CHRIS DAIGLE is a native Houstonian and a contributing editor to The Grapevine Source. All articles and photos are copyright Chris Daigle. To contact Chris, click HERE.
June 13, 2019
There are very few distractions when you work from home, so you tend to notice things close to your heart. For me, one of them, along with the ice cream man in the afternoon and washing off sand at a Galveston beach, has to be the Astrodome. That’s all you have to say to a stranger who grew up in Houston. The Astrodome. Just stand back, because memories are going to come out like a fire hose. Way in the back of my mind, I always wanted there to be something to represent how we collectively felt, and still feel, about this place, and I’ve recently stumbled upon it.
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis recently recorded and made a video for their song, “Astrodome.” They get it – they really understand what the Astrodome meant to us. Together with Texas songwriter/singer Jack Ingram, they take us on a journey of deep introspection, and get right to the bullseye of Astrodome culture.
Texas Monthly calls this newest song from Robison and Willis’s album Beautiful Lie “touching.” In my opinion, that comment is on par with calling the ocean “damp.” Robison and Willis travel back to the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and wipe the dust off fading memories.
Fortunately, my memories aren’t fading. Every minute of my time in the Astrodome was spent mentally remembering every detail of the spectacle in front of me: The smell of the smoke from the destruction derby or watching Evel Kneivel about to jump several cars on his motorcycle and wondering if he was going to make it. Oh no, my friends…nothing’s faded. I don’t remember what I wore last Tuesday, but I remember everything about the Dome.
Robison and Willis draw on familiar Texas music legends in their mixture of memories and harmonies. “There’s something familiar in here,” was my thought. Sure enough, Robison cites Roger Miller and Jerry Jeff Walker as huge influences on his style. The styles of Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings come along for good measure.
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis really did it this time. They were just fine with songs like the slow waltzing ballad, “Beautiful Lie,” the crushingly sublime “Lost my Best” and the album closing, “Heartache to Houston.” But they really put the pedal to the metal with “Astrodome,” going right to the center of all our nostalgia and reminding us there was a place like none other, and a time like none other. We may be older and we may not live in Houston anymore, but we were there to see Elvis in a Jeep waving at us or to see George Strait supersize his career at the Rodeo on a moment’s notice. The Dome is a shrine to Texas “Can Do” spirit, which is a part of us, like a nostalgic tattoo never to be removed.
I was lucky. I did sit in the Astrodome and wonder whatever became of that version of me so many times. I became one with the dream that this building represents; a tireless effort by one man to make something unforgettable, and to create a legacy for a city. The stadium next door [NRG Stadium] never quite achieved that. It just made us sit on plastic seats and pay a fortune for food.
Robison and Willis have brought us all together in the field boxes again, and we remember.
Thanks to them from the state of Texas.
January 28, 2019
As a journalist, I’ve been in some unusual situations. I’ve flown with the Blue Angels in a C-130 going straight up, an adventure which earned me the flight name, “Chili Man,” having survived a bowl of chili right before the flight without incident. I’ve traveled at 200 miles an hour on a race track and have been upside down in stunt planes. The greatest story ever assigned to me came without warning, and not over the phone.
I’ve had a stroke.
I didn’t think much of it at first, as I pulled into a now-defunct clinic, thinking I could just get a shot or something to make this go away. As the ambulance took me to the hospital, I was gripped by one thought: this is bad.
I learned about hospitals, doctors and medicines very quickly, and hospital life became a new way of living for me. Thinking about the next examination was the overriding guide for my day. Little did I know that a vast network of friends and family mobilized on my behalf behind the scenes. My employer and his staff came to the hospital. Others worked to help me establish state and federal benefits.
I constantly thought, “What is this all about?” in those first few days, wondering why my left side wouldn’t work. From the beginning, I had to realize that this was really me going through this, and it wouldn’t just go away, like other calamities in my life. My nickname at work is,” M.O.D.,” or Master of Disaster because I’ve had so many close calls over the years.
Apparently, because of the way I was eating, the term, “Master of Donuts” fit also. I was eating all the wrong things, and it caught up with me. Too much Taco Bell; too much Mountain Dew. The stress didn’t help either. I’m like a fire truck for five different departments that need stuff right now. And that’s in addition to planning my evenings, weekends, and finances. It’s a lot, as I’m sure most of you know. Take this piece of advice: When the doctor tells you to bring down your hypertension and blood pressure, do it.
Then I found myself asking, “Why me?” Everybody told me that this is just something that happens in your head. It’s not punishment for anything, and the sooner you get treatment, the better you will be. My response has been that my left side is still there, and if it’s not damaged or missing, it will come back. Indeed, my mentor Catherine Roberts, told me that it took 11 weeks for her faculties to return after the stroke she had.
That’s not to say that other thoughts don’t creep in, even though I try my best to be positive. Now I can’t work, so what about my finances? How am I going to get around once I get home? I spent several weeks in the hospital, and three months in a rehab facility. It was definitely an education. The first cold hard reality was that there are people around me in far worse condition than myself. That made me feel better, with a sense of, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Seeing functioning people moving around me made me jealous until I figured out they were once in worse shape than me, and have gotten better, so now they are a model for my recovery.
One bright ray of light in this whole adventure has been the tremendous support of my girlfriend, Denise. She’s really sick herself with blood problems and so forth, but put her problems aside to care about me. Early on, I said, ”This is terrible!” She came back with a response I’ll always remember. She said, “Terrible is temporary.” That should be written on the walls in this place.
This is such a different lifestyle than before. Once I could go downstairs, take the trash out, do the laundry and a hundred other things with two hands. Now I have to know what to do with one hand. I can’t do my former job, and things like laundry and personal care will now be a challenge.
Living in a wheelchair every day makes you humble. It certainly makes you appreciate what you used to have. This is my first time going through this, so it’s a different world; however, less and less I’m thinking that this is some kind of a dream that I’ll wake up from.
Several lessons came from all this. If the doctor tells you to cut back and be more healthy, do it. Don’t wait for something to happen that will force you to follow this advice. I figured it would never happen to me, but it did.
Don’t take anything for granted. Things don’t have to work out well all the time. Something good may be around the corner. You are not immune to anything and do what it takes to avoid trouble. I didn’t, and it got me here.
I can’t be mad at what happened; it was my fault. What am I going to do? Sue the back of my brain? It’s like a hurricane – you can’t get back at nature.
This will be a cliffhanger, but it showed me the importance of life. You get one mind, one body, and one life. Use it well.
September 26, 2018
For some reason, the big players in Houston and Texas media continue to ignore one of the biggest news stories of our day. Maybe they’re too focused on a certain judge in Washington, or posting photo galleries of the best neighborhoods to live in or best restaurants to eat at, and can’t find the time. In the process, corporate-owned media in Texas are missing an opportunity to do their real jobs as watchdogs for the rest of us.
You’ve probably heard about the purported high speed train that will one day in the far, far future connect the booming economies of Houston and Dallas. You’ve seen snippets of smiling politicians lauding the innovative (yep, that’s the word for everything now) technology of modern trains, and you’ve seen public relations pieces boasting of a new board chairman or a new CEO joining the team of Texas Central Railroad (TCR) to forever change the way we travel in Texas.
What you aren’t reading anywhere is an in-depth analytical look at the feasibility of this project, the money that surrounds it, the public endearment that it is certainly not capturing, and the way a high speed train will factor into transportation a decade from now. For the life of me, I can’t understand why big media outlets haven’t jumped on the opportunity to do some real, if difficult, work.
The latest news about Texas Central Partners and its “bullet train” was quietly released last week in the Dallas Morning News: “Texas Central Partners has secured a $300 million loan to continue its pursuit of a new 240-mile high speed rail route from Houston to Dallas. The company said it will use the financing to move ahead on permitting, design, and engineering on what would be the first high speed rail in Texas.” The loan is a tiny percentage, they say, of the total $15 billion project overall cost. Others estimate it will cost closer to $20 billion.
For anyone who has followed the slow drip of news on this project since its 2015 announcement, the $300 million loan should serve as sticker shock to the general public. The reason? The interest bearing loan comes from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development. Say that real fast at a party, and nobody goes home drunk.
Good on the Dallas Morning News for at least reporting about the loan (I could find nothing in the Houston Chronicle lately). But if you know the background of this project, and the promises made by Texas Central Railroad, we should all raise an eyebrow.
TCR has constantly told us they have local investments worth enough to get the project to the construction phase. To a bum like me, I took that to mean they would get through all the studies and permitting, and consulting work needed to start laying the first columns of concrete.
I read through the tea leaves, whatever those are, and discovered that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, they needed $300 million additional, and somehow can’t find the complete funding locally (in America) to continue the project without the help of two Japanese banks. To answer your upcoming question, Texas Central Railroad plans to use Japanese technology – not compatible with high speed rails across the rest of the world – to build this new rail system. No wonder our friends from the Far East have ponied up the dollars to get the project through the U.S. government’s approval process.
Interestingly, news of this loan brought one of the larger opponents of the project out of public hiding last week. A company called SNCF America, the Maryland based arm of the French National railway company which is based in Paris, France (not Paris, Texas). They jumped on news of the Japanese bank loan.
Scott Dunaway, a spokesman for SNCF America, said, “Texas Central Partners comes clean on its empty promise of private funding led by Texas investors. Now Japanese taxpayer funds are being loaned to finance the planned Texas to Houston rail. Two Japanese government agencies are supporting an attempt to corner the market with technology that lacks interoperability (won’t match other rail systems anywhere) and creates a monopoly on the future of Texas high speed rail.”
I tried to contact Dunaway directly to get more information on his company’s concerns. As the spokesman for the company, I thought he seemed a logical place to start. I was told Dunaway the Spokesman, “Isn’t conducting interviews, but talk to SNCF America’s President and CEO, Alain Leray. I thought that would be great, but Leray works in Paris, and he was counting sheep when I needed an interview.
