Sunday, July 30, 2006

Rice Hotel revisited

By the time this picture was taken -- sometime in the late '60s, early '70s -- the Rice Hotel had completed an $8 million modernization program. To attract business, the hotel put out a 28-page booklet showing off the hotel's features.

No need to register in the main lobby! Just pull into the drive-in lobby off Prairie and Travis and register at the television registration desk.

Visitors had a variety of rooms to stay in, like the Early American suite or Moroccan suite. Why not dine in the Senate Room or Flag Room?

Among the other amenities:

Cigar stand in lobby
Airline ticket offices
Western Union office in lobby
Wine Cellar
Barber shop/beauty shop
KTRH-AM on the fifth floor annex
Children under 12 stay for free!

The Rice Hotel closed as a hotel in the mid-1970s. It now operates as the Post Rice Lofts.

Check out the booklet for yourself! I've put it up for download (6.5 megs, PDF) here.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Featured attractions at the Alabama and River Oaks theaters

These films were showing at the Alabama and River Oaks theaters on August 9, 1974.

"Uptown Saturday Night"

The latest news on plans for the River Oaks Shopping Center can be found in Friday's Chronicle.

Download your own "Save this Landmark" sign here.

The petition to save the Alabama and River Oaks theater/shopping center can be found here.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Funny laws

These were once Houston city ordinances that probably weren't so crazy back then:

Be it ordained by the Mayor, Aldermen and Inhabitants of the City of Houston, That from the 17th day of July, 1865, it shall not be lawful for owners of hogs, sows or pigs, to suffer or permit the same to go at large in the limits of the city.

The penalty carried a fine between $1 and $5 (about $59 today) per day.

Be it ordained by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Inhabitants of the City of Houston, That all persons who may be found drunk in or about the streets, and creating a noise and disturbance; all public prostitutes or such as lead a notorious, lewd or lascivious course of life; all persons who may be found in a public place dressed in any apparel not appropriate to the sex to which they belong; all persons who keep disorderly houses, pursue disorderly conduct on their premises, shall be fined not less than five nor more than fifty (about $1027 today) dollars.

[...] Passed December 30, 1861.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Remember the Loew's State!

Well, I can't since it went out of business before my time.

But many others have memories tied to this and other downtown theaters.

At the Loew's, hundreds turned out on Oct. 15, 1927, for its grand opening. The theater was the first to open since the death of Marcus Loew, founder of the theater chain.

Sounds from a Robert Morton organ played "Yesterday" as patrons entered the theater sometime after noon. Employees dressed in Colonial attire presented Martha Washington chocolates to guests, too.

The day's feature, "Annie Laurie" starring Lillian Gish, began at 12:30 p.m. Five vaudeville acts featuring singer Margaret Young also entertained visitors that day.

"We didn't plan any elaborate opening ceremonies because we believe it best to treat the public to the regular type entertainment at the beginning and not open with a program we can't expect to continue," a spokesman for Loew's said.

The Loew's State, designed by Texas architect Alfred Charles Finn, closed on Oct. 15, 1972, and was soon demolished.

(Photo taken from the 1998 Houston Theater Memories calendar, part of the Bob Bailey Collection.)

UPDATE: Download your own "Save this Landmark" sign here.

The petition to save the Alabama and River Oaks theater/shopping center can be found here.


Monday, July 24, 2006

A look back at the River Oaks and Alabama theaters

In light of the recent talk about razing the River Oaks and Alabama Bookstop (Alabama Theater), I'll be posting some of examples of how the theaters are tied to Houston's past.

Other blogs and message boards are doing a great job of getting the word out and letting their opposition be known. Activism isn't a big part of this blog -- history is. But sometimes history shouldn't have to be condemned to memory, old photographs and newspaper clippings. Sometimes it should be preserved for our offspring to enjoy. I'll try to help in any way I can.

Now, let's go back in time, shall we?

Both films were showing in Houston on Nov. 22, 1963.

"This Sporting Life"

"The Leopard"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Endangered species?

