Category Archives: Houston History

A Road Through Time

The beginnings of I-10/Chris Daigle

By Chris Daigle

It’s hard to imagine as you whiz past Houston on Interstate 10, that its great grandfather is a patch of asphalt 20 feet wide, meandering through the Houston tree line, with a silent history going back to the beginning of the 20th century.

It starts at the driveway to Motorcars Limited, a garage for Land Rovers and Jaguars for the rich, and ends right where Washington Avenue changes to Hempstead Highway and all points northwest to Austin. If this stretch of road could talk, it would tell you it was a significant piece of American road travel.

In the early 20th century, as the automobile gained in popularity, a system of roads began to develop informally through the efforts of private interests. These were known as auto trails. They existed without the support of the federal government. The first of these auto trails was the Lincoln Highway, announced in 1912.

With the need for new roads being so significant, dozens of new auto trails began construction in that decade. One such roadway was the Jefferson Davis Highway, sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC planned for this highway to start in Arlington, Virginia, and travel through the southern states until it stopped in San Diego, California. It was to use existing roadways and would extend north to the Canadaian/U.S. border. This highway was named for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate states, a senator, and Secretary of War. Because of unintended conflict between the National Auto Trail movement and the federal government, it is unclear whether the road reached its final form.

By the mid-1920s, the system of auto trails had grown cumbersome. The federal government had imposed a number system on the nation’s highways, using even numbers for east-west routes and odd numbers for north-south routes. Sections of each trail were assigned different numbers.

The full Jefferson Davis Highway is not shown on maps, but it went through 10 states. The section that went through Texas traversed the Sabine River to El Paso, roughly the route the current Interstate 10 follows currently. It was routed through Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Alpine, and Van Horn. At least 18 markers still exist across the state. Although there is a stone marker on Washington Avenue, the Texas Department of Transportation did not assign the name “Jefferson Davis Highway” to any state highway.

The stone marker on Washington Avenue in Houston/Chris Daigle

The cause of the demise of the Jefferson Davis Highway may have been the United Daughters of the Confederacy themselves. In addition to the transcontinental route, they also set up another route running through Kentucky to Mississippi. This led to confusion about where the highway actually traveled to. Maps show several Jefferson Davis Highways, and the route was absorbed into the federal government’s numbered highway system. It was numbered U.S. 90 through Houston, which is visible on some maps.

In 1956, President Eisenhower created the Federal Highway Act, establishing hundreds of new roads nationwide. The name of Houston’s stretch of asphalt west of town was named Katy Road, likely named for the Katy railroad that ran next to it all the way to its namesake and beyond. A sleek new two-lane beauty was installed next to her in the late 1950s, and when the massive Interstate 10 passed through Houston from 1966 to 1968, our hero to the west was suddenly put in the back seat and renamed Old Katy Road.

It’s easy to imagine this stretch of asphalt hosting rusty farm trucks bringing produce from Brookshire or crops from the rice fields to Houston for the City Market, the scenery dotted with filling stations and general stores all the way into town instead of movie theatres, Wal-Marts, and stations selling $4.00+ gasoline.

For a while, the quiet overgrown quarter-mile path took us on a road trip – a road trip into history.

The Astroworld Bridge You Didn’t Know About

By Chris Daigle

Photo: Chris Daigle

Being as June 1 is the anniversary of the opening of Astroworld in 1968, I can’t help but reflect on how my 10-year-old self made hundreds of trips across a bridge over Loop 610 to this wonderful world of fun. Just as the Astrodome is a marvelous engineering feat, and Astroworld was built just a stones throw from it with its own engineering miracles, who even knew even the bridge from the parking lot to the park had a place in history itself?

In 1966, as Roy Hofheinz was ramping up plans for Houston’s ultimate theme park, he realized parking wouldn’t be possible on the park grounds. Fighting traffic to get to the front gates would be a dangerous proposition from a busy freeway. Hofheinz enlisted the help of an important friend, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Hofheinz worked with Johnson to gain federal approval for the bridge, since the only thing that can cross a freeway had to be a city street, and this wasn’t. The bridge turned out to be the first privately owned, publicly accessible bridge to cross a federal highway. Having the first of everything was really big to Roy Hofheinz. 

The two were old friends from the Texas political scene, dating back to July 1928, when Hofheinz was a 16-year-old high school graduate (he wasn’t going to wait until 18), working as a temporary page for the New York delegation during Houston’s  Democratic National Convention, in what would become the Sam Houston Coliseum. It was there he met 20-year-old Lyndon B. Johnson.