My point is, SNCF probably has as much to lose (or gain) from what happens to this TCR bullet train as any other company in the world, so you have to be careful using their information to form educated opinions on the project.
That gets me back to where we started. Where are our major media players when we need them most? Sorry, but this reporter is a one-man show. Ne team of investigative reporters here, so the best thing to do is sound the alarm.
Has anyone bothered to think about the future of transportation around this concept of high speed rail? For instance, TCR says you won’t sweat the drive to Dallas anymore. Just watch a movie or get some work done on the 90-minute run in comfort. But aren’t there self driving cars that accomplish the same thing coming right up? Has anyone taken a look at the California high speed train project? It’s a catastrophe, and getting worse. We should be paying attention.
So I will ask the pressing questions to help our brethren in the big media to look this way. Is there any possible way this project is going to happen? Hopefully not, say the legions of landowners whose lives and property will be disrupted by this ongoing drama. A few months ago, it was announced that Northwest Mall, standing proud across the highway from the tracks since 1967, would be the Houston stop for the bullet train. Does that mean a dash to Palais Royal for shoes and shirts before heading to Dallas? Does that mean no more mall, and the lot stays barren for a decade while we wait for construction? Estimates for completion are for 2024, but delays in starting mean delays in finishing.
With me being in Houston, and the Grapevine Source being near Dallas, this seems like a seamless solution to get to the office one day. But if the parent company already needs foreign money just to complete the studies, is it really that great of an idea?
September 15, 2018
Two very special animals, and those who worked to save them, came together on September 7 for the 14th Annual Fierce and Fabulous Soiree at the new Post Oak Hotel in Houston’s Galleria area.
Hosted by Houston Petset, an umbrella organization that provides grants to other animal non-profits in the greater Houston area, it was two rescue dogs from K-9 Angels Rescue that garnered most of the attention at the glam-filled event.
There to greet the 400 party goers was Kourtney Kadrich and Esperanza, a young black and white pit bull, adoptable through K-9 Angels in Houston. “She was found on the streets, and K-9 Angels took over her care,’ said Kadrich. “We rescue about 1,000 a year. She was brought back to health, and she needs a forever home. She loves to cuddle and loves to be the center of attention.”The goal of Houston Petset is to help those who are “in the trenches” on a daily basis, rescuing, spaying, neutering, fostering, adopting and protecting Houston’s animals. Houston Petset believes that the animal homelessness problem in our community has a solution.
Sherry Sara with K-9 Angels Rescue in the Heights came with a cute fluffball named Einstein, who is about one year old, and available for adoption. Einstein adored all the attention and became friends with every guest in the room.
The program was emceed by KHOU Channel 11 Morning Show host Deborah Duncan. Faces in the crowd included Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and wife Gwen, former Astro Jeff Bagwell and wife Rachel, Sue and Lester Smith, Courtney Hopson, Neal Hamill of Carnan Properties, Joanne King Herring, Courtney and Bill Toomey, Frances Moody, Vivian Wise, and KPRC weathercaster Frank Billingsley.
Few are more dedicated to the welfare of animals that Susan and Dan Boggio, the event’s honorees. Susan is the current Board Chair for UNICEF-USA, and with Dan, were honored for their dedication to alleviate the homelessness and suffering of our community’s animals. They foster many animals at once, and Susan personally goes out on the streets to rescue animals she has seen or heard are in danger. They financially support animal welfare organizations as well. In accepting the award, Susan repeated her heartfelt motto, “There’s nothing more important in the world one can ever do than improve the quality of life and relieve the suffering of others, whether human or animal.
The high energy gala chairs this year were identical twins Tama Lindquist, and Tena Lindquist Faust. Co-Chairing this year was Princess Tatiana Sierra, whose father, Prince Piotr Galitzine, is from Russian aristocracy, and her mother, Princess Maria-Anna Habsburg, is the Belgian-born granddaughter of Emperor Karl and Empress Zita, the Austrian royal family deposed at the end of World War I.
The evening capped off with a live auction, where auctioneer Jeff Smith raised big bucks for the pups, with bids on a winter catamaran trip, a New York City Broadway Experience, a Palmetto Bluff, SC four-night getaway and a Pawve dogtag necklace curated by Itouch Diamonds Jewelers, to raise a total of $500,000 to help even more animals in danger.
Esperanza and Einstein gave the event 8 paws up!
September 14, 2018
If you were born before 1988, it’s fair to say you spent part of your life in the Astrodome if you lived in Houston. It was like our collective living room that could hold 60,000 people at one time, sometimes even more than that. It was our memory factory.
Every sport, except perhaps curling or bobsled racing, was played at the “Dome.” Watching from high above, far removed from the action in its outfield perch above the action, whether it was football, baseball, tennis, boxing, basketball, auto racing or jumping over cars with a motorcycle, was the scoreboard.
This was not just any scoreboard. That never suited Roy Hofheinz as he planned the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was to be as grand as the building itself!
The “Home Run Spectacular,” as it was named, lasted 24 seasons in the Astrodome, and like its home, was never duplicated. It was the crowning jewel in a fantasy land; it has been witness to over 1,500 baseball victories; it has made us laugh and probably made some cry, but it always has been part of the lure of what makes the place so entertaining.
An event just wasn’t complete without the pictures and the lights that came on for an Oilers touchdown or an Astros home run. It was the one thing that could make an audience, from peanut vendors to players, stop and stare. It was as big as Texas, befitting a city, a stadium and an organization set on innovation and the future.
On September 5 1988, 40,000 lights shone for the last time at an Astros vs. Reds game to a sellout crowd. Gone, but not forgotten, the 474-foot scoreboard was silenced to make room for 10,000 more seats and boxes for a future that never came.
Okay, okay, no sniveling now. Logic tells us that there is no point in getting all sentimental over a scoreboard. It was nothing but half a mile of wiring, fuses, circuits, bulbs and transistors. Never mind that at 474 feet, it was longer that the football field it presided over. It was just a machine. Of course, millions of us did have a relationship with the Great wall of Houston during the 23-and-a-half years it entertained us.
When the Astrodome opened in April, 1965, the scoreboard was the wildest wonder of them all in the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It carried the art form of scoring a game to the next level, when we didn’t know there could be another level.
Bill Veeck had introduced the concept of adding fireworks with the ball scores in Chicago, 10 years before. But the Astrodome gave us that much, and more: Electronic cheerleading, cartoons, and a Wild West show. When we referred to the scoreboard, we really meant the Home Run Spectacular. Whenever a member of the home team parked a ball into the seats, bulls snorted, six shooters went off, a cowboy whirled a lariat, stars danced across the cosmos and the Texas flag was raised in tribute.
To compensate for those stretches when the Astros suffered a power shortage, they touched off the board after every home victory. It was the surest way to keep the fans in their seats until the end of the game.
Opposing pitchers hated the animated scoreboard with a passion, as though the antics shown were a personal commentary on their skills. One year, the New York Mets struck back: After a Mets home run, teammates all jumped out of the dugout, each waving a sparkler. Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher engaged in a kind of “Tom and Jerry” cartoon with Bill Giles, the original keeper of the switches for the scoreboard. Giles programmed the computer that fed information to the scoreboard. He said, “Every time Leo went to the mound to change pitchers, I’d put a comment on the board about it. Once, Leo got furious and called me every name in the book, then ripped out the dugout phone.”
Later, in one of those ironies so dear to sports, Leo became the manager of the Houston Astros, and suddenly the scoreboard was great.
Another critic of the scoreboard, and its alter ego, was Dick Young, the gray eminence of the New York tabloids, traveling with the Mets in a 24-inning game at the Dome. The game lasted till well past midnight, violating the curfew of many in the crowd. Unfortunately, it was Boy Scout night at the Astrodome. Bill Giles said, “I put on the board the line, ‘Sex Will Never Replace Night Baseball.’”
Giles defended himself for that, saying, “Well, it was around 2 in the morning. But Dick Young wrote that I ought to be barred from baseball, that it was a disgrace, putting up that message in front of those Boy Scouts.”
Other adventures with the scoreboard involved upsetting umpires who charged that the Astros were using the scoreboard to intimidate umpires after the message, “Kibler did it again” was shown. This was in reference to umpire John Kibler, who had just ejected a Houston player for the second game in a row. When an aging Willie Mays hit his 550th career home run, the message was, “This is your captain speaking, we are passing through some turbulence, fasten your seat belts.” In a 1967 game, when Giants pitcher Ray Sadecki threw to first base nine straight times, the message was, “This is ridiculous!”
And now, in the name of progress, it’s been 30 years since the bull roared and the ball flew, and the stars sparkled, and we all applauded. History was replaced with 10,000 seats to appease Oilers owner Bud Adams, who took the Oilers to Tennessee anyway and named them the Titans. The seats are still there; only we are not. For now, scoreboard watching will be a little less fun for the Boy Scout in each of us.
August 4, 2018
Downtown Houston has always been a place where the old meets the new, especially in its architecture. Along Louisiana Street, near Texas Avenue, two buildings have hosted generations of Houstonians. They have survived five hurricanes, seen two world wars, the Great Depression, Prohibition, three floods, and have been home to over 100 businesses between them since they were born in 1906, 112 years ago. The only force they couldn’t survive was progress.
The two buildings, a red brick structure with the address of 509 – 511 Louisiana, and its companion, a three-story building with New Orleans style windows, were part of the Theater District before there were theaters. They were the brain children of two businessmen who saw opportunity in the central part of the city.
William A. Wilson, a real estate developer of two Houston neighborhoods, Woodland Heights in 1908, and Eastwood in 1913, built the red brick building with arched windows at 509 – 511 Louisiana in 1906 to upgrade the area from a red light district called, “Happy Hollow,” that was a city nuisance by the 1870’s. When the “Soiled Doves” as they were called, were relocated to the Hardcastle area of Freedmen’s Town, along what is now Allen Parkway, lots 7 and 8 of Block 59 became available for purchase.