From Saturday's Houston Chronicle:

July 22, 2006, 8:34AM
Historic theater could soon fade into history
Tenants told of unconfirmed plan to raze portions of the River Oaks Shopping Center

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Three Houston landmarks, including the Landmark River Oaks Theatre and the Bookstop in the former Alabama Theater, have been declared endangered by the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

The alliance has learned, spokesman David Bush said Friday, that two buildings in the River Oaks Shopping Center could face demolition within two years.


Opened in 1939, the River Oaks is Houston's oldest functioning movie theater.

This blog is about Houston's history. Unfortunately, I can't act oblivious when pieces of the city's past are slated to become history, that is, a memory. It would be a shame to tear down such landmarks.

On the net:

Greater Houston Preservation Alliance
Weingarten Realty Investors
River Oaks Theatre
Online Petition sponsored by the folks at Houstonist.
Off the Cuff


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Countdown to chaos

On July 28, 1917, more than 600 troops of the 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry arrived in Houston from Columbus, N.M., to guard the construction of Camp Logan.

When the United States declared war on Germany, two millitary installations were built in Harris County: Camp Logan and Ellington Field. According to the Handbook of Texas, the move was to take advantage of the climate and the newly opened Houston Ship Channel. Once Camp Logan was completed, the Illinois National Guard would train there.

Accompanying the black troops by train were eight officers.

"The officers, of course, are white men," a newspaper article said.

Initially, the soldiers were welcomed.

"We want the people of Houston to substitute as early as possible for the soldiers coming here the influences of the homes they left behind when called to arms," said William E. Hopkins, representative of the Fosdick national committee on training camp activities.

History shows things went downhill pretty quickly. On Aug. 23, 1917, racial tensions erupted into a riot that placed the city under martial law. The Handbook of Texas says the mutinous black soldiers killed fifteen whites, including four policemen, and seriously wounded twelve others, one of whom, a policeman, later died. Four black soldiers were also killed in the incident. Two were accidentally shot by their own men, one in camp and the other on San Felipe. The troops also killed Capt. Joseph Mattes of the Illinois National Guard when they mistakenly thought he was a policeman. Finally, a sergeant involved in the melee committed suicide.

During the next month, I'll post some articles that highlight the tensions between the soldiers and residents that led up to that day of chaos.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hillendahl (Blue Light) Cemetery (Part 1 of 3)

A 1914 Houston Chronicle obituary has a brief write-up about the death of Amlea Ries. German-born, Ries married the Rev. Fredrich Ries, emigrated to Houston, and settled in western Harris County. She died in 1914.

“The remains were sent to Addicks for burial,” the obituary ends.

But no one knows where at Hillendahl Cemetery she and her husband (both at left) are buried. Vandals removed their headstones years ago.

No one seems to know where Ira Gerald Kunze is buried, either. Born on July 14, 1883, he died a little more than a year later. His tombstone is lost, according to local history records.

Vandals also may have tried to dig up little Hugo Hillendahl’s grave – who died just days before he turned three months old.

At least three Hillendahls are buried at the cemetery – a small reminder of the German culture that once dominated the Addicks area. Most of the Hillendahls entered the country at Galveston, migrated to Houston, then Spring Branch before some of their children headed a few miles west.

Many set up dairy farms in the Addicks area, which, as the settlers found out, flooded easily.

It is believed that most of the burials at Hillendahl Cemetery began sometime in the 1870s. But flooding soon caused problems and even prevented some burials. Christian Meyer and his wife, Dorothea, both victims of an 1875 hurricane, were prevented from being buried there because of flooding.

But the community prospered, and by 1890, the Bear Creek German Methodist Church was built next to the cemetery, located in what is now Bear Creek Park.

For 12 years, the church stood next to that little cemetery. Burials increased, but as flood problems became worse, church members decided to move the church to higher ground and set up a new cemetery, according to Addicks United Methodist Church history.

It was the beginning of the end for Hillendahl Cemetery.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

History books (part 2 of 2)

Someone started a great thread on the Houston Architecture Info. Forum on books about Houston history. Check it out when you get the chance.

