Monday, April 30, 2007

70 years ago

This is the Houston Post radio guide from April 28, 1937.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Houston's safest neighborhood theatre

With today's news that the city will move to designate the River Oaks Shopping Center, the River Oaks Theatre and the Alabama Bookstop as city landmarks, now would be a good time to roll out some information on when the theater opened.

The movie house opened on Nov. 28, 1939, with the Oscar-nominated "Bachelor Mother," starring David Niven, as the first film to be shown at the theater.

About half a page of ads in that day's Houston Post offered congratulations and best wishes to the theater and its operators. One business, Monarch Cleaners on Shepherd Drive, offered all-night service and allowed theater patrons to drop off or pick up their clothes anytime after the show.

The advertisement above described the River Oaks theater as "Houston's newest and safest neighborhood theatre."

The theater's operators promised:

"Pictures shown at the River Oaks will be carefully selected from the lists of all producers for good taste, high entertainment value, suitability for family audiences. Films to be shown at the River Oaks will be selected with your children in mind."

Opening ceremonies featured Houston Mayor Oscar F. Holcombe; Hugh Potter, president of the River Oaks Association; H.F. Pettigrew, of Pettigrew and Worley, who designed the theater; Buck Wynn Jr., who designed the interior; and Paul Scott, theater operator and manager.

A Post article touting the theater's opening mentioned a couple of architectural features:

  • "The seating arrangement provides wide spaces between the rows so that patrons will not be disturbed with the arrival or departure of others."

  • "Mr. Potter pointed out that the design of the theater has been conditioned to its location, in a grove of tall oak trees adjoining a residential neighborhood. The building is low so as to conform to a proposed adjoining structure which will contain additional store spaces and office facilities for the River Oaks Shopping Center."

  • The theater seated about 1,000 patrons.

  • The balcony stairway was lit with a continuous tube embedded in an aluminum hand rail. "The interior and exterior lighting reflect advancements presented for the first time this year at the New York and San Francisco fairs."

  • "Bas reliefs to the left and right of the stage are outstanding decorative features of the theater. Said to be the largest castings of their kind in the South, the bas reliefs portray the land and the sea. The work of Mr. Wynn, they have caused considerable favorable comment from artists and sculptors."

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Monday, April 23, 2007

On Thursday

Houston Arts and Media is holding its spring fundraiser Thursday from 6 - 9 p.m. at the Saint Arnold Brewery, 2522 Fairway Park Dr. At their Web site is a list of the dozens of items that will be up for auction that evening. Admission is $20.

Never heard of Houston Arts and Media? They're involved a number of projects related to Houston history. One is the Houston Neighborhood Series, which is a series of books that chronicles the history of specific areas of the city.

The other is an ongoing effort to get the oral histories of longtime Houstonians. The recordings collected are handed over to the Houston Public Library and the local universities for preservation.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Live at Five" turns 30

KTRK has the first broadcast of the 5 p.m. news show available for viewing. It originally aired on April 18, 1977.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Abandoned near Austin Street

Tucked inside the Dec. 19, 1897, edition of the Houston Post was a story about an 11-month-old boy abandoned by his mother.

J.H. Wells, a hack driver, said that on Dec. 8, between 6 and 7 p.m., a "well-dressed woman got off the train and engaged his carriage."

While on Congress Avenue, between Austin and LaBranch, she stopped the carriage and asked the driver to go inside a nearby store to buy some ribbons.

When Wells returned, the woman was gone and the baby was left behind.

The Post reported that if the parents of the child could not be found, the State Superintendent of Homes for Homeless Children "will find a home for it in a Christian family."


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New for 1897

In 1897, the Houston Post published a series of sketches of buildings that were either under construction or slated for construction. The Frank Dunn store, located at Franklin and Milam, was one of them.


Looking right

I added a couple of new items to the blog's right column. Under "File Cabinet," you'll see a link to a 1913 map of Houston.

Under the "Links Section" is a direct link to the Bob Bailey photo archive. In case you ever wanted to know what the inside of the old Yale Theater looked like, well, now you know!


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a lighted airplane!

Well, at least that's what hundreds of Houstonians thought on March 13, 1918.

The Houston Post reported that someone said "lighted airplanes" were doing stunts over the city at about 11 p.m. that night.

"And as a result, hundreds of persons spent several foolish minutes looking at the stars, under the impression that they were lighted airships from Ellington Field," the paper reported.

(You know, I can't even begin to imagine an era when lighted airplanes gave cause to assemble and look toward the sky.)

Well, one person was certain the planes were doing loops.

"He explained that the sudden disappearance of the light was when the machine turned at the upper turn of the loop," according to the Post.

Most people believed that "until it began to dawn upon the minds of a few that the lights seen were stars and someone discovered that the clouds floating across the sky made these lights disappear and then appear again."

The article ended with a Prohibition reference:

"One disgusted star gazer gave it as his opinion that it was about time that the 10-mile zone law or a bone dry law should be passed right soon."


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Skipping school

The March 14, 1918, Houston Post had a small, funny little story tucked inside its pages about a group of students who decided to skip school and go swimming.