When the Astrodome opened in April 1965, President Johnson was a special guest high above right field as the Houston Astros beat the New York Mets in the world’s first indoor baseball game. Hofheinz chose April 9 as the opening day because April 10 was his birthday. There was talk that the Astros won the opening night game on a wink and a nod – it was a big event, after all. 

The bridge is still being used for getting Rodeo goods to the now empty field that was once Astroworld. It looks like it did in 1968, with lamp posts and railings. It is the only remnant left of “The Wonderful World of Fun.” The supports were made wider to accommodate a future monorail. Though a prototype existed, it never came to be. 

Here We Go Again, Astrodome!

By Chris Daigle

Since I’m doing things with one hand these days [after a stroke], I wondered what it would be like to work a Rubik’s Cube with one hand. Pretty difficult, I’d guess. 

That’s what it’s been like with Houston’s Astrodome. Ever since it shut down 20 years ago, lots of high-minded people have suggested what should be done with the place, now that every team has its own stadium with lots of luxury seating and a product name the Astrodome never had. 

Even with 20 years of ideas swirling around, and there have been some doozies, the Astrodome Conservancy will now poll the populace for new ideas on what to do with the abandoned Eighth Wonder Of The World that sits forlorn and forgotten, like that last puppy nobody wants to adopt.

Before you submit “turn the Astrodome into a 250 screen multiplex,” bear in mind that any renovation project has to be paid for with private money, since a public vote in 2013 failed. It has to be self-sustaining financially, oriented toward entertainment (versus a medical center) and must be supported by the public.

So far, the answer has been, “Good luck with that.” In 2013 there was an enthusiastic “Save The Dome” campaign ahead of a public ballot on a $217 million plan to make the Dome a convention center. After plenty of “No” votes, but with a good amount of “Yes”, the public didn’t want its tax dollars spent on the Dome – it would be like putting new fenders on a ’65 Chevy. Private investors have failed to step forward on any project to rescue the Eighth Wonder Of The World, including super billionaire Tillman Fertitta.

I’ll jump ahead and save you a lot of getting worked up, which you will do. I am one of you, cheering at the guardrail like a 1978 “Luv Ya’ Blue” Oilers fan with blue paint and an Oilers wig on, so I can predict what the ground breaking result of this will bring: Nothing.

The Astrodome is designated a “national Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It’s a State Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At this rate, it might be on the Register Of Holes in the Ground.

The Texas Historical Commission has metaphorically lashed itself to the Astrodome like a tree hugger perched in a threatened oak tree. The Commission says, “Unless you have a good plan and good money behind an Astrodome plan, keep your mitts off the building and don’t even think of tearing it down.”

The Astrodome Conservancy has a website called, “Future Dome”, where the public is invited to submit ideas, once again, on what to do with the structure. Will they get more workable ideas than flooded Ed Emmett’s email box for twenty years? Time will tell. It’s hard to imagine what will come up that hasn’t been floated, or sunk, since the Dome shut its doors oh so long ago. It’s now a storage barn for the NRG stadium next door, as well as Harris County. It couldn’t have events anyway, since the seats were sold off five years ago.

Ideas are coming in faster than an Earl Campbell running play. There have been, and will be, plans on making it an indoor Astroworld, a movie studio, a Texas museum, a water park and there’s even a serious idea to dismantle the Battleship Texas and put it in there. Yes, really. 

Professional sports is out of the question, as now every sport (basketball, football, baseball, soccer, hockey and universities) have their own stadium with a product name and luxury seats. Well, maybe not cricket, bocci ball, golf, or jai alai, so there’s hope. The Harris County Commissioner’s Court set aside $105 million dollars from hotel fees and parking revenue in early 2018 to convert the Dome into an underground parking garage, with event space at ground level. The village in Houston exclaimed with glee, even holding a “Domecoming” in April 2018 to give us a last look at the 1965 Astrodome. 

That project went POOF when Lina Hidalgo was elected County Judge in late 2018. Suddenly, any Astrodome renovation was shelved. Hidalgo was more interested in flood relief, social issues, justice reform, and protecting voting rights. Now combined with a year long pandemic, the Astrodome may as well not exist. 

The Astrodome Conservancy leaders did meet recently with Hidalgo. They report that the Judge said, “Okay, come up with a solid plan for the Dome, and good financing, and we’ll talk about it someday.” Sounds like a blowoff to me, but before 1965, who but Roy Hofheinz could imagine a stadium with a roof? Would it surprise you to know that the Houston Rodeo and Houston Texans have never supported a Dome plan, though it would benefit both of them? They’d rather see it gone.

