Thursday, March 29, 2007

August 19, 1965


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A different sort of red-light issue (1 of 3)

On March, 30, 1908, Houston City Council passed an ordinance establishing a segregated vice district.

The Houston Post reported the move was in response to the petitions of several residents throughout the city that action needed to be done to "relieve their surroundings of the immoral element that has overflowed from the places formally understood to be set apart for them."

The City Council resolution states that "such houses are scattered throughout the city and in many cases in residence sections and in the neighborhood of public schools." It went on to conclude that prostitution was creating a "menace to public order and decency, to the sanctity of the home and to the moral welfare of the young."

So where was this segregated vice district?

Rather than list the convoluted boundaries City Council created, I've drawn it out on various maps. This is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1907. Look familiar?

Of course, it's the Fourth Ward. Long before Buffalo Drive, which later became Allen Parkway. The area, made up of mostly scattered dwellings inhabited by blacks, later became San Felipe Courts and the Allen Parkway Village apartments.

Here's how the area looked in 1913:

Note that the district's boundaries changed somewhat between 1907 and 1913. By 1911, the district expanded slightly to include the intersection of Howard and Lamb streets.

As you'd likely guess, hardly any of the streets that made up the sex district exist today with the exception of Crosby, Lamb Street and Nash Street. Both Lamb and Nash barely exist as streets today, as this next image shows:

Once enacted, the ordinance made it illegal for anyone to rent, lease or hire any house, building or room to any female "notoriously abandoned to lewdness, or for immoral purposes" outside the district.

It also was illegal for prostitutes to stand on the sidewalks near the premises, to beckon any person walking by, to walk around the city indecently attired or "to behave in public as to occasion scandal or disturb or offend the peace and good morals of the people."

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Hauled into court (part 2 of 2)

So whatever happened to Paul Grosse?

Well, in the months following his arrest for allegedly violating the nation's espionage act, Grosse's case was to be referred to a federal grand jury when it met in mid-March 1918.

But all that likely changed when U.S. Judge William B. Sheppard heard details about the case against Charles Meitzen of Fayetteville.

Meitzen, indicted for violating the espionage act, went to trial in Sheppard's court.

Prosecutors accused Meitzen of:

* Making a false statement (and thereby promoting the success of the enemy) by saying that when Americans are drafted, they won't have to go overseas

* Causing disloyalty by saying, "Whoever volunteers is a ... "

* Obstructing recruitment efforts by advising men to not volunteer but wait for the draft

After testimony finished, Sheppard dismissed the jury and allowed federal prosecutors to explain why Sheppard warranted prosecution.

The Houston Post reported that Sheppard said Meitzen would have had to make his remarks directly at a soldier in order to try the case under the espionage act. The judge brought the jury back and instructed them to return a verdict of not guilty against Sheppard because the evidence failed the support the case.

Prosecutors first brought Meitzen's case to court because they believed it was the strongest among all the other espionage cases.

Seeing what he thought was his best case of espionage fall apart, District Attorney John Green Jr. wanted to have the charges withdrawn in all the other espionage cases pending before the court, the paper reported.

Grosse, whose case was headed to the grand jury, likely had his charges withdrawn, as well.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

1913 Map of Houston

I found this map over at the Texas State Library and Archives (via Houstorian). While you're over at Houstorian, check out the write-up on the history of Shepherd Drive.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

More funny laws

When put in perspective this law isn't really funny, but in today's world, it seems kind of amusing.

"Be it ordained by the Mayor, Aldermen and Inhabitants of the City of Houston, That from and after the 31st day of December, 1867, it shall not be lawful for the owners of hogs, sows, pigs, or goats to suffer or permit the same to go at large in the limits of the City."

Violating that ordinance could cause the animals to be destroyed "or disposed of by the City Marshal in any manner he may see fit."

The city marshal (sort of like a police chief) was "hereby ordered, from and after this ordinance shall have taken effect, to speedily kill or dispose of all hogs, sows, pigs or goats found going at large within the city limits."

In addition to losing your goat, you could be fined $5 ($66 in today's money) for each animal found loose.

Another law -- passed in 1905 -- had to do with ogling women.

"That hereafter any male person in the City of Houston who shall stare at, or make what is commonly called 'goo-goo eyes' at, or in any other manner look at or make remarks to or concerning, or cough or whistle at, or do any other act to attract the attention of any woman or female person upon or traveling along any of the sidewalks, streets, or public ways in the City of Houston, with the intent or in a manner calculated to annoy, or to attempt to flirt with any such woman or female person, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor..."