Wilson’s friend, Llewellen Perry, a real estate man himself, also wanted in. He built his handsome two-story building next door, at 515 – 517 Louisiana, to house such businesses as a printing company, the Phenix Dairy (from 1916 to 1919), and National Wire and Iron Works, whose slogan was, “Just think: 100 feet of good fence for $2.50.” You could also buy Phaetons there, which were touted as, “Rubber-tired surrey runabout, trap and storm buggies.”
By 1909, the building had made the leap into the automotive age. The new Economy Plating And Manufacturing Co. offered nickel plating for car bodies. Four years later, the building was reborn as the Elite Garage And Repair. In 1921, it was overhauled again, this time with a maritime theme. Sail and hatch manufacturer Crescent Awning and Tarpaulin Company advertised, “Special attention given the steamships. Ask us about them.”
Not to be outdone, William Wilson promoted his building with a paint company. By 1912, it was an early home of the Star of Hope Mission, and later, the Texas Boxing Enterprise. The Mission had moved by 1920, whereupon the building was remodeled at the exorbitant cost of $1,975, and reborn as the Houston Auto Supply Company, which was “Peddling all sizes of Packard cable, Autorelite Spotlights, and rear curtains for your motoring pleasure.”
Meanwhile, south of Block 59, Houston’s first large theatre building was emerging in 1910 as the City Auditorium, a facility large enough to host shows by Enrico Caruso, Christmas shows, and wrestling matches. The City Auditorium existed until 1963, when it was demolished for the current Jones Hall For The Performing Arts.
In the 1920’s, Sicilian-born local real estate entrepreneur Michele DeGeorge was developing properties in Houston, and saw the need for a hotel on available land across the street from the City Auditorium. The boarding house at Texas and Louisiana gave way to DeGeorge’s Auditorium Hotel in 1926, which was a 200-bedroom hotel that opened with much fanfare, to host actors, acrobats, business travelers, cowboys and musicians more efficiently than the Rice Hotel, just two blocks away. This was DeGeorge’s second hotel, as he had already built the DeGeorge Hotel in 1913, at 1418 Preston Avenue, to serve the Union Station railway passengers.
The Perry Building’s most recent tenant was Charley’s 517, a suit-and-tie restaurant and wine cellar catering to the theater district. It was a Houston icon for over 30 years, touting a 1987 Texas Monthly print ad that claimed that, “Charley’s 517 is the height of rustic elegance in the heart of Houston’s Theater District.”
The march of time, however, has a way of taking away the shine of a simpler, more enjoyable era. The Longhorn Café and Saloon opened in 1978 in the Wilson Building, but was shuttered along with Charley’s 517 in 2010. The upstairs offices were occupied by attorneys and businessmen, but issues keeping the buildings up to city code finally made any use of the structures impossible.
A huge dilemma was brewing out of the sight of theater patrons. Inside the Lancaster Hotel, Michaelene “Miki” Lusk Norton and her siblings were looking at ways to save the buildings.
“We wanted to use them for special occasions, wedding receptions, and as an entertainment space to complement the Lancaster Hotel,” she said.
The welfare of the two buildings was a personal matter for Norton and her Lusk siblings, who now own the Lancaster Hotel and the two Louisiana Street buildings. She is the great-granddaughter of DeGeorge and granddaughter of Tanny Charles Guseman, who was DeGeorge’s son-in-law. Guseman bought the Wilson Building and the Perry Building respectively in 1943 and 1953.
“I was very interested in this piece of land, which was known as Block 59, and researched it in 2010 with the anticipation of obtaining a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark Designation for the buildings,” Norton said. “My assistant, Susan Cowles, and I spent days at the Coffeepot Building next to the Harris County Courthouse to learn what happened there, from when God made the land to when grandfather Guseman made the purchases,” she said. “I needed the chain of title. We knew this was Block 59 of the original 62 blocks laid out by Gail Borden in 1837 on the first map of Houston ordered by the Allen Brothers.”
Meanwhile, Norton said that downtown was developing rapidly, forcing the Lancaster Hotel to find creative ways to park its guests’ cars. “The hotel never had its own parking area since it was built in 1926, because it was built in the middle of downtown, and people parked at the curb, or in garages, or on surface lots,” she said. “Recently, we have had contracts with the Houston Chronicle, the Calpine garage behind us, the Alley Theatre garage, and JP Morgan Chase. The Tranquility Park underground garage is too far away for guests to walk to or to provide valet services for.”
The greater number of people using parking spaces meant that rates were going up, and the available number of spaces were going down. “After the Chronicle building and garages sold in November 2015, the new management company for the Houston Chronicle garage raised their monthly rate from $4,000 to $14,000, then finally offered us 22 spaces for 6 months at $8,000 per month. The garages downtown were over-subscribed, and our valet parking company was squeezed out,” Norton added.
In December 2015, the family had to make a decision. After much debate, the vote was to do the only thing left for the Lancaster to survive: To tear down the two 1906 buildings Houston had known for 110 years, and the Lusk co-owners had known all of their lives.
“We didn’t really want to do it, but we needed parking. We really do love and cherish historic architecture in Houston, but this had to be done,” said Norton. “The buildings had so much deferred maintenance that bringing them up to code for occupancy would have cost several million dollars, and we still wouldn’t have any parking.” she said.
On January 5, 2016, Norton met with famed archeology stewards Jeff Durst, of the Texas Historical Commission, and Buffalo Bayou historian Louis Aulbach, to tour the buildings and see the history they might reveal. “This was somebody’s livelihood. People spent their lives here,” Durst said. “We’ve heard about the history of these buildings for years, and now we go inside.”
The buildings, though remodeled, were a time machine back to another era. Brick archways greeted visitors in every room. Tall windows, meant to catch the breeze long before there was air conditioning, looked out on a very different Houston that wasn’t there 110 years ago
On the third floor of the Perry building stood the “Barn Door,” long ago bricked up, that was a secret passageway to the Auditorium Hotel, which is now the Lancaster. “Both the hotel staff and family used this as attic storage for decades. It contained some trash and some treasures.” Norton said.
Crossing over to the William Wilson building, more secrets from another time were found. Two reels of motion picture film were hidden in a corner, which turned out to be footage of high school football in Amarillo in 1963. Hundreds of framed English hunting scenes from the hotel rooms and restaurant sat awaiting new owners.
January 26 was demolition day. For two weeks, Norton and her staff carried lights, framed pictures, and glassware out until the backhoe man said, “That’s it! You can’t go back in there.”
In the three days of demolition, Miki Norton stood across the street, remembering. “It was 110 years ago these buildings were constructed. It’s heartbreaking to watch them come down. At the same time, it’s fascinating to see the anatomy of historic buildings,” she said. These structures that had created so much Houston history were becoming history themselves.
Once the land was cleared, the archeological dig began. Specialists from the Houston Archeological Society and the Texas Historical Commission went to work. “This is the last site of its kind in Harris County that hasn’t been disrupted by a skyscraper,” said Linda Gorski, President of the Houston Archeological Society.
A natural gulley, untouched since the buildings were built, has existed since before Houston was founded. “They show up on the 1873 maps of Houston, and this one started in this block and ran to Buffalo Bayou. It means there was a spring or tributary here,” said Aulbach. The team predicted there would be Native American artifacts here, as well as early Houston treasures.
Block 59 had unique features. The old town of Houston had at least five gullies crossing its terrain. Springs were common in these areas, and today, Artesian Street, near the police station, refers to an Artesian spring that was used for clean water instead of bayou water in the 1800’s. In the 1890’s, City Council suggested residents throw their trash into one of these gullies, hoping they would fill up and become flat, creating more buildable land and a larger tax base. A spring formed the gulley that ran west from Milam Street to the bayou, and when the spring crossed Smith Street, a pool of water collected in an area known as Indian Campground. In the early days of the Republic of Texas, when it was a separate country, several tribes came to the new town of Houston to whoop it up in saloons and hang out with President Sam Houston.
After the Civil war, the area bordered by Milam, Prairie and Capitol Streets, along with Buffalo Bayou, was called the Happy Hollow. It was “happy” because it was full of female boarding houses whose residents’ occupations were listed in the 1900 census as prostitute. The “hollow” part came from the fact that the land sat on top of a gulley. Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, the Lancaster Hotel, and the Calpine Building at 717 Texas, all sit on the sites of these former brothels.
Multiple shovel dig sites in the gulley were staked out by Jeff Durst. With ten people digging, the team found perfume bottles, liquor bottles, medicine bottles, glass, tile, ceramics, buttons, nails, animal bone, and rocks used by Native Americans to craft arrowheads; 1100 items in all. Ten feet away was the cistern, or water well, used by the tenants to collect rainwater. Aulbach said, “Since there was a gulley, the spring will still be here. We’re digging down to find it.”
The next morning, Miki Norton announced, “We found it! We found the spring!” It was twelve feet below street level, and six feet below the gulley: Flowing water no one had seen in at least 110 years. “Gradually, fill dirt and sand filled up this area, and floods brought more material from river. It just sort of settled over time,” Gorski explained.
The spring was photographed and measured, and experienced archeologist Roger Moore visited the site. He said it was the most significant find he had seen in the urban city. Office workers from downtown came to see and take pictures. At the day’s end, the great find had to be filled in for safety reasons and restored to its natural state. The last trace of Houston’s prehistory now belonged to the ages.
The absence of the buildings also revealed something most Houstonians had not known about for 100 years: A majestic pecan tree growing in back of the William Wilson building. Legend has it that this six-story tall tree was a descendant of a great stand of pecan trees on Block 59 when the city was founded, where, in 1837, the Cherokees traded with President Sam Houston of the Republic of Texas and signed treaties. Others say this pecan tree was most likely planted by William Wilson to enhance his property in the early 20th century.
“We wanted to keep the tree, but it was diseased,” Norton said. The tree, just like the buildings, is now just a memory.”
“It most likely lived so long because it was fed by the underground stream,” Aulbach added.
The future of Block 59 calls for a temporary surface parking lot for 50 cars, and eventually a parking garage and possible hotel expansion, incorporating some of the bricks and architectural embellishments of the two demolished buildings.