Meanwhile, the Astrodome, and billions of fan memories, lies in state 100 feet away from Houston’s trophy wife, NRG stadium. Ironically, a historic marker to the Dome was intentionally placed facing its replacement, like a symbolic fist raised in the air. There’s been so much propaganda that the Dome is not safe, but it’s perfectly sound. There’s also been so much hype that the Astrodome is a financial white elephant, yet it was paid for years ago.

There was so much noise when the 2013 vote was to tear the Dome down, Judge Ed Emmett said demolition MAY be an option. The media and public ran with it. 

The biggest idea for resuscitating the Dome that fits all the criteria of financial stability, sustainable income, and public support, is converting it into a casino and hotel and resort. That can’t happen because our state leaders are steadfastly against legalizing gambling. They are too busy telling us how and when to wear a mask. 

My enthusiasm for the Astrodome is hotter than a thousand suns, so is most of Texas, but this is getting old. Even for me. We go from being nervous about the future to overjoyed when a plan appears, then nervous again when that plan fails. This is a lot like the boy that cried wolf, but with a whole state.

In this day of new construction  everywhere, the irony is that it could happen for the Astrodome, but it doesn’t. Tillman Fertitta, super billionaire with a restaurant empire and hotels, also has made a name in entertainment venues in Galveston and Kemah. He’s bought the Houston Rockets franchise with $1.2 billion, with a B. The arena at the University of Houston now bears his name, replacing Hofheinz Pavillion. Tillman Fertitta is certainly no Roy Hofheinz, nor is he trying to be.

For now, we stand at the 50 yard line at the Astrodome to see which team gets to the goal: Renovation? Or tear it down? 

The scoreboard’s ticking. The writing’s on the wall.


By Chris Daigle

It was a baseball story that sounded too weird to be true. It supposedly happened 40 years ago, yet the evidence was scant that in my 61-year old mind, I thought it happened in about 1972 or so. The tale was about a 25-year-old guy living in a tent for 10 days on top of one of the most famous sports venues in the world: The Astrodome.

That’s all much as I remembered. After all, I was 23 years old at the time, just out of college, and the Astrodome was where everything went on. Like Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium, everything was “At the Dome.”  Yet I kept coming back to one question: How was this man allowed to do this?

The story went something like this:

In October of  1980, as the city of Houston reveled in the Astros’ first post-season berth in franchise history, a radio station general manager at FM 100.3 KILT named Dickie Rosenfield came up with a promotional idea. As the hometown team chased a pennant and walked that yellow brick road to the World Series, the station would send an employee to live on top of the Astrodome – the heart and soul of Houston.

The man would eat, sleep, and pass the days on a roof platform and inside a circular steel gondola that hung from the ceiling. He would not come down until the Astros won the pennant. Somebody at the station, most likely Rosenfield, thought up the name “Astroman.”

The promotion was modeled after the flagpole sitter stunts of an earlier era, when somebody would climb atop a pole or raised platform and sit there as a test of endurance meeting a taste of publicity. Sometimes the sitter would not come down for weeks.

Nonetheless, this Astrodome stunt seemed different. Somebody lived atop the “Eighth Wonder of the World” during the classic five-game NLCS series against the Philadelphia Phillies! Somebody relied on a rope system for food! He had a landline phone for radio interviews! Really??

“It was a different time,” says Denver Griffith, the man at the center of our story. Griffith was 25 years-old then, a native Texan with a high school diploma and a sales job at KILT radio. He handled the accounts of  Houston’s music venues and rock clubs, using the gig to score concert tickets and establish relationships with promoters. To those that knew him, Griffith had a nose for a good time.

That is partly why he was chosen for the Astrodome assignment. He was young, single and a little bit adventurous. “Back then, in the 70’s, life around the radio station was  pretty wild,” he says. “It was pretty much anything goes.”

For decades, Griffith has carried the memories of those 10 days atop the Astrodome. A lot of time has gone by, and almost nobody else recalls the stunt. Contemporary news accounts from back then are spotty. Archived video is hard to find. You can find traces of Griffith’s sit-in on internet message boards and there’s a brief synopsis on Wikipedia with no citation.

Zoom ahead to 2017 when the Astros not only made it to the World Series for the second time in franchise history, but won the whole thing this time. The town of Houston was engulfed in baseball fever. KTRK Channel 13 (ABC in Houston) tracked down Griffith and ran a short piece. The story was just two minutes long and mentioned the usual details: 1980, NLCS and a man atop the Astrodome.