Finishing up on books about local history:

"The Hospital" by Jan de Hartog: In the early 1960s, Hartog and his wife took a job volunteering at Jeff Davis Hospital. What they discovered shocked them. Hartog organized efforts to correct what he thought was the poor quality of care patients received at the hospital. Facing heavy opposition, Hartog and his wife kept on, even after Ben Taub Hospital opened in 1963.

In an editorial published in the Houston Chronicle, found on the Harris County Hospital District Web site, Hartog responded to a city council member that wanted to cut Jeff Davis' budget:

"I would like to show him the emergency room, where I have worked as volunteer orderly for eight months now: the hall with the stretchers that are never empty, the two dark wards in the back where, because of the lack of staff, the sick, the drunk, the desperate and the dying are often ditched into the cold sagging beds fully dressed..."

"The Hospital" played a major role in the formation of the Harris County Hospital District.

"Kotton, Port, Rail Center" by Christopher Varela: This self-published book describes the early days of Houston radio. Varela doesn't start with the major radio stations formed during those days. He goes back to the origins of amateur radio in Houston and how it led to commercial radio. The book also includes some unique pictures I haven't seen anywhere else. The only place I've been able to find this book is at the city's visitors' center at City Hall.

"Houston: A History and Guide": One of the best books on Houston history. Published in 1942, this book was written by the writer's program of the WPA. Nostalgia buffs and historians will especially enjoy this book. Fortunately, it can be found online at The Portal to Texas History.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What's eating Marcellus Foster?

Marcellus Elliot Foster, or Mefo, was the founder of the Houston Chronicle. During the 1910s-1920s, he wrote a column for the newspaper.

In 1920, "The Town Tattler" was published. It's a whimsical, observational look at what was going on in Houston during that time. The Handbook of Texas says it is a book of speeches, but I think it was more of a collection of his columns.

Anyway, on this particular day, he apparently had a beef with the Houston censor board.

The Censor

I want to be a censor, and with the censors stand.

I want to burn incense on the altar of the censor.

I want to pay beautiful tributes to the work of the censor -- the Houston moving picture censor.

Yes I do -- not.

Say, honest-to-goodness, folks, every time I think of "Damaged Goods" being refused a permit to show in Houston I feel so outraged that I am just ready to boil over. If I were responsible for the fact that that such a play couldn't be shown in Houston I would be afraid to walk in the dark.

If I had deprived the youth of this city of that badly-needed lesson -- well, what's the use of talking about it, for I might get mad and say just what I think.

Do you know what "Damaged Goods" is? It's a play written for a purpose under the auspices of a great medical association. It tells of the dangers that lie in the paths of our boys and girls daily.

It isn't a nice story. It is not a story that will cause one to desire evil or hunt evil. It doesn't show beautiful, undraped maidens prancing up and down the stage like you see uncensored and uncovered nearly any night in Houston. It isn't lasciviousness and a display of feminine charms, causing evil thought and evil desire, all of which pass by the censor board daily -- it's just a cold, bare recitation of vice in all of its hideousness -- it's Dante's hell -- it's a Dickens' portrayal of crime and disease, and the evils to be avoided.

It's a play that every father should take his son to see. If I were mayor of Houston I would buy the picture for a week's exhibition at the City Auditorium and let the public see it free of cost. It would lessen the work of the medical fraternity, it would make marriage more safe and sacred. It would help babies unborn. It might save your son or your daughter from a life of hell.

And, say, three times it has tried to appear in Houston and been turned down. I wouldn't have on my shoulders, on my conscience, the responsibility of refusing a permit to that play for all the wealth in the world.

It had to go outside the city limits to be shown. For Houston people that dared to go.

A thousand years or so ago men had to preach Christianity in cellars and dark corners and only a short time ago they were burning women in Salem.

Wonder if it would be right to burn a censor?

I rage with you.

("Damaged Goods" was a play and later a silent film about the physical and emotional effcts of veneral diseases, specifically syphilis.)


Friday, July 14, 2006

The Houston municipal song

The city's official song made its debut on July 4, 1915, at the old City Auditorium. A few months later, on Sept. 8, 1915, Houston City Council passed a resolution officially adopting it as the city's municipal song.