A violation would bring a fine of not more than $100. What cost $100 in 1905 would cost $2164 in 2006.

The 'goo-goo eyes' law was on the books up through the 1950s.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Plug pulled on East End landmark

(An uncropped version can be found at Wikipedia. Official license.)

According to today's Chronicle, the neon Maxwell House sign is no more. The plant was sold to another company. The sign wasn't part of the sale and is actually a trademark belonging to the previous owner, Kraft Foods.

The article states that Maxwell House moved to the Harrisburg site in 1947. Originally, the location was home to a Ford assembly plant.

Personally, I remember seeing it when I used to look out over Prairie Street from the Wortham Center. It certainly was a distinctive sign at night.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Alternate design

I found this in the 1907-1908 edition of the Standard Blue Book of Texas Who's Who.

The image says the Chronicle building "will be one of the largest and handsomest newspaper and office buildings in the Southwest."

Of course, the building ended up looking like this:

Now, some may say that first image sure looks like the Rice Hotel. Well, construction on the Rice Hotel as it looks today wasn't complete until 1913. The third wing was added 13 years after that.
Plans change, I guess!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hauled into court (Part 1 of 2)

1918 wasn’t off to a good start for local businessman Paul Grosse.

On Jan. 4, he found himself before United States Commissioner Jackson for arraignment on a charge of violating the espionage act.

Passed by Congress in 1917, the measure made it a crime to interfere with the operation of U.S. armed forces or to promote the success of its enemies. A conviction could bring a maximum punishment of $10,000 and 20 years in prison.

The government asserted that Grosse, president of the Houston Grain Co., indulged in pro-German military talk.

One witness for the government, the Chronicle reported, said Grosse told him that he didn’t think John “Black Jack” Pershing had many men nor could he get many men to fight in Europe.

The witness said Grosse allegedly told him that he would like to see the Germans clean up the Allies before the U.S. got in.

Regarding the Halifax disaster a month earlier: “He said they may as well be killed that way as any other way.”

In his defense, Grosse, a German-born immigrant who had lived in Houston for many years, never said anything directly against the United States. Defense witnesses said Grosse was, in fact, a loyal American.

A statement he read (prepared by his attorneys) told of how he escaped German militarism and came to America.

“I have been faithful to my family and friends and the right, and any wrong has been unconsciously done,” he said.

C.W. Nugent, Grosse’s attorney, told the court:

“We know how vital it is to look out for everything that is for the welfare of the people and the principles involved. However, human minds are all the same and in moments of enthusiasm, zeal gets us at times.”

But the two-day hearing ended with Grosse’s case being referred to a federal grand jury, the Post reported. He was released on $8,000 (about $122,000) bail.

More to come…

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Downtown, late 1920s

Downtown, looking west toward Sam Houston Hall, late '20s. The Julia Ideson building can be seen left of center.

I found this Sloane Gallery picture while checking out Houstorian, a new blog on local history.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Galveston Causeway: Target of sabotage?

On July 12, 1917, a watchman saw someone toss a lighted bomb from a northbound M.K. & T. train after it passed over the Galveston Causeway.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the man grabbed it and threw it into Galveston Bay. In doing so, he ended up burning his hand.

Maxwell Arentzen, a Philadelphia native who was enjoying a free ride on the freight train, was held on charges related to the attempted bombing. But he told authorities he was removed from the train before the bomb was to have been thrown. Investigators told the Chronicle his story appeared credible.

In its coverage, the Houston Press reported that had the bombing been successful, it "would suspend a flow of munitions for the allies through" Galveston.

Southern Pacific and federal officials combed the bay with hooks to find the explosive. No bomb was found in the days following the incident.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Woodland Heights Centennial Home Tour

Now that I have a home Internet connection established, expect some new items late next week.

Until then, I wanted to let you know about the 2007 Woodland Heights Centennial Home Tour on Saturday, March 24 and Sunday, March 25. Seven homes from the early 1900s will be featured on the tour.

Advance tickets can be purchased through PayPal or at several Woodland Heights-area merchants. Tickets are $15.00 each.

For more information, check out the Woodland Heights Web site.


The Chronicle had an interesting article today about a city plan to grant permanent tax exemptions to historic buildings. Residential structures would be excluded, though.