But was it true? I tracked down Mike Acosta, who is an historian-authenticator for the Astros (which is an extremely cool job to have as your team is about to see World Series number two), who pointed me to the KTRK story, and with the name Denver Griffith firmly established, Facebook led me right to him. Yes, he is real, and he answered.

Before we go any further in this story, we must establish two things. If you did not grow up in Houston in the 1960’s or 1980’s, you cannot understand what the Astrodome meant to our city. Not just as a sporting venue, but as a symbol.

Once billed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” the building was finished in 1964, eight months ahead of schedule, and opened in April, 1965 on the birthday of Roy Hofheinz, the genius behind the idea. It was the first stadium with a roof and the first stadium with air conditioning. Tickets were $3.50 for mezzanine seats and parking was one dollar. Just being there was a big deal.

Housing the Houston Astros and the NFL’s Oilers since 1968, the stadium was pioneering in more ways than one. At age 7, my memories of smelling fresh paint, along with hot dogs and popcorn, seem like yesterday. The place was known around the world. Anywhere in Europe, if you mentioned Texas, you’d be asked about the Astrodome. 

The second point to be made is that the Astrodome was Houston’s “Coliseum.” The Astros were its original “gladiators.” From 1962 to 1978, the team had little success, with three winning seasons total. I remember them being called the “Lastros” for their dismal record. So, when the team finally got to the NLCS, we took notice.

Denver Griffith couldn’t wait to talk. “Astroman lives!” he told me. Griffith was a Houstonian and a little adventurous, just like his father, who owned many of the drive-in movie theatres around town. One sales job led to another, and he eventually landed a sales job at KILT, the rock radio station at the time. Rosenfield convinced the higher ups at the Astros to allow someone on top of the Dome for the entire series. “I had a knack for these crazy promos, and I wasn’t married, so it was on,” Griffith said.

astroman photo

Photo courtesy of Chris Daigle

Nearly four decades later, Griffith has only one photo from his adventure. He is standing on a wooden platform on the Astrodome roof, a tent set up behind him and a pennant attached to a pole. He is wearing jeans, a cap and a white t-shirt with four words: I Love You, Houston.

He remembers the setup vividly. One night in September of 1980, the radio station held a party at an Astros game. “I was hoping to come out in an Astros uniform, but the owner of the station [at the time], Gordon Mc Clendon, put me in a Scottish kilt, because, after all, the station was KILT  and he had a Scottish background, and that was it,” Griffith explains. He went up the long catwalk and the final door was like a spring-loaded submarine hatch.

On the roof, Griffith had an eight-man tent and access to a landline phone. He did interviews with the station DJ’s  just about every hour. He spent the first night in a sleeping bag inside because of heavy rains outside. The other nights he spent outside, as the weather, the altitude and the views were that pleasant.

The other logistics were less appealing. Griffith was given a makeshift Port-A-Potty. “My food came in bags and left in bags,” he said. He never showered, instead using a powder to wash his hair.

The process of getting meals was tedious. At first, the Astrodome supplied a long rope, left over from a construction project, and a basket. But Griffith had to manually lower the basket from 18 stories up and haul the food back up, which was a taxing chore to do every day. “Talk about a workout, it was just crazy,” he said. “So I finally thought, ‘Forget this! I’ll just meet people at the end of the catwalk. They’ll hand up boxes of food, and I’ll just walk back up to the top,’” he said.

By the fourth or fifth day, Griffith was shouting out to restaurants on air and getting free meals delivered to his Astrodome lair. The assignment came with other perks, too. He could watch Astros games for free from 200 feet above the field, watching Cruz track fly balls. His memories are flooded with other weird instances.

“One day, my mom arrived at the Astrodome with food, and interrupted a practice run by Oilers coach Bum Phillips,” he said.

In the hours before he took his perch, a veteran Astros pitcher had one request: Could he pee on Tom Seaver’s head?

At night, when the games were over, Griffith would move from the roof to the gondola. For a moment, he would take in the silence and serenity of an empty Dome. “You’d come down inside and it was total darkness,” he said. “You couldn’t see a damn thing, and I sure knew I was 18 stories up.”

It was an incredible story, and it was incredibly weird. I asked whether this could be done today? “Probably not. There’s too much liability today. I told the Astros that if they wanted to do it again, I’d be there,” Griffith said. 

A few years ago, “Astroman” pieced together a retroactive log of the stunt. First, he needed to remember the day it started. He found weather records of the day it stormed. He started on that day and counted forward. The Astros did not lose game 5 of the NLCS until 18 days later. Details were fuzzy, but he didn’t remember THAT many days on the Astrodome roof. 