“We want to keep the memory of those two buildings alive,” Norton said. “It’s respectful to pay homage to those who were here before us.”
[Editor’s Note: Yes, this is satire, though the photos aren’t! Enjoy!]
Famous Houston photojournalist Chris Daigle is seen out and about in Houston social life these days, never stopping his whirlwind tour of the famous and the influential.
The Source caught up to “Deadline Daigle,” as the New York Times put it, on a recent swing through the Bayou City for his stage play, “Where’s my Pulitzer?” Fans stood in line all day just to see him.
“Wow! He’s going to be right here!” said former Oiler quarterback Dan Pastorini. “I hope I get a picture with him!” Dave Ward, a fixture of Houston news for five decades, said that he wouldn’t miss meeting Daigle for the world. “I just hope there’s donuts there, ’cause I’m camping out for this!” He also commented on his longevity on Houston’s ABC 13. “When I started in news, the Dead Sea wasn’t even sick yet.”
By special arrangement with his security detail, both Dave Ward and Dan Pastorini did indeed get a selfie with Chris Daigle. “Now I can die happy! My bucket list is complete,” said Dave Ward, now 79.
Way to go Dan and Dave!
June 17, 2018
By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor
Trash talk was thick between Kimmel and Cruz before their game in Houston on Saturday June 16 at Texas Southern University’s Athletic Education Arena.
The idea for this charity game resulted from Houston-based senator Ted Cruz tweeting a picture of himself court side for Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. His hometown Houston Rockets were trying to keep the Golden State Warriors from getting to the NBA Finals. The Rockets lost, which prompted talk show host Jimmy Kimmel to mock the senator on Twitter, saying he looked like, well, a Blobfish.
Cruz, a basketball benchwarmer in high school, was nonetheless swooshing the hoops playing Varsity about the same time Kimmel was tooting around on his clarinet. Cruz said in a recent interview that he wasn’t taking this insult lying down. “And so I sent a tweet,” Cruz said. “All right big guy, you talk a good game! You have besmirched my support for the Houston Rockets. Let’s settle this man-to-man, one-on-one hoops.”
During a broadcast of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel said he was in.
“I immediately went online and Googled how to guard a blobfish. I’ll accept on one condition: We both wear short shorts, right?” Kimmel asked.
Wrong, said Cruz.
So it was settled. The late night talk show host and the Texas senator squared off in the gym on the campus of Texas Southern University. The contest benefitted two charities: Generation One, based in the Third Ward in Houston (Cruz’s choice). Its mission is to, “Be a catalyst for systemic change in the education system, by creating an equitable educational landscape across the city.” Kimmel chose Texas Children’s Hospital, because his one-year-old son Billy has had three heart surgeries, and is waiting on a fourth.
The choice of an arena was a little more challenging. The advance team first considered a middle school gymnasium, and they even looked at using the George R. Brown Convention Center. Texas Southern University stepped up and offered its Athletics Education Arena, which fit perfectly. There, the challenge would commence: The American versus the Canadian; the baller versus the blobfish. It would turn out to be the Blobfish Basketball Classic.
Cruz wasn’t guaranteeing victory going in, but he made one promise: “Under no circumstances will Kimmel dunk on me. I’ll pull his shorts down to the ground rather than let him get to the rim.”
Fanfare is something Kimmel knows about, and his arrival came amidst lights and smoke, and with him was, naturally, a mascot: A blobfish mascot named “Blobby.” Kimmel said he carbo-loaded to get ready for the game. He practiced a little last week, but after 25 years of not playing basketball regularly, “I decided to wing it,” he said.
During the game, Kimmel and Cruz had brief discussions about detention centers and Cruz’s support for President Donald Trump. “This won’t be the first time you lose to a TV host,” Kimmel said. He also asked Cruz why he didn’t support covering pre-existing conditions. Booing from the decidedly pro-Kimmel crowd drowned out the Senator’s answer.
Senator Cruz had his fan base out there, and they had their cut-outs of his face to wave. The Kimmel fans had theirs as well, and a noticeable mixture of boos from the Kimmel fans upon each Cruz basket was heard, but no boos from the Cruz camp were noticeable.
Cruz and Kimmel proved they should each keep their day jobs, missing more than 100 shots between the two of them during the game. Cruz joked that they also set the Guinness World Record for fouls.
The pace of the game, however, became a matter of Kimmel keeping up with Cruz. Lead scoring was by Cruz, then Kimmel would rally for a tie game three times. But he just couldn’t pass Cruz. The original plan was that the first 15 points would win on this half court, one basket, one-on-one challenge, but early on, both decided to shorten the game to an 11-point winner.
At half time, the score was Kimmel 6, Cruz 5, and the blobfish decided to hold a dance competition. Blobby showed his style by doing three backflips in a fish costume. That took some practice!
Cruz and Kimmel kept the defense tight, but both got lucky on long shot baskets. Kimmel had a better cheering section. Oddsmakers were watching the game too. The Texas senator was favored to beat Kimmel by sports book Bouada. And Las Vegas was begging fans to take the talk show host at 8/5 odds. Cruz was listed at -220 , or 5/11, which basically meant to win $100, fans had to plunk down $220, and hope that Cruz would prevail. At a height of 5’10” to Kimmel’s six feet, perhaps that is not a good enough payout for low stakes prop betting. Cruz, who is three years younger than Kimmel, appeared to have the girth advantage, which helped out in the paint. Plus, some high school basketball time came in very handy.
Things heated up as the score tied, then Cruz was ahead. It was 10 to 8, then 10 to 9 (Cruz). It was a cliffhanger, folks! The crowd was on its feet! Cruz needed one more basket! Kimmel pressed his defense, but Cruz broke to the outside and took a shot…IT’S GOOD!
Ted Cruz won the Blobfish Basketball Classic! No more boos were heard as the arena erupted, confetti was fired, and Kimmel looked astonished. It took almost two hours, but Ted Cruz made the oddsmakers drop their cigars.
“Is that the ugliest game winning shot you’ve ever seen?” Cruz asked. Kimmel said, “I know I’m not a great basketball player, but I’m at least as good at the game as Senator Cruz is at being a senator.”
The real winners in this tournament were the charities. Generation One in the Third Ward received $30,000 and Texas Children’s Hospital received $10,000.
When complimented on his winning shot from the outside, Cruz said, “Next time I’ll try to open my eyes.” Rematch, anyone?
May 28, 2018
By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor
I always revisit places that made Houston history. I didn’t know it, but one place made an impact on my life as well.
Houstonians have all seen it so many times as we drive out of downtown on Washington Avenue: a forlorn looking building next to Knapp Chevrolet, not attracting much attention, because, after all, this part of town in Sixth Ward is full of aging wooden buildings. Many don’t know that if these walls could talk, they would tell of four generations of a family dedicated to hat making for all of Texas, and the rest of the United States, too. The friends they made and the client list that resulted over 108 years made them a cross-section of Houston history.
The faded letters over the front door can just be made out to read, “SHUDDE BROS.” for the Shudde Brothers Hatters at 905 Trinity Street, just south of Washington Avenue. It was started the old fashioned way, in an old fashioned time.
In 1906, Otto Schueddemagen and his wife Emmamoved to a house on this spot with five boys: Walter, Al, Ben, John, and Herbert, and a daughter, Lydia. By 1907, Al began a hat renovating business in the 800 block of Preston with $200 and a firm desire to be the best in town when Houston was a relatively small town. He then named it Southern Hat Company. Al’s grandson, Neal Shudde, talked at length recently about the family, and the business. He’s the fourth-generation Shudde, continuing a tradition of craftsmanship that made men’s hats when the hat made the man.
“We’re standing in the family home right here,” he said, looking around at fireplaces, a polished wood floor, and a handcrafted spiral staircase. “The family lived here and ran a men’s hat store downtown, and in 1914, a factory was built around the house to expand the operation.”
By then, four of the brothers were involved in the downtown store or the factory. Men’s clothing and a second store were added after 1919. “This was a huge amount of progress. In 1906, when my great grandparents moved in, this house had been built in 1878, and was out in the suburbs. Washington Avenue was the only westbound road out of town from here, which is why they came,” said Neal.
We paused to look out on a Houston skyline much changed between the 19th and 21stcenturies. The window we looked out of was 136 years old.
“Each brother had a unique personality,” Neal said, “which made things interesting for the business. Ben was an athletic guy, and he spent his young years as a Vaudville performer, doing trapeze acts on stage. He entertained daily in the years before 1920, and he was mechanically inclined too, and that ability led his brothers to ask him to run the factory.”
By the 1930’s to the 1990’s, Shudde Brothers Hatters (known for correct hat renovations) had made a tremendous name in clothing and hat merchandizing, taking hat orders from many western stores and men’s clothiers all over the United States. Their popularity made them a hit with the farmers to the famous, and the entertainment world took notice too.
“The factory customized the hats for John Wayneto wear during the filming of the movies, ‘The Alamo’ and ‘Hellfighters’ just outside of Houston,” said Neal. “Roy Rogers would have his hats sent to us by train before the rodeo every year in custom leather cases. Tom Mix was another frequent customer. Canada’s version of Roy Rogers, named Montie Montana, who was a legendary cowboy roping star and actor, had index cards on file with Shudde Brothers, with precise dimensions for his hats. The list goes on, but Gene Autry was a customer for many years,” he said.
“After John Connolly became governor of Texas, his wife Nellie Connolly would bring in his hats herself to be renovated,” Neal added. In November, 1963, Neal’s father Weldon got a call from Mayor Lewis Cutrer who said, “Weldon, the President’s coming to town. Can we give him a hat?” In response, Shudde Brothers donated a Stetson “Silver Belly” size 7 5/8, to be given to John F. Kennedy in Houston on November 21, 1963. Because of a crowded schedule in Houston, it was presented to him in Fort Worth the next morning, two hours before he was murdered.