I can't say with any kind of certainty where they decided to hang out, but I have an idea. Don't hesitate to offer your own ideas, too.

"All of this happened in the bayou, near the Katy crossing on the North Side," the article stated.

Well, the Katy is known as the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Co. railroad. The Katy crossing could be where it cross the bayou -- "North Side" indicating it could be where the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Co. railroad crossed White Oak Bayou.

If that's true, then we're talking about the area just east of Stude Park, on the other side of Studemont/Studewood.

Anyway, back to the story.

"The boys had their lunches -- intended to have been eaten at recess -- and -- well, who wanted a bathing suit anyway?"

So the boys swam, ate and eventually got thirsty.

"The boys decided that the few docile milch cows grazing along the side of the stream should furnish the 'drinks' for the banquet."

The cows didn't mind, but the same could not be said for the farmers.

"Then the trouble started," the article went on. "The North Side folks of the neighborhood do not object to boys swimming in the pool, but they certainly become irascible when someone milks their cows before dinner. A call for the police was phoned in."

Once police arrived, the boys fled, never to be found.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

A different kind of red-light issue (2 of 3)

(Catch up with part 1 here.)

So why was Houston's segregated vice district created?

According to a report by the city's ordinance committee, the city had received numerous complaints from residents of the First and Second wards and the school system.

"There exists at the present time in our city a most deplorable state of affairs with reference to these women," the 1908 report stated. "This unfortunate state of affairs has not existed in Houston until lately."

The committee's report hints at an unofficial vice district that previously existed in the city:

"During a great number of years, probably as many as 25 years, the majority of these women lived to the exclusion of other residents within a district or reservation which, while not declared by law or ordinance, existed in fact."

Actions by the courts and the state Legislature did away with that older vice district and caused many prostitutes to spread throughout the city, which eventually led to the complaints.

But in advocating the creation of the segregated vice district, the committee concluded that:

"The successful and permanent exclusion of prostitution from the limits of a city the size of Houston is impossible. It is a fact of general knowledge that the successful permanent exclusion of prostitution from any city of large size has never occurred in the history of the world...."

Kicking prostitutes out of the city limits would "form clusters on the outskirts of the city, most probably on the principal avenues and street car lines leading out of the city. Electric transit has carried a large portion of the residences of the people to the outskirts of the city. These citizens would have these offensive establishments brought in close contact to their homes and would have the lines of street car communication to their homes ruined by the presence of immoral men and women."

And what about those Fourth Ward residents living near the vice district?

"The district selected is considered from all points of view the best selection that could have been made. The property is of very little value and will be increased rather than diminished in value by the ordinance. No public school is situated in or near it, nor is there any occasion for school children to pass through it in going to school. It is not situated on any public thoroughfare in general use and largely the land is vacant and unoccupied by residents and is of little value, situated in the bends of the bayou and cut up by gullies."

Think about that the next time you drive down Allen Parkway near Eleanor Tinsley Park.

Actually, the whole idea of a segregated vice district wasn't exactly new to anyone. Chicago, New Orleans and Des Moines, Iowa, were a few of the cities to have their own districts. In Texas, "Guy Town" in Austin, "Frogtown" and "Boggy Bayou" in Dallas, the Utah Street reservation in El Paso, "Hell's Half Acre" in Fort Worth, the Post Office Street district in Galveston, the "District" in San Antonio, and "Two Street" in Waco were each of those town's vice districts, according to the Handbook of Texas.

Houston's was referred to as "Happy Hollow."

But as the city geared for war and as attention turned elsewhere, the city's vice district would come to a close in about 10 years. By that time, according to the Handbook of Texas, 60 percent of the women who led households of prostitutes in the vice reservation were Anglo, 35 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Streetcar shooting

It happened somewhere near Tuam and Albany streets.

On March, 11, 1918, a person the Houston Post described as a "demented negro" reportedly shot two men during an altercation on a streetcar.

The suspect, W.H. Thompson, believed the car's conductor, R.N. Wells, was trying to sprinkle "hoodoo" powder on him.

The trouble started when the man tried to leave the streetcar before it came to a stop. When the conductor objected, the man replied, "You can't work no spells on me."

By this time, the streetcar was at Taft and Fairview, the Post reported.

A few blocks later, near Tuam and Albany, the man fired a gun at Wells, striking him in the shoulder.

Wells jumped from the streetcar. At the same time, an outbound streetcar also came to a stop at the intersection.

George Wilson, an engineer at the Home of the Good Shepherd, was a passenger on the outbound car. When he and all the other passengers learned what was going on, he chased Thompson. During that time, Thompson fired again, striking Wilson in the shoulder.

As a mob of passengers gave chase, Thompson was able to flee into a home on Whitney Street, where he called police and surrendered.

Hearing gunfire, many residents in the area came out armed with weapons as well.

Both Wells and Wilson were taken to St. Joseph's Infirmary and treated for minor injuries.

Thompson, who had been tried about a year earlier for attempting to assault a woman in the 200 block of Hathaway (now Westheimer), was arrested and charged with two counts of assault to murder.

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