By Chris Daigle
Commuters whizzing by on North Shepherd hardly give a glance to the foliage-covered red house near 15th street. They are more interested in getting in and out of the Heights Veterinary Clinic next door. After all, the house has been there forever – there’s nothing to see here.
Upon further inspection, a flagpole in front reveals that this was the Lowell Street School, a traditional “Little Red Schoolhouse” that has inhabited this spot since about 1918, and was the classroom of Houston’s famous and not-so-famous through the decades.
When the house was built, World War I was winding down, and Shepherd Drive was a country road known as Lowell Avenue. The city limits would not catch up to this address for another 20 years.
The keeper of the house’s history is Dr. Kenneth Williams, the veterinarian next door. He has owned the clinic since 1975, and, at first, only knew that the property next door was used for campaign rallies and as the meeting house of the Rosebud Garden Club in the mid 1960’s. It wasn’t until a former classmate’s father came into the clinic that Williams realized what was really next door. Upon hearing that the school had so much history, Dr. Williams launched a personal investigation, which yielded few results.
According to City records, Magnolia Loan and Building Company deeded the land over to the Trustees of the Heights Annex Addition to pave the way for a school. Williams held a black and white photo showing the entire class in 1921 at the front door.
“Look here to the left,” Williams said. “That’s oil well firefighter Red Adair at about six years old.” Adair was portrayed by John Wayne in the 1968 movie, “Hellfighters.”
While it remains unclear how the building was used in recent decades, and exactly when the garden club took over, Williams says the Garden Club handed him the keys and abandoned the building in 1989, leaving the house in squalor.
In the years since, Williams has taken it upon himself to spend thousands of his own dollars fixing up the widows, repairing the foundation and roof, and has paid delinquent taxes on it to become the official owner of the land where this rare piece of Texas history sits.
Today, Williams has different plans for the lot under the schoolhouse: expansion of the vet clinic. To that end, the schoolhouse will need a foster home where it can be restored and used as perhaps a Scout meeting hall, or a community center for a needy neighborhood. That’s proving to be a difficult task. Williams is willing to donate the building to someone who can move it, but after contacting the Galveston Historical Society, the Houston Heights Association, the Heritage Society at San Houston Park and several others, there are no takers.
“I really want to avoid demolition of this treasure,” Williams said. “I’ve seen so many great places demolished in my lifetime. I don’t want this to be one of them.”
Williams showed us around his time machine schoolhouse on Shepherd Drive one morning. Layers of paint on the front doors compliment ornate, but rusty, skeleton key doorknobs, long since out of use. We were transported to a simpler time standing there, without cars, or televisions, or moon landings. What did kids see out of those 100 year-old windows that now give views to used car lots?
“Kids learned inside here a hundred years ago,” Williams said. “Kids can learn from this place today, if we can save it.”
For further information on this preservation effort, contact Dr. Kenneth Williams at email@example.com.