Years later, unknown to Neal, the office of Lyndon Johnson wrote the factory in October, 1971 to renovate his hat to be put in the Lyndon Johnson Library. The list of entertainers doing business with Shudde Brothers included Chill Wills, Tony Curtis, Ernest Tubb, George Foreman, [“He was really a big person, but really nice. He came several times,” said Neal.”]. Justin Wilson and Dennis Weaver personally came to the factory to visit. The most famous of all the customers to Shudde Brothers was General Sam Houston, whose hat was renovated in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Celebration, marking 100 years of Texas independence.
One reason for the popularity of Shudde Brothers was, “Because this was a tight knit family. All the employees were like family, and were treated as such. When the Depression came, things got tough all around, and Al gathered all the employees together – there were about 40 of them at the time – and asked them in order to keep their jobs, would they work for half pay for now? Everyone agreed to do that, and nobody quit, and they survived,” Neal said.
As I perused though the file cabinets, I found a letter written by Walter, explaining that one employee could not serve in the Korean War because of bad health. That’s how much of a family they were.
Neal’s father Weldon eventually became President as the brothers passed away, and after Weldon’s death in 1996, Neal took over the business. “There are times when working six days a week is trying, and times when you feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over,” he said, but he likes the business too. “Each hat has to be different.”
He takes pleasure in the craftsman side of the business, which allows him to design unique hat shapes. Neal said he has given a lot of thought and prayer to whether he should be doing something else, but for the foreseeable future, running Shudde Brothers Hatters at Brookwoods just feels right.
The name was changed because in 2007, a decision was made to move the business operations to Brookshire, 35 miles west of Houston, to the Brookwoods Community, a center for disabled adults, and it was the right decision for him to be closer to his son Wilson, who helps out at the store. Many more decisions then had to be made over the next seven years as to the future of the old building at 905 Trinity.
“We looked into moving the house portion of the building to Heritage Park downtown, says Neal, “but the expense and logistics of such a move were not possible, much less a move to Brookshire.” Neal talked to other historians about using the place as is for some purpose, but to no avail. Thus, the building’s days were numbered. There was lots of work ahead for Neal, and he was essentially moving out by himself.
“I had no idea the amount of stuff in there,” he said. Fate must have stepped in: this reporter became involved as a photojournalist interested in the story. I ended the process feeling I was part of a family, and fell in love with an old wooden building.
In a way, Neal was re-discovering a building that he spent most of his 60 years in, at least since high school, and enjoyed every minute of it. “Right here,” he said, running his hand over the wood paneling, “Here’s the office where my father and I ran the business together.”
The building was not so much demolished, but dismantled, piece by piece, by professionals, to be used in other vintage homes somewhere else. The hand crafted spiral staircase was removed intact and sold to an architect three blocks away. Inside, one would think it was 1914 again. Frozen in time were giant, heavy hatmaking machines, one resembling a printing press, but used to press and smooth hats. Steam boilers ran steam throughout the two story building for heat, and the two workbenches, now silent, were waiting for their next duty.
Overhead, wooden hat forms rested by the hundreds, having every possible hat shape and style available to craftsmen. Neal and I could see people cutting, trimming, steaming, sewing, and blocking hats for customers all day long. They didn’t have computers, and the only Apple they knew about was in their lunch box. They probably looked something like Wilford Brimley, all craftsmen, and loving every minute of it.
About a week into this conservation effort, we met Roger Huffman, an energetic, gregarious collector of vintage light fixtures. He’s got a big smile, and an even bigger handshake. In between fix-it jobs on heating units around town, Roger is also fascinated with historic buildings. “This was somebody’s life at one time. It was somebody’s livelihood,” he said. “I can tell that it’s got a hundred stories to tell.”
Now, with Neal, Roger, and myself, these walls began to speak volumes. Together, we were amazed by the craftsmanship that went into making this place originally, and how it has lasted over 108 years without modern conveniences, much less air conditioning. “That’s why there are these big windows,” Neal said. “That, and the circulating fans kept it bearable in here.”
I explored file cabinets full of customer orders and invoices to every western wear store in America in the 1950’s; brochures, instructions to the machines, photos, and bowling certificates. I was getting a three-way education: Hat making, the history of light fixtures, and family history.
One find made us stop everything and believe in Divine coincidence: A newspaper article on the passing of Walter Shudde showed his address as 2415 Elmen Street in 1972. Roger’s current address was 2411 Elmen, right next door!
There were many more “Oh My Gosh” moments in this three-month journey into yesteryear. Working at night by flashlight, we discovered vent fans hidden behind cabinets, hat racks with dusty fedoras waiting for customers who will never come and blueprints to the 1953 facelift of the building. We all agreed, in the cold and dark, that this wasn’t a matter of, “What am I doing here.” This was more like, “When can I get back here?” It was like diving to the Titanic without the water.
What gave the place its life, its very soul, was how long some employees worked there. Neal told us of Joe Bishop, who came to Shudde Brothers Hatters in 1923 to make deliveries on a bicycle, and stayed 60 years until 1983, when he retired as foreman of the factory. “Look here, this was Leo’s bench,” Neal said. “Leo Marx came to us in 1923, and learned everything in this place, and stayed 60 years. Leo knew all about our customers and what they liked, and he did it all, except the sewing. The men didn’t do any sewing. Leo mostly blocked and shaped hats. Those are the two main steps of renovation.”
Each person’s bench still had the notes, hat sizes, and clippings of their career posted to the wall. Roger showed us a board on which Leo wrote, “If you need a helping hand, look at the end of your arm.”
For many years, the front walls were covered with celebrity customer’s photos, from John Wayne to George Bush. Neal’s father, Weldon Shudde, kept them out of view because he was a modest man who felt that displaying them would be bragging. After receiving a Hollywood glossy 8×10, he would write a thank you note to the sender, and put the photo away. Neal convinced his father to hang the photos because the customers might enjoy them. Neal noted that his grandfather, Al Shudde, was an outgoing man, but we noticed that all the stress of running, and now moving, 108 years of hat making history, Neal remained humble, just like his father. “Nothing to brag about. We’re just normal people,” he said.
Roger and I always had a sense that this was a comfortable place to work, even though we had no previous contact with Shudde Brothers Hatters. Maybe Al, Ben, Herbert, John, and Walter were in some way there with us.
“I’m sure they would be pleased with how we’ve taken care of things,” said Roger. “Now we know why people stayed so long. I’d love to have worked here myself. They worked for a family, and they felt needed, and that was why.”
Neal said, “The atmosphere was not ‘us versus them.’ People wanted to be here, and wanted to give their best. They gave respect, and got respect, as craftsmen.”
Roger added, “We’re also saving a sense of place. The sights and smells of this place take you back to a simpler time. Most people wish for the good old days. We are standing in the good old days right now. We have touched and saved things that haven’t been used in 50 years or more. No amount of money can replace that.”
After three months of exploration, the final demolition day came: Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Neal came for one last look at the site of his entire family history, and some of the city’s history as well. He stood alone with his thoughts.
“It’s just so surreal, looking at this,” he said. “You know, my grandfather started Southern Hat Company on July 1, 1907, and we moved out on June 30, 2007, one hundred years ago to the day. The factory was built in 1914, and its being demolished in 2014. That’s God’s way of saying, ‘Job well done, mission accomplished.’”
Neal kept some bricks for himself, and he was on his way. Tomorrow he’s selling hats at the Rodeo. Neal Shudde has a tradition to continue.
In a way, things came full circle in this wooden time machine in the shadow of downtown Houston. Before people sat and watched John Wayne battle the oil well fires in “Hellfighters,” his hats were made right here. Before people saw Gene Autry and Roy Rogers on their black and white TVs, those hats were being made right here.
On March 30 at 8pm, we took one last look at the empty scene of so much history that unfolded silently behind those wooden walls. The block is now empty, but it filled three explorers and thousands of Texans with memories to last a lifetime.
And suddenly, we realized, we are all Shudde Brothers now.
For more information about Shudde Brothers, visit http://www.shudde.com/.
By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor
Celebrating it’s 22nd season of excellence in chamber music education and performance, Virtuosi of Houston presented Legends Of The Future: Celebrating Leaders of S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Arts, and Mathematics) at a gala concert, dinner, and auction on May 5, 2018 at the new Post Oak Hotel in Uptown Houston.
Virtuosi of Houston was founded in 1996 as a premier youth chamber orchestra for gifted instrumentalists to increase education and performance opportunities leading to a music profession for Houston’s middle to high school age musicians, and to bring an expanded repertoire of chamber and jazz works to Houston audiences.
The chamber group is smaller than a typical symphony orchestra, allowing these exceptional musicians to experience increased confidence, leadership, responsibility, and skill through individual attention from two world class conductors, Andrzej Grabiec, Professor of Violin; and Franz Anton Krager, Director of Orchestras; both from the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music.
Members of the orchestra are from very diverse backgrounds, and represent more than 34 ZIP codes from 12 school districts, as well as several homeschooled students. The two Virtuosi of Houston Maestri choose who is to be accepted when auditions are held. Any student that qualifies to be part of the Virtuosi of Houston orchestra is accepted regardless of their family’s ability to pay the tuition. Each year, up to 35% of the students receive full or partial financial assistance. The distinct desire to provide all potential students the opportunity to engage in activities that they might not otherwise be exposed to is what drives their community impact.
Virtuosi of Houston performs three full orchestra concerts per season: two concerts in Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts, and the finale of the season, The Legends of the Future Gala Concert and dinner at a hotel ballroom. This is a full chamber orchestra performance, but most of the music is Pops.
THE VIRTUOSI DIFFERENCE
The musicians excel because of their high level of performance experience, expanded knowledge of repertoire, and increased sense of confidence, leadership skills, and responsibility. The importance of providing arts education to children encourages a desire for learning, creative thinking and individuality. Over the past three years, 100% of graduating students go on to college, and a majority of them continued their music education as performance or music education majors. Virtuosi of Houston graduates say they are better prepared to face the competition for admission to prestigious music schools and conservatories than if they had been in mainstream music programs.
