Monthly Archives: April 2007

Last Concert Cafe

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When tales are told of the history of the Tex-Mex restaurant and live-music venue Last Concert Cafe (1403 Nance), it can be difficult to separate the facts from the mythology. But the story goes something like this:

The Early Days…

Legend has it that either the building in which the restaurant is located or the house next door was once a bordello. The small-looking house supposedly has eight bedrooms, but no kitchen.

1940’s…

The Last Concert Cafe was opened as a restaurant in 1949, by Elena “Mama” Lopez, who was then 62. The name came from Lopez’ statement that the restaurant would be her last business endeavor. Which it may well have been – but then, Lopez lived to be 95, and operated the restaurant into her nineties, and so was able to enjoy quite a lengthy swan song.

1960’s…

In the early 1960’s, the Last Concert Cafe reputedly served as one of Houston’s first gay bars, and was the site of a marjuana bust that was, at the time, the the largest in the city’s history (though the latter may have happened in the 1950’s, and not the 1960’s).

It’s also said that, when I-10 was being built in the late 1960’s, the restaurant stood right in its intended path; but that Lopez held some sway with city officials, and that the highway was rerouted to save the building. Lopez’ influence may or may not have had something to do with a memory that extended back to the restaurant’s alleged bordello days.

The Traditions…

The most famous tradition at Last Concert is to knock twice on the locked front door for admittance. There are conflicting accounts of the origin of the tradition, perhaps because there are so many different possible reasons why, at different points in the building’s early history, there would not have been a general admittance policy. For many years, there was not even a doorknob on the outside of the door. City regulations changed that, and visitors may even find the front door unlocked – but it’s nice to think that some customers still follow the protocol of knocking for entry.

Another tradition is that the name of the restaurant is not posted out front. (However, a sign was noted recently – posted down the street – reassuring first-timers that they are headed in the right direction. Understandable given that friends’ directions may be no more detailed than “head north out of downtown on San Jacinto, and keep to the right until you see Nance”.)

More information:
Last Concert Cafe website
Parks, L.B., “A good cafe is hard to find”, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 17, 1988

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Whitney v. State

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[1883 Harris County Courthouse]

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[1883 Harris County Courthouse]

In 1900, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in the decision Whitney v. State, 59 S.W. 895 (Tex. Crim. App. 1900), reversed a black defendant’s rape conviction on the grounds that black residents of Harris County were excluded from the grand jury that indicted him. Testimony introduced in connection with the defendant’s motion to quash the indictment revealed that black residents had been routinely excluded from all juries in Harris County. The court summarized the somewhat contradictory testimony as follows:

The court heard evidence on the motion, which was substantially as follows: B. R. Latham testified that he was one of the commissioners that selected the grand jury that found the bill of indictment against appellant. Said grand jurors so selected were all white men. The population of Harris County is over 50,000, two-thirds or three-fourths of which are white persons, and the rest blacks or negroes. In selecting the names for the grand jury, witness stated that they put no negroes on the jury; that there were many negroes in the county capable of performing jury service, but that he would not put them on; that he never knew of negroes being impaneled on the grand jury in Harris County, and was not accustomed to putting them on; that they did as other commissioners had done before; that, if the names of competent negroes had been given to the commissioners, he would not have been in favor of putting them on the grand jury unless the court had so instructed; that he had no prejudice or ill feeling against negroes, nor did he have any prejudice or ill feeling against defendant, but that he did not consider negroes competent and qualified for jury service. [Another party familiar with the formation of Harris County juries] testified that he had observed the practice in Harris County of organizing juries for years, and that he knew of no negroes being put on any of the juries; that there were hundreds of educated negroes and property owners in Harris County, if not thousands; that the sentiment of the people is against putting negroes on juries; that there were 25,000 negroes in Harris County, and many negro schools and benevolent associations of all kinds; and that he knew many negroes that would make good jurors.

The trial court had upheld the indictment on the grounds that “the evidence failed to show that negroes were excluded from juries because of prejudice or ill feeling against them, or because of prejudice or ill feeling against defendant.” The Court of Criminal Appeals responded:

We do not understand that this would afford sufficient ground for refusing to sustain the motion. It is not a question of prejudice or ill feeling, but the fourteenth amendment, as construed by the Supreme Court of the United States, holds that if there are qualified negro jurors in the county, and in the formation of juries, grand or petit, where a negro is on trial, negroes are intentionally excluded from such juries, then he is denied the equal protection of the laws, and the case should be reversed.