There were some newspaper articles, such as the Austin American Statesman, which printed, “Astros fall to Atlanta: As part of a ‘back the Astros’ night, sponsored by a local radio station, Denver Griffith, an employee of the station, climbed to a gondola inside the roof  and vowed he would not come down until the Astros won the pennant. From the looks of things, Griffith may be up there a while.”

The story mentioned fans braving heavy rains to attend the game. Two days later, a Dayton Daily News reporter Hal Mc Coy mentioned Griffith again: “With another howling throng stuffed into the Astrodome, including local radio personality Denver Griffith peering through the roof from his temporary girder residence, the Cincinnati Reds  quickly jumped on Houston’s Joe Niekro Saturday night.”

Griffith’s final day on the roof was September 30, 1980. The Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3 to 2. They finished 89-73, 1 and ½ games behind the Reds. It was, at the time, the best season in franchise history. But the city would have to wait one more year for playoff baseball and until 2005 for a shot at the World Series.

On his final day on the roof, the boss asked Griffith if he wanted to make his departure an event. Astroman said no. “I just wanted to come down. It was over,” he said. Almost 40 years later, Harris County has tentative plans to renovate the Astrodome and it has been declared a Texas Historical landmark. There were political fights and public votes. The city didn’t want to leave its history behind.

The Astros, meanwhile, went back to the World Series. They gave it a good shot, but lost game 7 against the Nationals. There’s always next season. The games weren’t in the Astrodome, but we take what we can get. Denver Griffith is in Austin now, in the communications business. His tenure as Astroman is kind of funny and kind of weird, but it’s another exhibit of why we love this building. Kids growing up now will never know quirky things like this today. I’m still stunned it happened, which is a tribute to my 61 year-old memory.

“Houston was booming then,” Griffith said. “It was still coming up, still finding its way, and it was a looser atmosphere. Of course, it was also the 1970’s.” Thanks for the memories, Denver Griffith.


By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor and Houston Historian

Uof Hwins Bluebonnett Bowl

University of Houston celebrates winning the 1969 Bluebonnet Bowl against the Auburn Tigers in the Astrodome

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.



By Chris Daigle

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.”

Bill Giles with scoreboard

Bill Giles, Director of Public Relations for the Houston Astros, sits at the control board of the Astrodome scoreboard in 1969, tapping out messages that delighted fans and angered opposing teams.

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.


Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.

Downtown Houston: Where old meets new

By Chris Daigle


The William Wilson Building is dwarfed by the Calpine Building next door (Photo: Chris Daigle)

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.


Miki Norton and her brother Charles M. Lusk III look at a photo from an earlier time (Photo: Chris Daigle)

“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.


Demolition (Photo: Chris Daigle)

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.


Louis Aulbach, archeology steward with Houston Archeology Society (L); and Linda Gorski, president of the Houston Archeology Society. (Photo by Chris Daigle)

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.


Miki Norton (in the yellow shirt); Linda Gorski, president of Houston Archeology Society (right of Norton); and the archeology team after they found the spring (Photo by Chris Daigle)

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.”


Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.


Hats Off to Houston’s Historic Shudde Hats: Local family has made hats for 112 years

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.

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The front of the Shudde Brothers building (Photo by Chris Daigle)

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.

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Neal Shudde (Photo by Chris Daigle)

In 1906, Otto Schueddemagen and his wife Emma moved 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 21st centuries. 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.

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Montie Montana, Canada’s Roy Rogers (Photo by Chris Daigle)

“The factory customized the hats for John Wayne to 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.

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American flag in the window of the Shudde Bros building (Photo by Chris Daigle)

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.”

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Photo by Chris Daigle

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!

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An abandoned hat rack, waiting for customers that will never come. (Photo: Chris Daigle)

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.”


The front room of Shudde Brothers was a showcase of Family history back to 1907. The factory clothed the famous to the farmer for four generations. (Photo: Chris Daigle)

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




Chris Daigle is a Houston Historian and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. He may be contacted at

“The Blue Tile Project” takes root in Houston

By Christopher Daigle

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.

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Joey Sanchez (Photo: Chris Daigle)

“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 Project about 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.

So get involved! snap a picture and use the hashtags #WordOnTheStreet, #StreetArt and #Houston. Visit the website and Facebook to see the latest tagged tiles.

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.”


Chris Daigle is a Houston historian and regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To email him, click HERE.

Houston historian selected for Austin exhibit

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,


Daigle (L) and Wancho

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


Chris Daigle is a contributing Editor to The Grapevine Source. To contact him, email