SMALL ENSEMBLE PROGRAM
The Small Ensemble Program consists of small ensembles that are drawn from the orchestra and coached by professional musicians. Over 80 events were performed during the 2016 – 2017 season. Many of these performances were pro bono, performed in hospitals, senior citizen homes and Memorial City Mall.
ANNUAL CONCERTO COMPETITION
Every spring, Virtuosi of Houston hosts the Immanuel and Helen B. Olshan Concerto Competition at the Memorial City Mall studio. The competition is open to all Virtuosi of Houston members. Those who compete are judged in the String and Wind divisions by some of Houston’s most acclaimed musicians. Winners in each division are awarded scholarships to use toward their music training. First place winners are featured during the Concerto Concert.
Several distinguished honorees were awarded by the Virtuosi of Houston for their outstanding community service at the evening’s Gala:
Walter Cunningham, former astronaut and business leader: Cunningham was selected as an Astronaut in 1963, and later served as Prime Crew of Apollo 2 (cancelled), backup crew for Apollo 1 (also cancelled due to a deadly fire in the capsule in 1967). Cunningham flew as pilot on Apollo 7, the first manned test of the Apollo Program in 1968. Apollo 7 is still the longest, most ambitious first flight of any new flying machine. Cunningham’s last assignment at the Johnson Space Center was Chief of the Skylab Branch of the Flight Crew Directorate. After leaving NASA, his experience included the presidency of two engineering companies, with extensive overseas operations and Vice President of Operations for a large commercial property developer.
David Dewhurst has embodied the Texas notion of “servant leadership” throughout his life. After serving as an Air Force Officer, CIA Field Agent and State Department officer, Dewhurst created a successful energy company serving several states. He also served as Land Commissioner, Chairman of the Texas Homeland Security Task Force and as Texas Lieutenant Governor.
Gordon Bethune earned worldwide acclaim at Continental Airlines for spearheading one of the most dramatic corporate turnarounds in United States history. When Buthune joined the troubled carrier as President and Chief Operating Officer in 1994, Continental was consistently ranked last in every performance metric, including on-time record, customer complaints and baggage handling. Bethune quickly assumed the role of CEO, and was elected Chairman of the Board in 1996. His effort to rescue the financially troubled carrier from a tailspin has made him a legend in commercial aviation.
Dr. Renu Khator is nationally known as an education thought leader and higher education policy expert, and is currently serving as Chancellor and President of the University of Houston System, where she oversees a four-university system that serves 71,000 students, has an annual budget that exceeds $7.1 billion and has over a $6 billion impact on the Greater Houston area’s economy each year.
Dr. John Mendelsohn was director of the Cancer Center at University of California San Diego before chairing the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. He then served as president of University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center from 1996 to 2011 during a period of expansion and national leadership in patient care, research and prevention of cancer.
Sidney Evans is very Houston proud. His background includes a nine-year career with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. As Director of Membership and Visitor Services, Evans was responsible for the recruitment and retention of members, the Visitor Information Center and the Placement of ‘Houston Proud’ volunteers.
Monzer Hourani currently directs the successful operations of a real estate development company. The philosophy which Mr. Hourani has always followed in each of his development endeavors is to develop, design and construct very economical and modern healthcare buildings, while maintaining a superior quality product, and to complement the latest advances in technology and medicine.
Sybil Roos actively supports many of Houston’s philanthropic organizations, including Camp For All, City Art Works, Easter Seals Greater Houston, The Mission Of Yahweh, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and University Of Houston Moores School of Music.
Margaret Alkek Williams is Chairman of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation. Together with her son, Charles Williams, President of the Foundation, she continues the legacy of giving established by her parents, Albert and Margaret Alkek.
Conducting the orchestras were two outstanding professionals: Andrzej Grabiec, Artistic Director and Conductor; and Franz Anton Krager, Artistic Director and Conductor.
Andrzej Grabiec has lived in the United States since 1979, and has held numerous prestigious positions as a performer, artistic director and as a pedagogue. He moved to Houston in 1995, where he is Professor Of Violin at the Moores School Of Music at the University of Houston and Artistic Co-Director and Co-founder of Virtuosi of Houston. Mr. Grabiec’s performances continue to take him to music centers in the United States and Europe, where he collaborates as a soloist or a chamber musician with many international artists.
Franz Anton Krager is Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Texas Music Festival, Founding Co-Artistic Director for the Virtuosi of Houston, Artist in Residence at the Kinkaid School and Evaluator/Clinician for the Orchestra America National Festival. Krager is also a Professor of Conducting, Director of Orchestras and Chair of the Conducting Department at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music.
The S.T.E.A.M. overture was arranged by Dr. Robert Nelson, Professor of Music Theory and Composition at the University of Houston Moores School of Music. His S.T.E.A.M. overture was commissioned by the Virtuosi of Houston to be featured as the opening for the evening’s performance. The overture is a setting of thematic material from five film scores, with each theme coming from a film related to one of the S.T.E.A.M. disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
The first section, Science, contains music from Back To The Future, a movie featuring time travel as a central plot. Music from Robert Nelson’s score to The Apollo Fire is heard representing Technology. The third section, Engineering, is the theme from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, a film about the crew of a highly advanced submarine. The Arts are represented by music from the 1952 film Moulin Rouge. The overture closes with the theme from A Beautiful Mind, based on the life of mathematical genius John Nash,
A silent auction and a live auction were held between performances, which together raised approximately $450,000 to benefit Virtuosi of Houston.
For more information, visit https://virtuosiofhouston.org/.
April 23, 2018
I’m in this amazing new world, being a single guy living on my own in a fancy condo now. What comes with that, though, is I’ve got to think about everything and do everything right, or it doesn’t get done. I have to think of things like: Does the car have oil and gas? Did I leave the oven on while I’m at work? What do I bring to the meeting tonight?
With all that to keep up with in my life, the one thing I left out was, “I wonder how the water heater is doing?”
It was enabling me to have a warm bath every day. It was helping me cook and clean. It was my friend, a silent partner doing it’s job behind closed doors. It never complained, and it never called me at work when it was sick or bored.
Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that it was sick. Water was running down the side and overflowing the pan underneath the water heater. There’s only one thing you can do when that happens: Turn it off and drain it. There’s this twist knob on top to turn off the water. Just turn it, and the water stops, right? In a perfect world, yes. But with a shutoff valve attached to a plastic water pipe, with too much twist, the plastic pipe will break, as I discovered.
Do you remember the old movies where a submarine is under attack in the war, spewing water everywhere? That was me as a torrent sprayed the room. Now the disaster has to be stopped at ground level. At 9 PM in the darkness, it’s a guessing game as to which valve controls which condo. The valve wouldn’t turn. What do I do now? Call 911? No time for that. Call the maintenance man? I don’t have three days for that. Slap myself to see if this is a bad dream? That became clear as I rushed upstairs for a wrench to close the valve. Back down, and the valve is shut. That did the trick, right?
I had just shut off my neighbor’s water.
After one more panicked trip down the stairs to shut the correct valve, I got it closed, but the damage was done. What should have taken 30 seconds to a minute took about six minutes in all the panic and confusion. And a lot of water had already spewed from the high pressure pipe. And now it’s all going down to the neighbor below me for a nice visit to say, “LUUUUUCY! I’M HOOOOOME!”
Rod Serling could not have written a more bizarre scenario than I’m now in, but that’s exactly where I am right now. Several miracles did happen, though. The electric water heater somehow did not electrocute me while I was standing in all that water, and it was confined to a small room. As to my downstairs neighbor, I’m not so sure yet.
This disaster turned my head around as to what should and should not be correct in a home water system. I never paid any thought to the condition of the pipes, the drains, or how to cut the water in an emergency. It never occurred to me that a drain pan must have a drain line going out of the house to give leaking water a place to go. It never occurred to me to test the shutoffs in the system to see if they work properly.
Now I am Paul Revere, telling anyone who will listen how not to be like me:
- Know where your main water shutoff is, and how to use it properly. There is a big handle at the bottom that shuts off the water supply, then a smaller handle has to be opened to release pressure from the lines. The water is really shut off only when these two steps happen together;
- Look at the condition of the pan under the water heater. It must have a pipe draining water to the outside. This is as essential as an exhaust pipe on a car. Apparently mine never had one since 1973, or it would’ve been there. If the pan is wet, the heater is leaking somewhere. Unfortunately, you have to replace it;
- If your water pipes have the old style turn handles that have to be cranked 25 times to shut off, insist on replacing them with ball valves. You simply turn the lever 90 degrees to open or close it. It takes two seconds to operate. Saving time is critical in an emergency;
- If you have to close the valve on the water heater, put one hand on the pipe to brace it before turning the valve with the other hand. This reduces the chance the pipe will snap from all the twisting. Turn the valve slowly. If it will not turn, don’t force it. Turn off the main water supply before you force any valve.
I speak from experience here. I didn’t know any safety practices, and no one told me. A water heater is out of sight, out of mind. We’d rather be cheering on a baseball team to the World Series, or attending the fern society annual conference downtown than figuring out why our water heater is leaking and what to do about it.
Don’t just cross your fingers and hope the problem will go away. Care about your appliances and they will care about you!
February 22, 2018
After driving on Houston streets that were named over 100 years ago, it’s pretty easy to take roads for granted. They are getting noticed, however, by people who spend less time looking up to see our history, and have been looking down to see the history of our paths.
“You get a sense of how this city came together,” says Joey Sanchez, looking out the window of Catalina Coffee on busy Washington Avenue, especially on a Labor Day holiday. He’s not referring to the brick buildings that line the road; Sanchez’s focus is on the street curbs.
Sanchez started The Blue Tile Projectabout nine months ago on a bike ride with his wife from downtown to Hermann Park which took them through Midtown, and caught on to the blue tiles. Sanchez is now on a mission to document all the remaining blue curb tiles left in the city, which is an undertaking that’s making people wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The beautiful blue and white tile letters told drivers which block they were on, as well as the street name. “Everybody’s best estimate is that curb tiles came with the first curbs – about 1920,” Sanchez said. “Before the 1920’s, roads were paved with shell, so knowing what street you were on was important.”