Written by Oliver Allstorm, a committee of three people -- including Mayor Ben Campbell -- picked the song "after considering numerous songs, submitted to them."

Campbell (at left) said he hoped the time would come when he "would not be able to walk down the street without hearing at least a dozen Houstonians humming the chorus."

But, like an old school song, the tune has faded from memory. Until now.

Houston Municipal Song
By Oliver Allstorm
Music by Henri Therrien
(To the tune of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary")

Here in dear old Houston, we will sing our song today,
We'll wave our City's banner, it reaches to the bay!
Singing on the Lone Star's glory, what land is more free?
There is no place like Houston, and old Houston is for me!

It's the one place, and it's the dearest
The City I love best!
It's the one place, and it's the dearest
The queen of the mighty West!
So, then give me Houston!
'Tis her I would be,
In the best place of all creation,
My Houston for me.

Our fathers came for freedom, from ev'ry foreign shore,
They found it in New England, but they still wanted more,
Moving westward then to Texas, to Houston so grand,
'Twas here they settled ever in the fertile wonder-land!


'Twas here in dear old Texas, down at the Alamo;
Brave Travis, gentle Bowie, and Crockett struck the blow,
Dying nobly for our freedom, for liberty so dear,
They gave us all our glory, and we'll live forever here!


Now in dear old Houston, we will forever be,
Our men are mighty builders, our ships sail out to sea,
Building for a greater future, our flag is unfurled --
We're calling to the nation, and inviting all the world!



Thursday, July 13, 2006

A tree (well, 12 of them) grows in Aldine

Take a look at this Google Maps link. This is north Houston, near Aldine. West Road is the four-lane road to the north. To the east is I-45.

"So what?" you might ask. "All I see is a utility easement."

You're right. It runs north and south through the middle of the map.

But look at the right side of the easement. A dark line parallels the easement and ends just before West Road.

A row of about a dozen large oak trees are lined up there. (It's easier to see if you copy/paste the image into Photoshop and fine-tune the color levels. I can e-mail an image if interested. I would have posted it here, but I'd rather not get a letter from Google's lawyers.)

An employee with the Greater Greenspoint Management District happened upon the site six years ago and wanted to turn the location into a park. He contacted me and gave me a quick tour of the site.

The idea is that two rows of trees may have led to a homestead in the area. It's likely the second row of trees may have been cut down to make way for the easement.

The homestead, long gone by now, is thought to have been located across West Road as evidenced by remnants of a daffodil garden on the property.

Harris County records indicate the land at one time belong to John Durkee, a late 1800s settler from New York.

Last time I checked, the plans for a park never came to fruition.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

The King holds court in Houston

This advertisement was published in the March 19, 1955, edition of the Houston Post.

"Elvis Day by Day," by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen has this account of the concert:

Elvis "Pressley" tops a bill that includes both Hoot Gibson, the western movie star, and Tommy Sands, with Biff Collie once again master of ceremonies. Live recordings of "Good Rockin' Tonight," "Baby Let's Play House," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "I Got a Woman," and "That's All Right" have surfaced on various bootlegs over the years.

By this time, Elvis was a few months away from becoming an American icon. But he wasn't a complete unknown when he performed here that March. In fact, it wasn't even his first concert in Houston.

On Tour Dates -- The Elvis Years, he performed his first Houston concerts on November 21, 1954, at Magnolia Gardens and Cook's Hoe-down Club. By October 8, 1955, Elvis was playing at the old City Auditorium.

"Louisiana Hayride," mentioned in the advertisement, was a popular, live radio broadcast from Shreveport, La.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

History books (Part 1 of 2)

Go to Barnes and Noble or any local bookstore and you'll find a few books on Houston history. Maybe you're already familiar with Marguerite Johnston's "Houston: The Unknown City, 1836-1946" or "Ray Miller's Houston." I've seen "Down in Houston" in a few places, along with the out-of-date "Houston: Architectural Guide" by the American Institute of Architects.

