Coombs Park and Heights Natatorium

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[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]

HeightsNat
[1909 – Ad from The Jewish Herald]

CoombsPark
[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.

7 responses to “Coombs Park and Heights Natatorium

  1. Having been born in the Heights, and a third Gen Houstonian, I recall visiting my grandparents home on 515 Heights Blvd and playing in the large “Gully” behind their properties. My dad had pet goats and geese and ‘GranMaw’ gathered eggs from her coop, which, we as kids loved to help her with. There is so much history that is lost with each passing generation. My dad is 90 and his brother 93 still living here in Houston. When they are gone who will remember where that ‘Gully’ was, that was so ‘Magical’ to a group of 8 yr old cousins?

    • I remember swimming at “The Heights Nat”. We lived at 1417 Leeland and moved to the Heights when i was about 10, (’36). I remember the sign over the entrance that said, “Swm in water fit to drink”. I believe the opening of the pool in Studewood Park was the demise of the “Nat”. I also swam at “The Height’s Cliffs”, which was at the west end of 15th street. We moved out in the country about ’38 (419 West 23rd).
      We were members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in fact we were the last couple married in the old Church that was located on the south west cornor of 19th and Yale, a block west from where the “new Church is located”.

  2. Just got off the phone with my 90 yr. dad and he told me that he would help clean the ‘Nat’ on Saturdays nights so he could get ‘free’ tickets to swim on Sunday since he was too Poor to afford the cost.

    • Houstorian Tracey

      Douglas – Thanks for your posts. If you or your uncle have any other memories of the area to share, I hope you’ll post again. There are those among the younger generations interested in hearing and preserving such stories. Beyond this blog, if you search for “oral history” preservationists in Houston, you should find groups that would likely be interested in helping preserve your family’s recollections of Houston’s (and the Heights’) early days,

  3. Kerry Anne Mooney

    My great grandfather was Max Vieweger, the Propriator of the “Nat” and all of my decendants have passed- so I don’t know the full story of the establishment- or others in the area that he participated in (like the named stained glass windows he gave to All Saints Catholic Church). So, if anyone has any info or history to share, I’d love to hear it!

    • Kerry,
      Please contact me. I have an old bottle that dates in the late 1800’s embossed (Max Veiweger-1057 College St.-Beaumont, Tex.). I need info on Max. Contact me at floydandbobee@copper.net

      Floyd Boyett
      Lumberton, Texas

  4. Kerry Anne Mooney

    oooops, I meant ancestors, obviously!

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