“They are such a reminder of a simpler time,” said Sanchez. “A lot of people think that these names were just put there in one piece, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that these were made by hand, piece by piece, by a tile mason, right when the curb was made. That must have taken a whole day!”
What drives The Blue Tile Project is the realization that this, “original street art” as Sanchez calls it, is disappearing at a rapid rate. “The city decided to put ramps on the curbs in the late 1980’s, right where the blue tiles are, and instead or relocating them a foot away, or saving them, they were just destroyed,” he said.
This awareness has highlighted some very unique tile “personalities” across town. At the corner of Andrews and Crosby, in Freedmen’s Town, the curb tile name for Crosby was installed upside down. Considering the time it took to lay a tile pattern in a new curb at the time, it’s pretty certain this was no mistake. The reason, however, may never be known.
In River Oaks, a street is named “Locke Lane,” according to the modern street sign and the concrete pillar at the corner, but the tile curb suggests “Lock Lane” as the proper spelling. Without spending days at the City Planning Department, we may never know.
Spelled correctly or not, the tile signs are being mapped and tagged for any Houstonian to see and share using the hashtags #WordOnTheStreet, #StreetArt and #Houston. So far The Blue Tile Project has cataloged 1,280 blue tile street names throughout Houston.
According to Sanchez, “[The blue tiles] seem to be primarily inside Loop 610, though some are found in Spring Branch and Bellaire. By the early 1960’s, this lettering just wasn’t done anymore.”
The Blue Tile Project is an idea whose time has come. “The way this city is changing so fast and tearing down its history, people are now coming around to those things that are still here to remind them of a simpler time.” Sanchez said. “They don’t have to go away. Rather, let’s emphasize them and help make them a part of our city’s character.”
Sanchez says the six goals of The Blue Tile Project are to document, preserve, restore, recreate, reimagine, and celebrate this original piece of history, and they are already becoming a reality: During the recent renovations to the Alley theatre, craftsmen created a “Nina Vance Alley” tile pattern right at the entrance.
“It is the kind of thing that stores and businesses in the 1920’s and 1930’s did, and a new version lives on today,” he said.
“Wanna see something interesting?” Sanchez asked. “The parking lot of Spring Street Studios is a Blue Tile graveyard.” Sure enough, the artists at the old warehouse turned art studio collected over 50 curb sections from all over Houston, rescued from construction sites before they could be destroyed. Now they are parking stops standing guard against the ravages of time. 1500 Studewood, 500 Houston Avenue and 1100 Omar represent a museum of tile craftsmanship. “This started before The Blue Tile Project began,” Sanchez explained.
Mark Hinton is another student of Houston’s streets. Hinton is a Houston native, retired from the banking and finance business. When he retired, he says he wondered about the names of these streets around him. Various attempts at research at the Houston Library yielded very little information. “I started talking to little old ladies, and neighborhood people who lived there for 50, 70 years, and got story after story,” Hinton said. “The more I researched, I also noticed that no one had done a book like this yet, so with the help of my wife Barbara, we got a book published, called “Historic Houston Streets; The Stories Behind The Names.”
Now in it’s second printing, Hinton’s book has expanded to 384 pages, about one and a half times as long as the first edition.
“The stories just kept coming,” Hinton said. “Some names came in unusual ways. Wister Lane, for instance, in Timbergrove Manor, was meant to be Wisteria Lane because the plant grew there. The first wooden sign with the name Wisteria blew over in a storm, breaking off the ‘IA’, so the street planners called it ‘Wister.’”
Hinton explained that many street names originally came as honor for heroes of Texas battles, such as Travis, Jefferson, Dowling, Lamar, Clay and Austin, and neighborhood streets generally bore the names of the developer’s family, or the trees in the area. Nina Lee Lane in Oak Forest is named for Nina Lee Hill, wife of Harold P. Hill, office manager of the Oak Forest Addition. Frank Sharp, the developer, suggested the name for the street. Chantill Lane is named for Nina Lee’s silver pattern. Nina Lee Hill celebrated her 95th birthday on August 24th of this year.
So, what’s all this interest in blue tile leading to? “We’re hoping the city can be persuaded to save these sections of curb when they tear up the streets. People can create these designs in their front walk or their house numbers. It would allow neighborhoods to to keep their individuality while sharing a common thread,” Sanchez said.
The streets of Houston have as much personality as the residents that drive on them. “Look around you,” said Joey Sanchez, “There’s a history lesson on every block.”
January 26, 2018
“Legendary photographer” and Houston historian Chris Daigle has been chosen by the Bob Bullock Texas State Museum in Austin to exhibit several artifacts from the Astrodome as part of its, “The Story Of Texas” exhibit, to be on view until March, 2019,
Seen here with Exhibits Director Tom Wancho, Daigle examines a 1980’s Astros Pennant to commemorate the outstanding season of 1986 for the team. Among other artifacts on display will be the Sports Illustrated magazine featuring the 1968 UH vs. UCLA basketball game, called, “The game of the century,” and the 1978 recording of “Houston Oilers Number One,” the theme song of the “Luv Ya Blue” days of the Houston Oilers football team.
This exhibit will be in the company of such Texas artifacts as a 700 year old sailing ship, swords and cannons from the Alamo, and saddles used by Texas Revolution pioneers.
For more information, visit https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/.
December 4, 2017
Before Houston had freeways or overpasses or traffic jams, it had railroads. It had so many railroads in fact, that Houston was for many years known as, “The city where 17 railroads meet the sea.” One reminder of that phrase remains today. Southern Pacific 982, a locomotive donated to the City of Houston, was a fixture in Hermann Park for almost 50 years, reminding us of our past, until progress changed its future.
In 1957, changes were being made to America’s trains. Newer, more efficient diesel locomotives were replacing the steam driven, smoke producing, heavier machines that required their own tender to carry coal and water just to run them. These locomotives were essentially a rolling boiler with wheels, a style that had been in use since railroading began in the mid 1800’s.
Southern Pacific 982 was such a machine. It was built in Philadelphia at the Baldwin Train Works, and by 1920, she was running with Southern Pacific to carry freight on the Texas And New Orleans Railroad, making regular stops between Lufkin, East Texas and throughout Louisiana.
The locomotives of the early 20th century were built to survive 40 years of daily use. World War II brought about the greatest use of railroads in America, having to carry war materials and personnel across America, pulling 100 cars at 50 miles per hour. Because there were fewer automobiles in use at that time, nearly anything that was sent anywhere went by rail.
Locomotives that had long been resigned to “dead tracks,” where they could be stripped of their parts, were instead rebuilt and sent back into service. New locomotives could not be purchased because of the war effort. Southern Pacific 982 was fitted with steam lines to heat passenger cars. Because of these different circumstances, trains were now rolling coast to coast instead of on just local routes, as they were designed for originally.
Locomotive 982 saw continuous service until December 28, 1956. Its last movement was documented in a memo: “H.M. Goodson, chief clerk to P.B. Rice phoned at 11:00 AM January 7, 1957, advising engine 982 departed Lafayette, Louisiana at 8 A.M. Handling train 2/243 should reach Houston some time this afternoon.”
Newspaper accounts from the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Post indicate that in the following months, several locomotives, including 982, were on their way to being scrapped. The steam locomotives were being replaced by the greatly more efficient diesel power plants. No more billowing smoke; no more coal, oil or water to carry with them. The Houston Chronicle reported that Mr. Ed Teague, the caretaker of the locomotive for many years, said that he saw the 982 in a scrap line and convinced the man in charge to place “Old 982” at the end of the line. Its career had ended after traveling over 3.5 million miles! Peter Whitney, a train buff, appealed to the City of Houston to save one of the old engines as a icon of Houston history, but was met with a “no funds” response.
The idea of saving SP 982 was presented to the Houston Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees. This sounded like their kind of project, since they had undertaken things like this before. An estimate of the cost of moving the locomotive was prepared in January, 1957, in the amount of $2,540. Negotiations with Southern Pacific were positive, but talks with the City of Houston proved more difficult. Mayor Oscar Holcombe was against placing the locomotive in any park because it posed a liability problem. The councilmen were generally in favor of the idea, but they couldn’t decide where to put it. Memorial Park and Hermann Park were debated as sites by City Council, and in the press. Eventually, Hermann Park was chosen since it would provide a more secure location. The necessary motions were passed by City Council while Mayor Holcombe was out of town.
In May 1957, it was decided to move the engine and tender into Hermann Park down Fannin Street from the crossing at Blodgett, where the Southwest Freeway (Highway 59) crosses today. Called, “Operation Choo Choo,” sections of track were laid down and the engine was pushed along until the next section of track was in place. The Houston Chronicle reported that it was a hot week in May to move a heavy engine, and the tracks kept sinking into the hot asphalt. It took the efforts of two tractors to keep the engine from falling over. This went on for a week until Southern Pacific 982 finally arrived at Hermann Park.
On June 2, 1957, the old locomotive was dedicated to the City of Houston. The engine was presented by B.S. Sines, Vice President of Southern Pacific Lines, and was accepted by Mayor Pro Tem Louie Welch. The Houston Chronicle reported that seven former engineers came to see her in her new home.
J.R. Glass said, “She used to go 100 miles on a tank of water. I’d get up at 2 A.M. go to the roundhouse, fire her up, and head for New Orleans.” The oldest retired engineer present was W.K. Larkin, 82, who thought Old 982 was once the most modern power plant on the railroad.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005. It was time for Hermann Park to go through some changes. The Hermann Park Conservancy, with the City of Houston, would transform the area near the lake into the Hermann Park Cultural Plaza, with a café, a covered plaza, and public art pieces. The miniature train that had carried kids around Hermann Park since the mid 1950’s would also be upgraded. That meant that SP 982 would have to move. The Houston Jaycees once again stepped up and hired Barnhart Crane and Rigging, a company with 36 years experience moving heavy equipment.