The photo/coffee table book "Houston: Then and Now" offers a great side-by-side comparison of how the city looked back then, compared to today. I purchased my copy at Sam's Club.

Thomas Thompson's "Blood and Money," which retells the 1969 death of Houston socialite Joan Robinson Hill, can be found at any paperback shop.

"Houston's Forgotten Heritage: Landscapes, Houses, Interiors: 1824-1914" is an excellent look at what once was and what could have been. Only photographs remain of many of the homes pictured in the book.

But for those wanting to take a deeper look at local history, I suggest:

"Sig Byrd's Houston" by Sigman Byrd. New York had Damon Runyon, the Mississippi River had Mark Twain, Baltimore had H.L. Mencken and Houston had Sigman Byrd. A collection of columns from his days with the Houston Press and Houston Chronicle, this book presents a side of the city that now exists in old newspapers and fading memories.

An excerpt:

"There is a street in our town that is called Congress Avenue because it borders the tract designated by our founding fathers as a site for the government of the Republic of Texas....Nowadays Congress Avenue is mostly a double row of scrounging retail stores, flophouses, brothels, and honky-tonks; the heart of our home-grown skidrow, peopled by a curious assortment of hard-bitten merchants, working men and women, wineheads, goofball addicts, desiccated trollops, and by some honest and respectable citizens like Jake Berman, Joe and Reba McGinnis, and Hubert Bell.

We have another skidrow in our town, where the snowbirds and the hustlers go, but we get to Preston Avenue later. On Preston, a hustler means an opportunist, a plunger. On Congress, where we are now, a hustler is a gal on the avenue."

Good luck finding a copy!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Houston loses a mayor

"I am going to try to make a mayor such as Houston never had before."
-- Joseph Pastoriza, 1917

Mayor Joseph J. Pastoriza hadn't been in office very long.

Before taking office in 1917, the New Orleans native was the city's tax commissioner. Online references credit him with taxing land values more and buildings less and being a follower of the economic ideology of Georgism.

On July 9, 1917, Pastoriza began his day at City Hall, according to The Houston Press. Later that morning he reported feeling ill and was driven home about 10 a.m. to rest.

After arriving at his house at 2204 Austin St., Pastoriza went upstairs, changed clothes, and went to the restroom to take some medicine.

A few minutes later, his wife went to check on him after realizing he was still in the bathroom. When she opened the door, she found him lying across the bathtub.

Frantic, she called a nearby friend to help her take him to the bedroom. A doctor was called and Pastoriza was pronounced dead sometime around 11 a.m.

A physician on the scene -- Dr. E. Marvin Bailey -- said heart trouble and job stress likely led to Pastoriza's death. Bailey told him that running for mayor wouldn't be good for his health.

Tax Commissioner Daniel Moody was named interim mayor until Joseph Hutcheson was elected to office in a special election.

Born to Spanish parents in 1857, Pastoriza was orphaned at a young age, according to The Houston Press. His mother died a few days after his birth, and his father died of yellow fever when Pastoriza was just over a year old. Death struck again when Pastoriza's foster parents died when he was just 7.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Houston History Mystery #1: The case of the missing murals

Have you seen us?

These murals hung in the Southern Pacific Depot's main waiting room. The top shows Gen. Sam Houston entering the town of Houston in 1837. The bottom represents Stephen F. Austin and Baron Bastrop with a group of Texas colonists in 1823 with the State House in the background.

The paintings were done by John McQuarrie of San Francisco. According to the Houston Chronicle, the paintings were 17 feet wide and 16 feet tall. They were painted on heavy canvas and cemented to an area provided for them on the station walls.

In 1960, as the wrecking ball tore down the station, the Houston Chronicle reported the paintings would be stored until a suitable place could be found for them to hang again. Soon, they ended up under the care of the Texas National Guard and were moved to the Gen. John A. Hulen Armory off OST.

What happened to the murals after that is anyone's guess. The armory was sold to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in the 1990s.

In 2000, I checked with the Texas National Guard to see what happened to the murals, but, sadly, no one knew.