[1919 – Heights Natatorium – Houston Heights Association – Photo taken by Hawthorn Ramage, in about 1913, and donated to the Heights Museum Collection by Ms. Verna Topkins]
[1895 map, showing Heights Blvd. on west of park, and Harvard, Cortlandt, Arlington, Columbia, and Oxford Streets intersecting with park from north]
Coombs Park (sometimes called Forest Park) was an amusement park that the Coombs family built around the turn of the last century on land they owned in the Houston Heights, just north of White Oak Bayou. The Coombs house itself was a sprawling mansion on the southern side of the bayou, in an elevated area that became known as “Coombs Terrace”. On the east side of the intersection of Heights Boulevard and 3rd Street (approximately where Heights Boulevard now intersects with the eastbound feeder road for Interstate 10), north of the bayou, E.L. Coombs dug a lake that featured live alligators and trick high-diving. Describing other features of the park, Sister M. Agatha’s History of the Heights states:
Sunday afternoon was the park’s big day. At three o’clock every Sunday, a Mrs. Roaming (significant name) went up in a balloon, with a monkey for a companion. Sometimes the monkey went up alone. The balloon had a basket and when the lady got ready to come down, she pulled a valve and gradually as the gas escaped, the balloon descended. When the monkey went up alone, the valve was fixed so that the gas was gradually leaking before the ascension. There was a track in the park for goat racing, and the children brought their pets, harnessed to various little wagons or traps, and took part in the race for prizes. Mr. Coombs also provided a zoo with all kinds of animals for the special delight of the children. Between his home and the bayou, extending back to Yale Street, he had an ostrich farm and children of the Heights loved to go near the fence to see the birds. These, too, were for the park.
In 1895, on the banks of the bayou at the southern end of Harvard Street, Coombs built a natatorium. Describing an early photograph of the natatorium, Sister Agatha reported: “Coombs built in the flamboyant style of Coney Island’s heyday. The picture shows a pleasure pier, two and a half stories, with dressing rooms for each floor, like galleries around the pool. The impressive building was topped off with one large round tower and two smaller turrets, each waving a flag.” The Galveston Daily News reported on April 12, 1895 that: “Houston’s new natatorium at Coombs park was thrown open to the public today, and in two hours after the opening every bathing suit in the house was out, and the jolly bathers were enjoying the fresh water. The tank has a capacity of 200,000 gallons of water and is 80×40 feet square, having a depth when full of from 4 to 9 feet of water.” The opening coincided with a Knights of Pythias convention at Coombs Park, and the same edition of the Daily News reported that “[t]he large pavilion is handsomely decorated with bunting, flags, and monograms, bidding the Knights of Pythias welcome,” and that many of the Knights had an opportunity to enjoy the “refreshing waters” of the natatorium.
When the original natatorium building burned, a smaller structure (pictured above) was built in its place. After E.L. Coombs died, the property on which the natatorium was located changed hands a number of times. The natatorium survived Coombs Park, and was still operating as late as 1942. The natatorium was filled in at some point thereafter, however, and there is now a self-storage facility located on the spot.