda Charlotte, 2
  Humble Oil and Refining Company, 17,
  Hutton, Frank R., Sr., 14

  Ilseng, Grant, 28

  Jones, Jesse H., 33, 45, 48
  Juarez, Benito, 40

  Kayser, Paul, 17
  Kellum-Noble House, 24
  Kennedy, John F., 3
  King, Edward, 12, 13, 14, 23
  Knox, J. Armoy, 14
  Kress, Samuel, 26

  Lapham, Moses, 42
  Ledbetter, Huddie (Lead Belly), 8
  London _Daily Mail_, quoted, 1
  London _Times_, quoted, 1
  Lords’ Cycle Club, 11
  Lubbock, Francis Richard, 44

  Manned Spacecraft Center, 3, 4, 48
  Marks, E. H., 30, 35
  Maverick, Samuel, 42
  McCarthy, Glenn H., 10
  McCasland, B. C., Jr., 18
  McCormick, R. D. (Mack), 6
  Mewhinney, Hubert, 25
  Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig, 26
  Monsanto Chemical Company, 17
  Morris, J. R., 31
  Muir, Andrew Forest, 15, 23, 42, 44, 45
  Musial, Stan, 36

  National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 4
  New York _Times_, quoted, 1

  Olmsted, Frederick Law, 14
  On Leong Chinese Merchants Association, 13

  Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, 28
  Playhouse Theatre, 26
  Prudential Insurance Company, 35

  Rice-Cherry House, 24
  Rice Hotel, 33
  Rice University, 11, 26, 46
  Rice, William Marsh, 46
  River Oaks Country Club Tennis Tournament, 28
  Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 34

  St. Louis _Post-Dispatch_, quoted, 3
  St. Thomas University, 28
  Salt Grass Trail, 8-9, 25
  Santa Anna, Antonio Lopez de, 41
  _Satilla_, the, 19
  _Scribner’s Monthly_, 12
  Shamrock Hilton Hotel, 10
  Sheridan, Francis C., 45
  Smith, Al, 34
  Smith, Robert E., 11
  Soviet Encyclopedia, quoted, 1
  _Standard Blue Book of Texas, The_, quoted, 25
  Stokowski, Leopold, 26
  Straus, Edith A., 26
  Straus, Percy S., 26
  Street, James, 3
  Sweeney and Coombs Opera House, 27
  Sweeney, James Johnson, 26
  Sweet, Alexander E., 14

  _Telegraph and Texas Register_, 42
  Tennessee Gas Transmission Company, 17
  Texas Medical Center, 26, 28
  Texas National Bank Building, 36, 43
  Texas Southern University, 26
  Theatre, Inc., 26

  University of Houston, 26

  Van Alstyne, William, 31
  Vance, Nina, 26
  Vick’s Park, 34

  Walker, L. L., 22
  Williams, Amelia W., 40
  White, William S., 34
  Wolcott, Fred, 28

The photographs and sketches of earlier Houston reproduced in this book
are from the author’s collection of Houston historical material, which
includes around nine hundred pictures of Houston subjects from the 1840s
to 1900.

    [Illustration: The woodcut shows the east side of Main Street
    between Congress and Preston Avenues in 1866. A photograph of the
    same scene appears on Page 31.]

    [Illustration: The woodcut shows the yards at the Southern Pacific
    Lines’ Grand Central Depot in 1894, when cotton was to Houston what
    oil was to become; the four-story structure with the tower, at the
    right, is the old Lawler Hotel.]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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