In August, 2005, the engine was attached to a giant hydraulic gantry assembled over it to lift a combined weight of 199 tons between the engine and the tender. Slowly, SP 982 was lifted up six feet, and a long 120 wheel trailer rolled in under it. Two days later, the tender and the engine rolled out of Hermann Park on separate trailers.
It’s tricky maneuvering nearly 200 tons of train through Houston streets.
“There’s a lot of different ways we will use tonight to get downtown,” said Richard Davenport of Barnhart. “If it’s a four mile trip the straightest way, we may go 14 or more miles to get it there.”
After crossing a route through the night on 20 different streets in east Houston, on a clear Saturday morning the engine and tender arrive at their new home on Avenida De Las Americas at Capitol, right between Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center.
“Operation Choo Choo II” had arrived. Again, Barnhart had assembled its 800-ton hydraulic gantry over new tracks, and train buffs from the Texas Railroad Preservation Association helped guide the engine and tender down into their new home.
Operation Choo Choo II was a true community effort. Over 100 financial donors and individuals combined to make the preservation a success. The History Channel taped the move of SP 982 for their “Mega Movers” series. Now baseball fans had something new (Minute Maid Park), and something old! Southern Pacific 982 had made a complete circle in 48 years, from Union Station in the 1920’s to Hermann Park, and back near Minute Maid Park, which is where Union Station used to sit.
Now the once proud Southern Pacific 982 sits all alone, wrapped in white plastic to preserve her new coat of paint, missing her coal tender, which was sold off to the Heber Valley railroad in Utah. Here she waits, along with two turn-of-the-century houses that were original to that area’s “Quality Hill” neighborhood.
In 2015, plans halted for old 982 and the plaza she occupies.
“We’re working with the Houston Jaycees to deed it back to them, and negotiate a permanent home for the locomotive,” said Carolyn Campbell, communications director with Houston First Corporation, which manages the entertainment and convention venues downtown. “One of the old houses has been adopted by Annunciation Church next door. As to the old Cohn house, some options for that and the locomotive are still being worked out.”
Along with the Astrodome, the history of Houston’s historic icons is waiting for progress. It’s sort of a slow replay of “Back To the Future” for Houstonians.
November 13, 2017
Hereto forth, I humbly place my bid in for the Astrodome. I offer only memories as capital, but I have enough to fill the place to the Mezzanine and the Dome Dog counter.
The Astrodome has had its critics, even before it was built in the 1960’s. Nobody thought you should, or could, play sports indoors. But when it was finished, the Astrodome became a destination, and has been called, “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” alongside the Statue Of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids Of Egypt.
Its uniqueness has always been more than architectural; it was a cultural shift. The Dome’s odd combination of daring design, and the fact that someone actually succeeded in its construction, made it the perfect symbol of all that is best about Houston.
I had a Wonder in my own city! Those who said it couldn’t be done suddenly became silent inside this air conditioned palace, sans mosquitos, and it was suddenly fit for boxing, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and A.J. Foyt. Performing without suffering got to be pretty big news!
My personal bid for the Dome is written on those $3.50 tickets I bought at Foley’sto see things like motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel risk his life jumping over 14 cars and the “Battle Of The Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. We were extras in the filming of Brewster McCloud for a week, and got to be there on the 50 yard line to see Earl Campbell play the best “Luv Ya Blue” Oilers game, making Monday Night Football history in 1978.
We didn’t just watch the events; we were all part of history being made. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve kept more programs. My 11 year-old self, and hundreds of thousands just like me, could look up every weekend and silently say, “If they can do this, I can achieve my dreams, too.” And we did – some with more success than others. The Astrodome, to quote the Miranda Lambert song, was, “The House That Built Me.”
The Roman Coliseum didn’t have the fumes of a demolition derby or provide a chance to shake hands with the greatest names in sports and music to add to our memories. The Dome was our Coliseum, our Statue Of Liberty, our Parthenon. The rusty beams are still coated with the sounds of Bum Phillips declaring, “And next year we will kick the damn door in!”
There was never a Super Bowl at the Astrodome, but we watched our teams come close to championships here so many times. Roy Hofheinz would be proud to see the Astros finally cross the finish line in the World Series this year, 55 years after he created them in 1962.
I am not bidding to make the Astrodome a hotel, or a sound stage, or a garden park, or an open air framework. But if my, “Bid of Memories,” succeeds, the Dome will remain a grand symbol of Houston’s “Can-Do” spirit. We owe it to a new generation to show them how it was done!
This place wasn’t named after a corporation; it was named for an idea that put a “cowboy city” on the map, and for the people with guts enough to make it happen. My down payment on the Dome will be the kids who are not even born yet, but who will eventually look up at our Wonder and say silently, “They did this…I can achieve my dreams, too!”
November 9, 2017
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.
November 1, 2017
In one night, Houston’s motto throughout this city went from, “Go Astros” to, “Wow! Just Wow!”
I grew up here. I watched the Colt 45’s [who had roots in Cleburne, Texas] from hard chairs with Pappy and Grandmother as they hoped for what just happened tonight. I watched in the Astrodome as Phil Niekro and Nolan Ryan and Cesar Cedeno took us on a journey that almostgot us to what just happened tonight. Back then, we just had to wonder, “What would it be like if the Astros made it all the way to the World Series?” For decades the thought process was, “Well, that’s a nice dream, but let’s not get our hopes up.” So it went…we got close, but better luck next year.
We finally had our chance again, and all the hopes worked. The collective push of a million plus fans carried our team to the finish line like we’ve never seen before in almost 60 years of trying.
There was a new feeling in the air this time. Even Sports Illustrated predicted three years ago that the Astros had what it took to go all the way.
Houston, as a city, has always been like that. We get going for tomorrow because somebody, a lot of somebodies actually, cleared a path for this a long time ago. We named a team the Astros from the Colt 45’s because we reached for space and had the guts to succeed at it. I was born in a place where one of our own, Roy Hofheinz, decided that Houston could be greater…and his guts – and his Astrodome – put Houston on the map.
I stood on Texas Avenue during all this excitement and remembered that I rode trains from this place back when it was Union Station when I was five [thus the train at Minute Maid Park when the ‘Stros hit a home run]. Right now, this ballpark is the center of the Universe, as the entire country is holding its breath, watching our team make history.
In the middle of an event like this, we have to look forward; it’s not over yet. Among the cheers, signs and hugs, I realize we have a treasure – a gigantic piece of Houston history – that is happening right now, and we still can’t believe it.
I think we can do away with the notion that a Houston team must be, “Better luck next year.” It sounds a whole lot more like, “Let’s Do This.” A hurricane only made us better and got us going. We always had it in us, and now it’s front page news. The Astros took this city into orbit, and now that it’s all over, we’re feeling like we’ve come back from another planet.
There were no riots after this victory. Nobody took to a knee during the National Anthem. We won in a way that would make Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro and Cesar Cedeno proud.
Thanks, guys. You blazed the trail, and we followed it to a place in history!
August 30, 2017
The inside of me is a journalist. The outside of me is a curious human being, just like everybody else. The difference is, I was trained to bring the outside of me to the inside of me, and put it into words. That’s a big task right now. August 26, 2017, as I watch Houston being devastated by a flood that has not happened in this size in recorded history.
This event is happening as I write, and as much as I want to jump out and help, writing is the only safe thing to do right now. The scale of this is almost beyond words, because it is beyond belief. This has happened before, and it will happen again, that’s the only way to get a grip on this right now. But this circumstance right now reminds me of what my parents and grandparents must have felt in World War II, knowing a catastrophic event is in progress, and having to follow along with it, not knowing what comes next. This will have a conclusion, all things do, but what makes this a historic event is what was inside it, and where it went.
I’m watching pictures of normally calm and controlled people in the media, in government, and down the street filled with shock at what they do know, and dread for what they don’t know yet. These events have two parts: the happening of it, and it’s aftermath. People waiting in line for water and Gatorade had no joy on their faces, and there was an electricity of dread in the air as so many thoughts of what to do, what will happen, read like a stock ticker in front of them. I had people asking for my cart even before I get to the car with my supplies. I could tell there was a need to be patient and polite, mixed with an urge to hurry, hurry, bad things are coming, gotta move it.
I lived through Tropical Storm Allison in June, 2001, a year with so much catastrophe in many ways. Then, we measured the suffering in terms of where you were, how much damage you suffered, and who got lucky. The common theme was, “I didn’t know it would be this bad.” Places that never flooded, ever, were a lake. Now, that’s going to seem like a Model T next to what is happening right now, and it’s not over.
The historian in me remembers talking to seniors who didn’t have what we have today, and always say, “We didn’t know any better at the time.” If you never had television, you don’t know it’s not there.
Events tonight are like that. We never thought anything would be like Allison, and surely nothing could be bigger than Allison, but here it is, twice as catastrophic, and re-writing the limits of human endurance only halfway through it’s mission through Texas.
So much is going to be written and said about this after all the houses have been repaired, and the claims paid. But right now, we are all in the tunnel looking for that light at the end of it. What could people in London in 1942 have been thinking as they ran from the bombs, not knowing when or where it will end?
It’s ironic, really, something that is causing so much misery and destruction, and changed so many lives, and there is no recourse to get back at it, this can’t be arrested and put in prison for what it did. Basically, the bully got away with it. What it really accomplished? It brought out the good in people on a scale we will always remember,a “Can Do” spirit that was always inside us, ready to come forward when it matters. That’s how the amazing events that shaped us became the history we study. The famous photographer Paul Gittings gathered us together in 1976, and said, “The reason we are doing this is to leave a trail.” That’s how the Astrodome got built, and influenced a generation.
In 30 years, or 50 years, someone not even born yet will see what was done here tonight, and tomorrow night, and time after that, and they will say, in a quiet way, “These people did this………I can do this.”